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photo credit: Mackenzie Smith Kelley

Canje review image
7.8

Canje

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Sometimes, a building finds itself in a situation where it’s playing some weird, inanimate version of musical chairs with restaurants rotating in and out every couple of years. In Austin’s case, it’s that corner spot next to Counter Cafe near 6th and Chicon. Over the years we’ve seen it play host to a couple different restaurants, a tiki bar, and, at one point, a really big USPS office. Fortunately for you, there’s still a tiny post office next door, so there’s no need to resort to pigeons, owls, or any other alternative methods of mail transport. 

Now it’s the home of Canje, a Caribbean restaurant from the team that brought you Hestia, Kalimotxo, Emmer & Rye, and Henbit. This spot, however, is a passion project from chef Tavel Bristol-Joseph—originally from Guyana—who you might know as the creator of those chocolate chip cookies from Henbit that are roughly the thickness of a copy of War and Peace, but a lot less dense. And much like the Napoleonic chronicle, we think Canje is going to endure the test of time. 

Holly Dirks

Canje review image

This is a fun, busy space with a lot of energy, but not in a way that ever feels too crowded. It’s cozy and inviting, with hip hop pumping from the speakers—the kind of place you’d want to come with a date or a group of friends. And given how much of the menu is made up of shareable plates, that’s probably your best bet. Start off with some sour orange and dragon fruit ceviche with housemade taro chips. Then grab an order of perfectly charred grilled blue prawns that you’ll want to dunk, head and all, into a bowl of zippy “green sauce,” which is basically a puree of all the extra greens the kitchen has lying around. 

Next, move on to some heartier portions from the suppa section, like the wild boar pepper pot—a Guyanase specialty usually served at Christmas because of how long it takes to make. It could be a toasty 110-degree Austin summer evening, but those first few sips of rich, gingery cassava broth will throw All I Want For Christmas Is You right back into your head. And Jamaican classics like the sweet, extra-spicy jerk chicken are one of the rare instances where the poultry dish on the menu isn’t just there for the picky eater in your group. 

Mackenzie Smith Kelley

Canje review image

Then there are the cocktails. Rum is the highlight here—though pretty much all of the major spirits show themselves in some form or another—and it truly shines in drinks like the T’i Punch. Vaguely reminiscent of an Old Fashioned, it’s a darker, boozier take on the national cocktail of Martinique. Other drinks like the Good Neighbor, featuring banana-infused Plantation rum and some funky Smith+Cross are just as fun, but if you’d rather keep things simple, we’ve found that an ice cold Red Stripe goes pretty well with just about everything on the menu.

We had high hopes moving into the dessert section. Almost every other spot this team has opened has had at least one firework of a finisher—Hestia’s kakigori, Kalimotxo’s Basque cheesecake, Henbit’s monster cookies, to name a few—but the approach here is a bit more mild. There are some really fun tropical takes on classics, like a wonderfully fluffy flan covered in tart dots of passion fruit. But there are also things like a guava and white chocolate tres leches that sounds more exciting on paper than they taste. While there aren’t any pyrotechnics here, the simpler approach they’ve taken still leads to a pretty satisfying finish.

They’re still figuring a few things out at Canje, but with an exciting space, some really standout menu items, and a cocktail menu worthy of being a standalone bar, Canje just might be the ones to end this never-ending game of musical chairs. 

Food Rundown

Hiramasa Ceviche

Some of the ingredients switch out occasionally based on what’s in season, but ultimately you’ll be enjoying some type of fish ceviche made with sour orange and dragon fruit. There are also peanuts to give it some crunch. It’s sweet, sour, and pairs great with the accompanying housemade taro chips.

Mackenzie Smith Kelley

Canje review image

Grilled Blue Prawns

Large blue prawns grilled whole with spiced rum, lime, and green seasoning and a side of “green sauce.” What is green sauce, you might wonder? We asked. It’s kind of a mix of everything green they have in the kitchen—assorted herbs and vegetables mostly—all blended together. We imagine it’s a bit different every time, but our version was herby, a bit tangy, and tasty enough that we’d go back to try it just about any day.

Mackenzie Smith Kelley

Canje review image

Wild Boar Pepper Pot

Pepper pot is one of the national dishes of Guyana, though it’s traditionally reserved for special occasions—Christmas in particular—due to how long it takes to cook. Lucky for you, it’s Christmas every day at Canje, so you can enjoy a warm bowl of it whenever the mood strikes. Unfortunately for us, the side of roti we ordered was pretty undercooked, so we weren’t able to enjoy these two together. But the tender chunks of wild boar in a shallow pool of rich, sweet-and-spicy broth were so tasty that we really didn’t mind eating it by the spoonful.

Mackenzie Smith Kelley

Canje review image

Jerk Chicken

If Canje decided to start a new restaurant that only sold this jerk chicken, we’d be there in line on day one. This is the chicken that dreams are made of—we’re not the only ones who dream about chicken, are we? It’s perfectly seasoned, with enough little bits of char on the skin to add a bit of smoky flavor to the tender chicken below. It packs some heat—Taco Bell mild saucers beware—with an accompanying sweet-and-spicy dip that you’re going to want to finish with a spoon after.

Mackenzie Smith Kelley

Canje review image

Flan

The flan—topped with fresh passion fruit and cornmeal sablee during our visit—is a nice, light way to round out your meal. The fruit and its accompaniment change out seasonally, but you can generally expect something in the same world. It’s probably not going to be the highlight of your day, but fans of flan won’t be left disappointed by this tangy take on a classic.

Mackenzie Smith Kelley

Canje review image

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