Affordable Cajun/Creole in Chicago

CHICAGO This week's pick falls well below our $10 threshold. It's a popular name in Indianapolis, serving up simple stews and soups over white rice. It may not be exactly like eating in the Big Easy, but for a hearty, inexpensive meal, it does the trick.

Joe Vuskovich still remembers the meals of his childhood, growing up in and around New Orleans. His passion for large plates of food at reasonable prices has led to Yats, a Cajun Creole themed eatery with five locations in Indianapolis -- and a new one along Randolph Street in West Town.

"When I was a kid there was places like this, little grocery stores, you get a big plate of food for 50 cents; and it was to create that feeling," said Vuskovich.

The menu rotates daily, with about six or seven entrees. All of them are either stews, etouffees, gumbos or chili, which are ladled over a mound of white rice. You can go "half and half" as well. A black bean and corn maque choux begins with a river of butter and a ton of sugar -- like all dishes, they're made in large quantities.

Once the sugar has caramelized a bit, chopped white onions are added, as are corn kernels and a few spices, including white, black and red pepper. Vuscovich chops up some fresh red bell peppers and adds those as well. The dish takes a while to make, and once finished, is whisked out to the front where it waits on a steam table for the orders to come in.

Other options include red beans and rice with a mild andouille sausage, a dark roux-based gumbo that's aided by shrimp and an oddly thickened chili cheese etouffee.

There's usually one or two desserts to choose from. On this day, it was a sweet and crumbly cheesecake topped off with pecans.

Vuskovich says the Chicago branch was planned in spite of the current economy, but timing sure doesn't hurt.

"I think it's good timing anytime, to have something that's -- everybody likes a deal," said Vuskovich.

Most plates run just five bucks. If you get a half-and-half, add another buck or so.

If you want beer or wine, the restaurant is BYOB, which will also save you some money.

955 W. Randolph

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