BY ELIZABETH GRANGER
PHOTOS BY SHANNON ZAHLE
BLOOMINGTON – At Bloomington’s Uptown Café, the emphasis is on “uptown” – stylish, yet comfortable, and unquestionably sophisticated. The perfect dining spot for the increasingly cosmopolitan Bloomington. But chef/owner Michael Cassady surprises with an ambiance that suggests a New Orleans vibe, and then a menu that blatantly says so. It all happened a bit by chance, with Cassady going to Indiana University to study political science. Somewhere along the line there was a restaurant job to make a little money. A restaurant job that paired the college kid with a Serbian chef who shared not only her knowledge of, but also her passion for, good food. Then there was that roommate who thought opening a restaurant would be a grand idea. And Cassady liked the idea of staying in Bloomington. Fast forward 40 years and Cassady has himself a Bloomington centerpiece.
“The heart and soul of this place is the Cajun Creole style of food – the big hearty flavors of gumbo, crawfish etouffee, blackened redfish are still a major aspect of my menu,” he says. But make no mistake; menu choices are much broader than just Cajun, but it’s all from this chef’s soul. “I built the restaurant around my love for Cajun Creole,” he says. It caught his fancy years ago, first with Justin Wilson – a down-home Cajun guy who espoused the idea of “a little wine for the cook, a little wine for the gumbo” on his PBS television series. “I loved the guy, and that got me into New Orleans and Creole food – my interest perked – and I became a big fan of Paul Prudhomme.” Going to New Orleans wasn’t on Cassady’s can-do list, so he bought a Prudhomme VCR series and taught himself. “Louisiana is an area of the country that always kept its identity,” Cassady says. “When we were growing up, everyone threw that away – but not Louisiana, not the Cajuns.” By the time Cassady did get to southern Louisiana, he was already deeply smitten with everything New Orleans – the architecture, the music, the art, the multicultural atmosphere, and most of all the soulful French Cajun food.
And now, to celebrate its 40th year, the Uptown will host a series of special events through May 2017. Because so much in Bloomington runs on the academic year rather than the calendar year, the anniversary kicked off in mid-September with a huge party. And, says general manager Brad Dunn, “We’ll dig into our recipe book and will offer periodic specials of old-timey Uptown recipes that haven’t been done for a while.” They are also designing a 40th Anniversary beer in collaboration with Upland Brewing Co., due out in November. Everyone’s invited to celebrate.
102 E Kirkwood Ave. • Bloomington
(812) 339-0900 • the-uptown.com