One step into The Bayou and you feel the energy immediately. There's a satisfying hum -- which becomes a roar in the later evening hours - that comes from conversant diners, quick-moving servers and jovial barkeeps, and live jazz music on many nights.
"Welcome to Beervana!" says the beer menu. Indeed. Wine and liquor are also available, but I can't imagine coming here and not taking advantage of a list of nearly 300 offerings.
Categorized by style, beers from around the world are represented. If you like pale and amber ales, choose from about 20 mainly American selections ($5-$9 a bottle). There are about the same number of Belgian-style beers ($5-$15 a bottle), while Pilsner-style lagers take up a large portion of the list. Here you'll find Corona, King Fisher, Pilsner Urquell and Red Stripe, among others ($3-$7 a bottle).
The surroundings are also meticulously thought-out. The owners revived the old building by highlighting the exposed brick and original wood rafters, and installed lighting that gives the place a real warmth. A long bar hugs one side of the expansive space, while most of the remainder is used for a couple of pool tables and dining space.
Like the voluminous beer menu, the Cajun-Southwestern-Italian themed menu - yes, you read that right, there are three cuisines - doesn't skimp on selections either; there are 64 items in all. It left me wondering why the 7-year-old restaurant doesn't stick to just one cuisine, pare down the menu and give the kitchen a chance to excel at the food, too?
Straightforward items were the most successful, including a garlic Bayou burger ($7.99) with caramelized onions, stout mustard and chipotle aioli, thin-cut sweet potato and French fries ($5.99) with more of that great aioli and side salads (included with entrees). Other dishes had flaws.
Entrees of jambalaya ($13.58), étouffée ($12.99) and Hoppin' John ($10.99) had nice spice levels and tasted good, but arrived lukewarm. Squeeky and metallic-tasting green beans detracted from a plate of chicken fried chicken ($12.99) and a "gaucho" steak ($16.99) with cilantro-laden chimichurri. (Is that a fourth cuisine?) Gumbo with chicken and sausage ($6.99, with crawfish, add $2.50) had an acrid and burned taste.
As for desserts, the bread pudding ($6.99) was a dense, unpleasant blob. Not even the bourbon sauce could save the texturally challenged dessert. And, I'm pretty sure there's nothing Cajun, Southwestern or Italian about chocolate-Kahlua cheesecake ($6.99), ginger snaps ($3.95, with ice cream, $5.99) or deep-fried Twinkies ($6.99), though the stout float ($6.99), made with vanilla ice cream and Guinness, does sound intriguing.
I look forward to returning to The Bayou, sticking with the uncomplicated menu items and ticking another beer off my list -- only 229 to go.
Bottom line » An impressive beer list and groovy atmosphere make The Bayou a popular place. Now, if only the menu weren't so huge and unfocused.
Location » 645 S. State St., Salt Lake City; 801-961-8400
Hours » Monday to Friday, 11 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 5 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. (Limited menu served until 12:30 a.m.; open until 1 a.m.)
Children's menu » No
Prices » $$
Liquor » Full bar
Corkage » $9
Reservations » No
Takeout » Yes
Wheelchair access » Yes
Outdoor dining » Yes
On-site parking » Yes
Credit cards » V, MC, AMEX, Discover
Membership » $5 temporary for 3 weeks (up to 7 people) until July 1.