MoeJoe's features Cajun, Caribbean

Stu Littell, (right front) an owner of MoeJoe's, holds a plate of Jambalaya, while his head chefs, Mike Mau, (back left) and Josh Marlow hold show off a poor boy sandwich and Jamaican jerk wings. Bartender Matt Kucinic holds a selection of beer from brewer Abita. MoeJoe's, a Cajun and Caribbean restaurant, is on Lockport Street in downtown Plainfield.

By Annie Alleman

MoeJoe's restaurant is owned by Stu and Jamie Littell, and is located on Lockport Street in downtown Plainfield, in the old Potter's Place digs. (It's been extensively remodeled from the Mexican-themed eatery.)

MoeJoe's opened Dec. 8, 2004 and features Cajun and Caribbean cuisines.

Before opening MoeJoe's, Littell was the general manager for the Front Street Cantina in Naperville and Plainfield.

"I've just always had passion for this business," he said. "Opening a restaurant of our own seemed like a challenge me and my wife were ready to endure.

"We knew we wanted to do Cajun food, it's always been me and my wife's favorite cuisine, but we didn't know how big a niche there would be for families for Cajun food," he said. "We found Caribbean foods share a lot of the same spices, it has strong roots and origins in Cajun, so decided to split the menu between the two styles."

The recipes were created by him and his kitchen manager, Josh Marlow.

When they were we were deciding on the concept of the Cajun and Caribbean themes, they researched the culture while trying to come up with a name.

"In both Caribbean and New Orleans culture, a lot of it is based on voodoo," he said. "We didn't think the name 'voodoo' would be good, it sounds too dark and scary. The word 'mojo' kept popping up. There were a lot of meanings ... it can be anything from a bag of lucky charms or a synonym for charisma."

They played with the spelling a little bit and voila — MoeJoe's.

1. What is the most expensive entree on your menu? "The most expensive would be the Jack and Coke New York Strip Steak, which is $18.99. It's a 12-ounce center cut New York strip that's been marinated in Coca-Cola and is served in a sauce we make from Jack Daniels, syrup and onions. It comes with two sides." (There are about a dozen side dishes; including cheddar- mashed potatoes, deep-fried pickle, black eyed peas, cole slaw, red beans and rice, beer-battered fries and fried okra.)
2. What is the least expensive entree on your menu? "The least expensive would probably be $8.99 for the three-piece hand-battered fried chicken. We also have sandwiches that start at $6.99." The sandwiches are Magazine Street-style (named for the famous New Orleans street known for its wide array of Po'Boy vendors). The Po' Boy sandwiches come in varieties such as fried shrimp, blackened or fried catfish, blackened or fried chicken, steak and crab cake.

"The fried shrimp has an addictive quality," he said. "We have a lot of people come in constantly for the shrimp Po'Boy. There are 40 shrimp on each Po'Boy. They come served with your choice of beer-battered fries, sweet potato fries or a salad."
3. Do you have daily specials? "We don't just yet, but we're working on expanding the menu. We are running daily drink specials now. Our most popular mixed drink right now would be a drink called the MoeJoe Risin'. It's sort of a Caribbean-spinoff of a tequila sunrise. Instead of tequila, it's got rum and pineapple. Another popular one is the Pat O'Brien's Hurricane. Pat O'Brien's is a bar in New Orleans where the Hurricane was invented. Their Hurricanes are second to none in the world, so we feature them in our restaurant. They're imported — they ship it from New Orleans to us."
4. What is your recommendation for a special occasion meal? "Our speciality would definitely be our gumbo," he said. "It's made from a roux we make from Dixie Blackbird Voodoo beer. We make the base from that, and it contains of ham, Andouille sausage, okra — that would definitely be our specialty. Jamabalya is definitely also very popular, and our steaks are real popular. We use a really high-quality cut of steak. Another of our most popular dishes would be the Jamaican Jerk Chicken with mango relish.

"Something else that's been very popular — our most popular appetizer — is the corn-crusted alligator tail. It's pieces of alligator tail meat, which is the most tender meat from thealligator, battered in a beer-corn batter we make and deep-fried and served with a jalapeno honey sauce.

"Alligator is unbelievable. A lot of people are skeptical at first, but it's some of the best meat you'll ever eat. It's gone over huge. We're getting ready to expand our menu and the alligator's been so popular, we're adding alligator entrees to the menu. We'll have an alligator Po' Boy, honey-glazed alligator ribs and alligator fricassee."

They also have some interesting desserts, like a cheesecake called Thrilla From Vanilla, supplied by the Cheesecake Factory.

"We also do a dessert called the MoeJoe Flaming Banana," he said. "It's a mixture of ice cream, peanuts, caramel and Bacardi 151. It's served to you on fire while you and your guest toast marshmallows over the flames. That's one where everytime someone orders it, there's automatically three more orders for it."
5. How are your portion sizes? "I would describe them as huge," he said with a laugh. "We go through a lot of to-go boxes. Our gumbo or jambalaya, the normal order is a full pound. If you finish an entire plate, you're probably not going to be eating dessert."
6. Is your restaurant kid-friendly? "Yes. We have a kid's menu and high chairs. Our kid's menu includes things like hamburgers, corn dogs, a personal pizza, chicken fingers," he said. "And all the items can be served with a choice of fries or corn on the cob, which was very important to my wife because she hates it when the only option is fries. So we wanted parents to have the option of a vegetable."
7. Who is the typical clientele? "I would say that (customers) range from ages from 21 to 50. We get a pretty good mix of people."
8. What makes your restaurant special? "I would say we have an extremely friendly staff and we provide sort of a 'Cheers'-like environment," he said. "We're brand-new, but most people that come in end up coming back. We have a very unique layout of the restaurant — the ground floor is decorated to feel like you're outside on Bourbon Street, right here in downtown Plainfield. It gives people the chance to feel like they're on vacation. The lower level is like a subterranean speakeasy. We tried to make it feel like an old, dark speakeasy like you'd find in New Orleans."

The speakeasy concept has been a success, he said. It was important for him to have an exclusively 21-and-over area where people stopping in for an after-work cocktail could relax and unwind without worrying about disrupting — or being disrupted by — a family having dinner.
9. What is your favorite entree on your menu? "My favorite thing is — and I'll always love the gumbo, but I've had it so much — that right now it's steak and shrimp kabobs," he said. "We have an item on the menu called Build Your Own Kabobs. You can choose from different fruits and vegetables like green peppers, red peppers, mushrooms, banana and pineapple, and three different types of meat — chicken, filet of steak or Gulf shrimp. They're put on two 10-inch skewers, char-grilled and served over a bed of rice."
10. Is there anything else you would like to add? "We do have a house band that plays on Wednesday nights that's pretty unbelievable. They're called Villian's Theory. They play rock 'n' roll, kind of a mixture of Radiohead and Led Zeppelin. They're very, very good. We also have live entertainment periodically. Everytime we have a band we'll post it on our Web site's calendar, ."

Cuisine: Cajun and Caribbean

Address & Phone: 510 Lockport St., Plainfield. (815) 230-2790.

Dining hours: 11 a.m.-1 a.m. Mon-Thu.; 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Fri.-Sat.; 12-10 p.m. Sun.

Reservations: Walk-ins only, there is a VIP room that accommodates up to six adults available for reservations.

Smoking: Available in the cocktail lounge and at the bar in the dining room.

Accessibility: Limited, step in front.

Credit cards: All major.

Parking: Off-street, two large city lots a block away.