NEW START After Hurricane Katrina, Michelle Elmore moved west to open Hummingbird Cafe.
Fairfax bustles with cyclists, dog lovers and locals chilling over a leisurely coffee or bite to eat. Must be that potent joie de vivre vibe that's causing people to line up outside Marin County's one and only authentic Cajun/Creole cafe, the Hummingbird, which has been serving Southern-style fixings since 2010.
Not even Hurricane Katrina kept chef-owner Michelle Elmore from meeting her destiny. In spite of losing her New Orleans home to the natural disaster in 2005, Elmore made a new life for herself in Marin, transitioning from street photographer to restaurant owner.
Elmore and co-owner Jose Pool offer patrons a good taste of both Cajun and Creole worlds. Different cultures entirely, the cuisines have subtle differences. While Cajun dishes (country food) are often spicy and use oil-based roux in its sauces, Creole dishes (city food) use tomatoes and dairy-based roux. Creole dishes also incorporate Caribbean influences.
Tickling our senses as we enter is the glorious smell of chicory coffee, ragtime music and mellow-yellow walls highlighting Elmore's pictorial achievements. Greeted right away by a hospitable staff, we're graciously invited to seat ourselves.
We sit at a corner table by the kitchen, next to the daily specials and a "Shut Up and Eat" sign. Taking our orders is Elmore herself.
"How 'bout some beignets?" she asks in a friendly voice.
"Two orders," I reply.
Minutes later, we have three piping hot, powder-coated pillows of perfection ($4.30); minutes after that, blankets of confectioner's sugar is all that remains. With such offerings as chicken and waffles ($14.60), shrimp 'n' grits ($15.60) and the alligator omelet ($15.60), picking a main dish is tough. Eager to try a Louisiana classic, I have a few bites of my guest's Everything Gumbo, with chicken, sausage, oysters, shrimp, Dungeness crab and tomatoes ($15.60). Generous in the fruits de mer, this intensely flavorful tribute to New Orleans does not disappoint.
Appealing to my own taste buds are the seafood specials. Between the shrimp étouffée ($15.60) and the lobster eggs Benedict ($15.60), choosing is impossible. What to do? Order both.
Thankfully, Elmore is kind enough to accommodate me with a side of shrimp étouffée to accompany my lobster eggs Ben. The side dish ($5), served in a small cup over rice, with shrimp, broth and the holy trinity of Cajun and Creole cuisine (diced onion, celery and bell pepper), is light, balanced and delicious. Larger shrimp, however, would have made a world of difference, as the bay shrimp are borderline microscopic.
Putting me in my happy place for the day is the lobster Benedict: two perfectly poached, organic Red Hill Farm eggs smothered in rich, creamy hollandaise atop sweet succulent lobster, sautéed spinach and an English muffin. With each bite, I savor every ingredient. More surprises come with the occasional bits of lobster peeking through my side of rosemary potatoes.
With this dish—and Hummingbird Cafe—I struck it rich.