A few short days ago, I had the opportunity to dine at a restaurant that is by far one of the most original dining establishments I have ever had the chance to visit, over in Columbia, Illinois. One of the first things I noticed when looking at this restaurant was the sign hanging by the front entrance. The sign, at first glance, seemed to me to be a simple piece of orange paper enclosed in a black frame, but when I began reading it, I realized that it was the entire history of the place and it was such a nice story that if I hadn’t known it to be true I probably wouldn’t have believed it. This restaurant, from what I was told, is best known for the fact that a New Orleans boy fell in love with a local girl and their love turned into a family and 2 restaurants!
It all started with a boy named Chris from New Orleans and a local girl named Micki who shared a love of cooking and who wanted to build something that could last for years to come. Soon after, Who Dat’s came into creation and it was such a hit that another location opened just a few short years later. It was so nice to hear about the back-story from Tori, who’s actually one of the daughters of the owners. She was very friendly and did everything she could to make sure that myself and my dining companion felt welcome.
I couldn’t help but notice both from the outside as well as the interior that the location was smaller than I anticipated, but the way it was decorated made me feel as though the space itself felt bigger than what it was. There was a lot to take in as far as decoration, with both New Orleans and Cardinals decorations throughout and even a few shells on the chairs for good measure. While some might think that with such different types of decoration all located in one place that it might seem haphazard at best, this is not the case. If anything, it all ties together quite nicely and only adds to the experience.
While I was taking in all of the accoutrements around me, I was brought a sample of the gooey butter cake, in peanut butter and jelly flavor, and it was simply amazing to say the least. Tori informed me that they serve gooey butter cake from scratch everyday and they never serve the same flavor two days in a row, which is easy considering that they have 50+ flavors on file! Apparently I wasn’t the only one who thought the gooey butter cake was amazing, because during the time I was there, there were multiple people coming in for either a piece or more, and none of them left disappointed, as it seems that the restaurant knows how popular the dessert is, and they always make extra in advance. This was such a nice surprise, as I was only expecting delicious seafood and maybe interesting seafood themed appetizers, but I was able to satisfy my sweet tooth as well.
After the amazing gooey butter cake sample, my partner and I decided it was time to place our orders. The menu was simple and straightforward but not in an uninviting way. The story announcing the history of the restaurant was featured, along with drink specials and butter cake, but the food section was quite interesting. I couldn’t help but notice that the section offering the food was split in two. One side featured “His Family”, and the other featured “Her Family”. Everything under “His Family” offered items that were prominently New Orleans and seafood themed, while the items under “Her Family” seemed to be primarily barbecue and non-seafood. It brought back to mind the decorations that were around the restaurant, in that it seemed to be a bit of everything from both sides of their families and backgrounds, and that was an effort that was not lost on me.
I finally settled on the Blackened Shrimp Po Boy from “His Family” side of the menu, and this entree was made with sautéed lake shrimp, remoulade and served “dressed” with kettle chips, and an appetizer that went by the name of Crawfish Dip. The Crawfish Dip was etouffee without the rice and served with French bread for dipping. My partner ordered also ordered from “His Family” side of the menu, and his main dish was Blackened Shrimp Tacos, which consisted of two soft tacos that were filled with shrimp, remoulade coleslaw, black beans, corn, tomatoes, green onions, and served with a portion of jumbalaya. He also ordered the Gumbo Ya-Ya, in the size of a cup as opposed to a bowl, and the description for this item read “why put gumbo over rice when you can put it over potato salad???”. The description definitely brought a smile to both myself and my dining partner when read, and when the gumbo was brought with the appetizer, my companion found himself remarking as to just how filling it truly was. Soon after, the entrees were brought and the sandwich I ordered was literally filled with jumbo shrimp which I loved and the two tacos that were brought for the other entree were also filled with quite large shrimp.
Needless to say, the quality of the meal was superb and the quantity was apparent, so much so that boxes were needed for both of us. Tori was more than helpful in making sure that we had everything we needed, from extra napkins to bags for carrying. The tab was settled soon after, and everything from the sign outside of the restaurant to the hospitality was truly enjoyable and I honestly had a wonderful time at this location. If you enjoy dining at “hidden gems” as much as I do, I would highly encourage you to give this place a try. If the truly amazing story and seafood isn’t enough of a reason to give this place a try, then the gooey butter cake and abundant hospitality will.
Author: Jessica Kirk-Gregory