DUNEDIN — Those who crave authentic dishes from the Louisiana Gulf Coast, such as Cajun poutine, andouille sausage, crawfish etouffee, flavorful jambalaya or spicy gumbo, don’t have to venture far from downtown.
They can savor the tasty creations at Happy’s Bayou Bites on Skinner Boulevard at Howard Avenue.
In the four years they have been serving Cajun cuisine, Happy and Mark Jordan have seen a lot of changes along Skinner Boulevard. Happy expects more businesses to pop up once the city redesigns Skinner, also known as State Road 580, into a pedestrian-friendly northern extension of downtown Main Street.
The two college sweethearts — Happy originally from Tennessee and Mark from Virginia — met during a ski class at Western North Carolina University.
With Mark joining the Army, they traveled and lived in many cities. Along the way they raised a daughter, Danielle, who currently serves as an Army lieutenant, and son Reed, who also served in the Army and is currently studying at a fire academy.
In 2005 they put down roots in Dunedin, when Mark finished his 30-year military career and both kids left the nest for their own adventures, Happy said.
With Happy having a degree in culinary arts and a yen for creating special dishes, they looked for something fun they could do together.
“Over a few beers with friends, Happy’s Bayou Bites left the drawing board” when they found the best location, she said, on an empty lot to permanently place their food truck, which was disguised with a Florida Cracker façade.
They were able to realize their dream of serving traditional Cajun and Creole cuisine, while having fun visiting with their Dunedin friends and neighbors.
On many days a nice breeze wafts off the Gulf and along Skinner Boulevard, while a large oak tree provides the perfect shade for their picnic tables.
Happy said she loves to create Cajun and Creole dishes that people really remember and enjoy.
The menu features weekly home-cooked specials. One of the Jordans’ signature dishes is a big plate of Cajun poutine: tater tots and cheese curds, topped with a savory roast beef debris gravy.
Another favorite snack is boudin balls, a southeastern Louisiana favorite, with pork sausage and rice formed into balls, then breaded and deep fried.
A dish added to the menu after a customer request is an andouille dog, a link of andouille sausage topped with Creole mustard, pickles, pimiento cheese, tomatoes and onions.
Hand-breaded and fried soft shell crab on a po' boy is another popular treat, along with crawfish sausage and gator tail. Of course, one couldn’t serve up the taste of the Louisiana Gulf Coast without savory jambalaya: chicken, smoked sausage and veggies, cooked with rice.
Bayou Bites meatballs or beef boulettes have a Cajun accent, stuffed with a garlic clove and swimming in gravy atop a po' boy or over rice. Their ultimate comfort dish is Gulf shrimp simmered with andouille and veggies atop cheesy grits.
The Jordans note they will serve only U.S.-raised catfish, along with fresh fillet of smoked trout topped with bacon and fried green tomatoes. It is served with a side of chips, Happy’s potato salad, cucumber tomato salad, or Cajun macaroni salad and hush puppies.
Happy said if it should rain, diners wait out the shower on their porch or call their car-hop service and eat in their vehicles.
Customers can get a staffer to deliver meals within a mile-and-a-half area via bicycle by calling 727-240-1102.
Bayou Bites is open Wednesdays and Thursdays 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., with live music on Saturday afternoon and a Friday happy hour with a selection of beer.
Military members and emergency service workers are given a one-dollar discount.
Happy said the couple has made a lot of friends who come by regularly for their favorite dish and to chat under the oak tree; she hopes more will enjoy the camaraderie at their bayou café.
Median issue discussed
After surviving Howard Avenue improvements, living through Skinner Boulevard redesign shouldn’t be a big problem for Bayou Bites customers, Happy Johnson said.
However, she wonders about the aftermath if a newly reconstructed Skinner Boulevard does not include a median opening for customers to turn into their Howard Avenue entrance.
Happy said she appreciates people coming forward during City Commission meetings to support median access to Bayou Bites and new housing developments along Howard Avenue.
Without the median opening, Bayou Bites customers traveling west on Skinner will have to pass the eatery and use a roundabout at Douglas Avenue to travel back to Howard Avenue.
Happy said she is hopeful the median issue can be resolved before the roadway is redesigned.
Robert Ironsmith, city housing and economic development director, noted Bayou Bites is an integral and vibrant part of Skinner and they are working to address concerns about a Howard Avenue median.
On the state road, much of what can be done is up to the Department of Transportation, he said, and final design has yet to be done on the project that will not come to fruition for another five years. The public and City Commission will be given additional opportunities to weigh in.
Happy said she and her husband really hope the city’s attempt at traffic calming will see “the Skinner speedway disappear,” and the large number of vehicle accidents and near-misses eliminated.
According with the Skinner Boulevard redesign concept, the city plans to install two roundabouts, at Douglas and Milwaukee avenues, to greatly slow traffic and make the street more pedestrian-friendly, with landscaped medians and crosswalks.