Brandon Trahan is very nearly and very proudly 100% Cajun. And when the chef opens his very first restaurant on 7th and Carson, the fittingly-named Zydeco Po-Boys, he intends to stick very close to those southwestern Louisiana roots.
“I grew up at my mama’s feet, in the kitchen,” Trahan says.
Trahan always enjoyed cooking, but owning his own restaurant wasn’t always his plan. He lived in Louisiana some 37 years until his commercial laundry business was destroyed by Hurricane Rita in 2005. Faced with a challenge, he decided to turn lemons into lemonade, and he moved to San Francisco to attend to culinary school.
From San Fransisco, Trahan came to Las Vegas. He worked at several restaurants, including Emeril’s Fish House and Marche Bacchus. Through some catering industry connections, he was introduced to the Downtown Project, who recognized his talents and invested in operating a restaurant with him.
The focus of Trahan’s restaurant is right there in the name. Zydeco is a style of Cajun music, but the Po-Boys part is what’s important. What makes a good po-boy sandwich—basically a submarine-style sandwich with Southern flair— is the French bread, which Trahan will be getting his from New Orleans’ Leidenheimer Baking Company. He describes their product as being the po-boy bread. Expect to see it used to make po-boys piled high with fried shrimp, fried catfish and “debris”—made from the extra bits that fall off roast beef and brisket, and topped with au jus.
The restaurant has its own smoker, which will allow Trahan to make his own Cajun sausage. They will also have weekly specials like alligator or fired crawfish po-boys.
“There are so many good Cajun dishes out there it’s hard to pick and choose which ones you want, but I want to keep it manageable,” he says.
Many think Cajun and New Orleans-style cuisine are one and the same. Trahan disagrees. “I would describe the difference as Cajun is more country,” he says. “We use a lot of fresh vegetables and sea food and living-off-the land-type ingredients.”
There is a lot of variation in Cajun-style food, too.
“Louisiana, just like anywhere else, has got a lot of different regions. You can go five miles down the road and get a different gumbo made a different way.” Case in point: The chicken and sausage gumbo on Trahan’s menu doesn’t have tomato, and isn’t as thick and heavy as a New Orleans-style gumbo.
For those of you who find the “Cajun” part intimidating, have no fear. “It will be somewhat spicy, but people confuse spice with hot, and Cajun cuisine is not hot,” Trahan says. “It can get hot, but not always.” He cooks at a two or three on a scale of one-to-10—but if you prefer some extra kick, he will be making his own tabasco pepper hot sauce. And they’ll offer a selection of daiquiris, beer and wine to put out any lingering fires.
Trahan is designing the 1,330-square-foot space himself. Zydeco Po-Boys, located just a few doors down from the soon-to-open Glutton and VegeNation, will be a counter service restaurant with 32 seats with a rustic red brick facade. He’s using repurposed materials in the build, like a wood-paneled wall created from parts of old boats, and tables he made himself from doors he bought off Craigslist.
“My dad built the house we lived in and my brothers both built their houses, but I never did,” Trahan says. “But I’m good at certain projects. I’m pretty handy.”
Trahan hopes to open Zydeco Po-Boys by April, and is planning to be open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. Aside from that, he has one simple goal.
“I want to stay true to the Cajun way of doing things, and be true to my Cajun upbringing,” he says.
PHOTOS BY JESSIE O’BRIEN; PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY GEOFF CARTER