Papa Boudreaux’s: Guy Bader, Erin Wingler, Brad Bader

The purple and gold facade of Papa Boudreaux’s Cajun Café could just as easily be located on La Rue Bourbon. Since its arrival last April on Main Street, the Bader family has been offering up authentic Creole cuisine in Downtown Franklin. For many here, it’s been a long time coming.

Though far from a chain restaurant, this is a second location – the original Papa’s has achieved local fame for its cayenne dishes served up in a cinder-block building off the Natchez Trace, 15 minutes south of Leiper’s Fork in tiny Santa Fe (pronounced Santa FEE), Maury County, Tenn.

For years, customers had begged “Papa” – owner CJ Bader – to open a store in Williamson County. He finally complied, securing a spot on Main Street and handing ownership of the Franklin business to his two sons, Guy and Brad, and his soon-to-be daughter-in-law, Erin Wingler.

“Things I’ve always valued about his place stayed the same here – its originality, the dishes’ authenticity, and the quality of the food,” Guy said. “You’ll know when you put the food in your mouth.”

It’s a family affair: Guy is head chef, younger brother Brad is his sous-chef, and Guy’s fiancée, Erin, runs the daily operations. Seven days a week, the restaurant serves lunch and dinner, and the Cajun staples extend far beyond seafood.

“We want people to come here and try something they’ve never experienced,” Guy said. “One of my favorite things about owning this restaurant is having the ability to tailor towards people’s tastes in the kitchen. Our menu was created to guide people to what they want.”

Papa’s delightfully authentic menu is the result of generations of Louisiana family recipes, handed down to Papa CJ and then on to his sons. Guy started playing with his father’s combinations when he became head chef at the Santa Fe location five years ago, adding ingredients here and swapping spices there.

“It’s all the same Papa’s recipes, but with Guy’s take,” Wingler said. “Each generation in this family has added its own twist to the food.”

Papa’s in Franklin pays homage to the French Quarter classics, including crawfish and shrimp étouffée, fried oysters, St. Jacques catfish, and garlic shrimp ‘n cheese grits. Though Guy’s dishes tend to be less spicy than CJ’s, there’s still that Creole zest in each of them. One of the favorites at Papa’s in Franklin is the BBQ Shrimp, a variation on CJ’s dish that tones down the fiery sting with a creamier kick.

“One of our customers came in and said, ‘Your po’ boy is as good as my favorite place in New Orleans, and that’s saying something!’” Wingler said.

But the dish that Guy really wants customers to know about is the gumbo, an item the chef says he’s spent years perfecting.

“It’s that one thing that we do better than anyone else, and I’ve tried a lot of gumbos,” Guy said. “If you don’t have a good gumbo (in this business), then you probably don’t know what you’re doing.”

Inside, it’s fine dining in an unpretentious atmosphere that has become one of Papa Boudreaux’s defining attributes. Though they have menus, most people order off the chalkboards hanging on the exposed brick walls, and family-style seating at picnic tables that line the long, narrow space brings an oyster-house ambiance with a Big Easy attitude – Mardi Gras color themes and bluesy music included.

“It’s a homey feeling over excellent food,” Guy said. “We have customers that feel like part of the family, because we get to know them.”

To learn about Papa Boudreaux’s Cafe, visit the store at 328 Main Street, or call 615-807-2324.