When I walked into Bongo Beaux’s for the first time, I was hit with excitement, shock, and maybe a little bit of fear as my wide eyes drank in the sight. A Mardi Gras-themed Celina Firefighter costumed mannequin greeted me, seated regally in between two empty chairs, so that courageous diners can take pictures with him. I didn’t, but my small children gladly did (they are much braver than I am). Joyful sounds of Zydeco and laughter fill the air while vibrant accents of gold, purple, and green flamboyantly adorn every inch of available space. Arguably, the most eye-catching detail of all, is the giant mural of Jesus Christ painted on an entire wall inside the restaurant.
I was then greeted warmly by my host, Narciso, who handles the PR for Radical Hospitality Group (RHG). He enthusiastically walked me through his favorite details and emphatically dropped a, “You have to check out the bathroom and let me know what you think.”
I was then led to one of the mismatched tables where a taxidermied alligator head was taking up residence. Narciso explained that the whole point to the mismatched tables and silverware were to invoke feelings of the down-home family togetherness that is prevalent in Louisiana and Southern culture. “You know, when those extra family members or friends come over and you have to go to the garage to grab the extra table or break out any extra dishes you have in the house to accommodate them. Nobody cares if they match or not because everyone is having such a great time being together,” Narciso explains.
Family, tradition, and a whole lotta Jazz. That’s what you’ll get at Bongo Beaux’s Beurre Palace & Cajun Kitchen in Celina, Texas. You’ll also find quirky bathrooms, mismatched furniture, and dishware reminiscent of childhood stays with grandma (it looks like literally everyone’s granny contributed here). a characteristic tying itself to its sister restaurant LSA Burger Co. located in Denton, which features ever-changing murals on its rooftop patio. Both concepts are from the Radical Hospitality Group (RHG), which is known for unique restaurants like Barley & Board in Denton, Bumbershoot BBQ, and Earl’s 377 Pizza in Argyle. They operate by “Nurturing a team culture under the principles of playing big, serving guests tirelessly, ‘leaning in’ to each other’s strengths and fearlessly challenging normal.” In fact, those values are how Bongo Beaux’s Beurre Palace got its start.
Chef and GM, Matt Elgiar is a Louisiana native from birth who moved to Texas for his family. After a lot of thought and consideration, he decided to be in the culinary field. Matt attended Culinary school in 2012 and gained experience by working at various restaurants. Eventually, Matt found his way to LSA Burger Co. where he helped open the new establishment, starting as a line cook and working his way up. The good times started really rolling for Matt when he made his special gumbo for LSA Burger’s Mardi Gras celebration menu. It was an instant hit and placed him on the radar of Radical Hospitality Group. Matt recalls, “I was being funny and told my bosses, ‘if you ever open up a Cajun restaurant, you know a guy.’ Lo and behold, it happened.”
It’s no secret that the suburbs of Dallas are exploding North at a swift rate. Once quiet towns like Prosper, which used to be home to fields and farms, are now bustling with an ever growing population and 800,000 square feet of retail shopping space; thanks to the acquisition and construction investments of our very own billionaire Blue Star businessman, Jerry Jones. It makes complete sense why RHG would choose the north neighboring town of Celina. When asked why RHG chose Celina to plant its Cajun roots Matt replied, “That decision was based on the boom that Celina will be experiencing in the coming years. With all of the development going on around here, we saw an opportunity to get our foot in the door and hopefully help to build something awesome…We’ve owned the property for a few years now. After talking with the locals we discovered there are a lot of Louisiana transplants in the area. Couple that with the yearly CajunFest they put on once a year, and we knew Celina needed a Cajun restaurant.” Bongo’s didn’t just listen to the locals; they went out of their way to make them feel like they never left home.
Of course I had to order the gumbo since that was the dish that started it all, with its signature rich, dark roux. We also ordered their delicious Breaux Bread appetizer, and raw oysters on a half shell topped with lemon and cocktail sauce, and several other main dishes. One of their most interesting is Oysters Ponchatoula, where briny gulf oysters come topped with a strawberry mignonette, honoring Ponchatoula, Louisiana, which is known as the Strawberry Capital of the World. One of my kids loved them so much he has asked to be brought back for his birthday. It reminded me of my visits to New Orleans, as real and authentic as it gets. I asked chef Matt what the usual customer favorites are and he said, “Gumbo, crawfish pies, and the Breaux cread are our biggest starters. As far as entrees go, the blackened cat[fish] over maque choux is the local favorite. My personal favorite is the drowning cat[fish] – blackened catfish over Andouille jambalaya with crawfish etouffee.”
Chef Matt explains that he wants to provide customers with adventurous and new dishes while maintaining the local favorites. “There are a lot of factors that affect a menu change. We want to give our guests what they want, and constantly look for and listen to feedback. Another large factor is the market – What’s available, when, do people like it, what trends are going around the culinary world? The third would be how much we feel like playing. Cajun food has an incredible pool to pull from, and a lot of things that us Cajuns take for granted have never been heard of outside of Louisiana…I want to give some of those things exposure, as well as introduce people to things that they may never try in a million years, but end up loving.”
Just like any New Orleans experience, drinks are a vital part of the menu. Personally, I prefer my drinks neat and simple so Chef Matt helped offer insight in regards to this. “People love the Hurricanes. I’m a big fan of the Cajun Lemonade which is light and dark rum, lemon juice, a hit of Tabasco, and cucumber. But really, I’m a whiskey man. You can’t go wrong with the Sazerac. It’s a classic stiff whiskey drink, and it’s incredible.”
Honoring their traditional roots, Bongo Beaux’s is also hosting a Mardi Gras celebration featuring a live jazz band and giant crawfish boil; making use of their outdoor concert space with extra and activities. Beignets and big things are in store for Bongo Beaux’s in the near future, notably Celina Cajun Fest, in which they’ll be enthusiastic participating.
Bongo Beaux | 218 W. Walnut St. Celina | bongobeauxs.com