Jay’s Bar-B-Q

April 19, 2016 – In 1954 Jay Prethro was managing a convenience store in Baton Rouge.  He wanted more.  He wanted his own business.

He took over a small hot dog stand on Government Street and started serving barbeque to his neighbors.  62 years later Baton Rouge residents are still lining up for Jay’s legendary barbeque.

When Jay decided he was ready to retire, he sold the Government Street location to his employee of 30 years, Floyd LeBlanc.  Jay’s daughter and son-in-law, Connie and Rick Newton with their son Rich, own and operate a second Jay’s on Sherwood Forest, using the same recipes as the Government Street location.

The Government Street Jay’s was where I was having lunch.  Floyd LeBlanc’s son, Milton, took it over after his father passed away.  Milton has retired and his daughter, Jessica Mills, is now in charge.  Jessica is an affable lady who moves through the kitchen like a whirlwind but still takes time to flash a smile and greet her customers.  Through three generations the recipes and the quality haven’t changed.

My cousin, Genelle Parker Hughen, and I were meeting my longtime friend and former Baton Rouge neighbor, Selma Ruth, at Jay’s.  It was Selma’s idea.  She likes their chopped beef sandwich.

Genelle and I arrived first.  We ordered some popcorn shrimp and fried mushrooms to hold us until Selma arrived.  Both were satisfying.  Nicely browned.  Juicy.  Tasty.

When Selma arrived we got down to the serious business of eating barbeque.  Genelle followed Selma’s lead and ordered the chopped beef sandwich.  I wanted to try pork.  I asked for the pork dinner.  My plate came piled with thin slices of smoked pork accompanied by potato salad and beans.

It also came with a small container of barbeque sauce.  Not just any barbeque sauce.  It was wonderful!  Most of the barbeque world tends toward tomato-molasses based sauces.  Jay’s makes its own Carolina-style vinegar based sauce.

I go light on the tomato-molasses based sauces.  They tend to overpower the smokiness of the meat.  Jay’s sauce is thin, slightly sweet and very appetizing.  Just as a vinegar based sauce should be.  It compliments the meat rather than overwhelming it.   It might be the best barbeque sauce I’ve ever had.

The next time I’m in Baton Rouge, I hope Selma wants to go back to Jay’s.  I’ll go back  for the sauce and a loaf of bread.

And maybe some more smoked pork.

Or chopped beef.

But the sauce.  Definitely the sauce.

 

 

 

 

 

Mansur’s on the Boulevard

September 21, 2015 – I hadn’t been to Mansur’s on the Boulevard in Baton Rouge in quite a while.  I remembered it as a very good restaurant.  So when my cousin and colleague, Genelle Parker Hughen, and I found ourselves with a couple of hours between appointments I thought she might enjoy a leisurely lunch at Mansur’s.  As it turned out “enjoy” was a mild verb for what turned out to be an excellent experience.

Mansur’s has attracted a loyal group of followers since its opening in 1989.  The restaurant has accomplished that by consistently serving up some of the finest Creole food you’ll find anywhere.  Founder and corporate chef Tim Kringlie, chef/partner Charles Taucer IV and sibling business partners Justin and Brandon McDonald continue their tradition of supremacy into Mansur’s third decade.

We were fortunate that Courtleigh was assigned to tend our table.  Courtleigh, who told us he was named for his 2x great uncle from Austin, Texas, is a professional.  The kind of professional whose knowledge of food and familiarity with the menu transposes a good meal into an adventure.

I ordered a Champagne Cosmo to enjoy while we discussed the menu with Courtleigh.  It’s a cocktail usually made with vodka, triple sec, cranberry juice and a squeeze of lime topped with sparkling wine.  Very similar to my all time favorite cocktail, the French 75.  Refreshing on a warm day marking the fall equinox.

Mansur’s is famous for its chargrilled oysters.  I thought it would be shameful to dine there without them.  I ordered half a dozen.  Each oyster rested comfortably in its own pool of Mansur’s special sauce.  Olive oil, butter, white wine, grated Parmesan, garlic and spices that Courtleigh didn’t specify.  A small portion of bread rested in the center of the dish with an additional loaf delivered for soaking up the sauce.  A little lagniappe to start the meal.

Genelle doesn’t care for oysters.  I suggested she try just the sauce.  She tasted a bit in a spoon.  I had made a mistake.  The next few minutes was a race between us to see who could use the bread to soak up the most sauce.

I just can’t go back to Louisiana without having gumbo.  That was next to arrive at the table.  Chicken, duck and Andouille gumbo.  I have always believed that I make the best gumbo in the world.  I have been mistaken.  Mansur’s gumbo was the best I’ve ever eaten.  The roux was perfectly prepared.  Consequently that wonderful roux-ness that is the base of a good gumbo permeated the bowl.  A gumbo to be remembered.

Genelle ordered crepes stuffed with crab, shrimp and crawfish.  I had said I wanted nothing but Louisiana food at this meal.  I ordered Fettuccini  Alfredo.  Genelle said that didn’t sound very Louisiana to her.  It is the way Mansur’s does it, I told her.  Sure enough the bowl of pasta that arrived was covered with shrimp, crawfish and chunks of lump crab meat.   It doesn’t get more delightful than that.  It doesn’t get more Louisiana than that.

It doesn’t get more Louisiana than Mansur’s on the Boulevard.

It doesn’t get better than Mansur’s.

 

 

 

TJ Ribs

September 20, 2015 – TJ Ribs is all about ribs.  Of course it is.

And sports.  TJ Ribs is all about ribs and sports.

It’s in Baton Rouge.  The home of LSU.  TJ Ribs is all about ribs and LSU sports.

Shaquille O’Neal’s size 22 shoe is on display at TJ Ribs.  So is Billy Cannon’s Heisman trophy from 1959.  LSU itself also got its own copy of the trophy but it disappeared years ago.  No one knows what happened to that one.  TJ Ribs has the original.

T.J. Moran was the founder of the barbeque restaurant that bears his initials.  Moran, who passed away in May of this year, was a legend in the Louisiana restaurant world.    He was the guy who talked Ruth Fertel, another Louisiana culinary legend, into letting him open the first Ruth’s Chris Steak House franchise in Baton Rouge.  (See Ruth’s Chris Steak House, April 23, 2014, in the Louisiana category.)

Any of the Ruth’s Chris Steak House franchises will give you a great steak.  T.J. Moran’s Ruth’s Chris in Baton Rouge offers the best steak in the world.  It’s just as simple as that.

Moran was known for far more than TJ Ribs and Ruth’s Chris.  He was an icon in the city.  His philanthropy touched everyone in one way or another.  His support of LSU and the great sports teams produced by the school was continuous and unwavering.  He was a man with a passion for sharing his good fortune with others.  A man who preferred that his generosity be received, for the most part, in anonymity.  We could use more like T.J. Moran.

My cousin and colleague, Genelle Parker Hughen, and I were meeting another Baton Rouge legend, Gerard Ruth, for dinner.  We wanted ribs.

But first I wanted to try the Gulf Coast Martini.  Tabasco was involved.  Garnished by a couple of boiled shrimp.  Jeremy, the young man tending our table whose age, he told us, was equal to Shaq’s shoe size, said it was spicy.  He was understating.  Tabasco was not a matter of involvement.  The relationship of Tabasco, vodka and gin was one of intimacy.  The cocktail was spicy and delicious.  The shrimp garnishes were spicy and delicious.  I was back in Louisiana.

While we waited for Gerard, Genelle and I shared the Spicy Sausage Plate.  Not as spicy as the Gulf Coast Martini but every bit as pleasurable.  Two large links of locally made pork sausage split and grilled.  Accompanied by grilled onions, deep fried pickles and Creole mustard.  The sausage probably would have tasted spicier had my taste buds not continued to dance to the tune of the martini.  As it was the sausage seemed mild.  Mild and very pleasant.

Once Gerard joined us it was baby back ribs around.  Why else would we be at TJ Ribs?  The baby backs were barbeque at its best.  Falling off the bone tender.  A delicious sauce that complimented the delicate meat without overpowering.

For side dishes I ordered two of my favorites.  TJ Ribs’ red beans and rice are as good as any I’ve ever eaten.  And the collard greens.  Oh yes!  The collard greens.  Another hint of spice.  A bit of smokiness.  As enjoyable as the ribs themselves.

Baton Rouge will miss T.J. Moran.  But the food he inspired remains.  It is a fitting memorial.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Juban’s

April 23, 2015 – It’s no secret that food is a way of life in Louisiana.  It’s a seductive way of life.  Many who move to the state from elsewhere find themselves quickly adopting local food.  Local customs.  The joie de vivre found in the state whose motto is “Laissez les bon temps rouler.”  The Cajun French phrase for “Let the good times roll.”

There are great restaurants scattered throughout the state.  Everything from small family-owned cafes specializing in fried catfish, po’ boys and gumbo, or fried chicken to those hallowed restaurants that are household names.  Among the royalty of the restaurant world.  Antoine’s.  Galatoire’s.  Arnaud’s.  Emeril’s.  Great names.  Great New Orleans restaurants.

Baton Rouge has its share of great restaurants.  On this trip I was looking forward to dinner at Juban’s.  One of the finest Baton Rouge restaurants.  From the sugar pot fountain in the small courtyard just outside the front door to the bread pudding dessert offering, Juban’s is all about Louisiana.

The Juban family opened the restaurant in 1983.  The family name has been synonymous with excellence from the beginning.  They took in Michael Shane Boudreaux as a partner a few years ago.  Boudreaux has been in the food business since he was 16 years old.  If the Juban family wanted a partner he was a good choice.  Though the family retains an ownership interest in the restaurant Boudreaux has now been named president.

Joey Daigle was introduced as executive chef in 2013.  Daigle is a Louisiana native.  Like all of us, the love of food is in his genes.  He didn’t decide he wanted a career in the kitchen until he was 23 years old.  Daigle says being a chef isn’t a job; it’s a lifestyle.  He felt he was coming late to that lifestyle.  He had some catching up to do.  He got a full time job at Galatoire’s Bistro in Baton Rouge.  Then he got a job working 35 hours a week at another restaurant.  He was anxious to learn.  He was willing to devote 70 to 80 hours a week to do it.

For a while he continued his education working at two of John Besh’s restaurants in New Orleans.  Then he headed west where he worked under Thomas Keller at Keller’s group of restaurants in California’s Napa Valley, including The French Laundry.  He immersed himself in the lifestyle of the chef.  He learned well.

I was meeting my neighbor of ten years, Selma Ruth, for dinner.  Whenever I’m in Baton Rouge on business I make it a point to see the Ruths.  They’re one of the best known couples in Baton Rouge.  More important to me, they were great neighbors.  On this trip Selma’s husband, Gerard, was in North Carolina at the furniture market.  So it was just Selma and me.

I arrived a few minutes early and was greeted by David Gipson, the man who would be tending our table.  David is a professional.  Good at what he does.  The kind of guy  who makes the dining experience so much better simply because he knows food.  He knows his restaurant.  He enjoys people.

I asked for a Dark ‘N’ Stormy before dinner.  Juban’s makes the cocktail with Old New Orleans rum and the usual ginger beer and lime juice.  It was excellent.  Dark.  Stormy.  Delicious.

Deciding on food was a lot harder.  Well, not for Selma.  She ordered what she always orders.  A small filet, medium, with mashed potatoes on the side.  It’s her favorite meal.

I, on the other hand, wanted to try everything on the menu.  I was in my native land so I had to have some native food.  But the menu was so awesome.  I really did want everything.  Gripped by the agony of indecision I admit to taking the easy way out.  I ordered the Chef’s prix fixe dinner.

This evening it started with chicken and Andouille gumbo.  The kitchen got the roux exactly as it should be for a good gumbo.  Dark.  Smoky.  That unique taste that lingers on the palate.  An excellent gumbo.  My down home fix for the trip.

The entrée was amazing.  A braised boneless short rib.  I’m seeing boneless short ribs show up more often on menus but frankly they haven’t been that good.  There’s something about the bone that adds sort of an all-beef lagniappe.  A little something extra to the taste.

Not so with Chef Daigler’s boneless short rib.  Beautifully marbled.  Cooked to a fork only tenderness.  Not a lot of meat.  So rich and tasty.  Not a lot was the perfect amount.

Selma was happy with her steak.  I was thrilled with an excellent cocktail, gumbo any Louisiana native would be proud of and one of the best braised short ribs I’ve ever eaten.

It’s why we say, “Laissez les bon temps rouler!”

Mestizo

September 22, 2014 – Some time around 2000 I was driving around Baton Rouge in search of an interesting place for dinner.  I passed what looked like a fast food style building with a sign that said Mestizo.  Mestizo?  An antiquated Spanish word meaning a person of mixed European and Native American heritage.  I had to know what this was all about.  I did a U-turn.

What I found resembled nothing even close to fast food.  Chef/owner Jim Urdiales was simply using what was once a burger place or some such to produce food that was all his own.  His creation.  And what a creation!

With a Hispanic father and a Cajun mother, Jim had grown up with two of the world’s great cuisines.  He put them together and came up with Mexican Cajun food.  Believe me when I tell you that you just haven’t lived until you’ve had a crawfish burrito or a shrimp and crab quesadilla.

Within a short time he moved his restaurant to a larger building in a better location.  His old customers followed him.  New ones found him.

Fast forward a decade.  The woman who is now my wife was coming to Louisiana for the first time.  She was arriving in the late afternoon.  I wanted her arrival to be memorable but it was just too complicated to prepare a dinner that would impress her and get to the airport to meet her flight.  The timing was risky.  I stopped by Mestizo to talk to Jim.  He agreed to put together a tasting menu for us.  A better idea.

I got her attention with a couple of chocolate martinis I whipped up at the house and then we were off to Mestizo.  Jim greeted us and did the serving himself.  Dish after familiar Mexican dish arrived at our table, all made with fresh Louisiana ingredients.   Tortillas.  Chilis. Shrimp.  Crab.  Crawfish.  She was delighted.  Impressed.  I was feeling clever.

Mestizo was one of the highlights of her visit.  Well, she did fall in love with New Orleans a day or two later when she discovered French Quarter bars provide go cups.  Such a civilized practice she thought.  And she did learn to “suck the heads & pinch the tails” with a plate of boiled crawfish at the Acme Oyster House.  But dinner at Mestizo was memorable.

A few days go I met my cousin, Genelle Parker Hughen, in Baton Rouge to take care of some business.  I took her to lunch at Mestizo and was pleased to find the food is as unique and wonderful as ever.

She opted for shrimp tacos.  Plump shrimp fresh from the Gulf of Mexico wrapped in corn tortillas.

I found one of my favorite Mexican dishes prepared Louisiana style.  A chili relleno.  Alleged to have originated in Puebla, a city southeast of Mexico city that was built by the Spanish in colonial days, it translates simply as “stuffed pepper.”

Chili rellenos are usually made with poblano peppers.  They can be stuffed with most anything but most often with cheese. The poblano is a dark green triangular shaped chili that is mild but has a very pleasing, dark flavor.  Mestizo, however, uses Anaheim peppers.  Even milder than the poblano.

The Anaheim is stuffed with crab and shrimp, rolled in a light breading and deep fried.  It’s served smothered in grilled onions, resting on a plate of traditional beans and rice.  But clearly the stuffing is the star of this show.  Louisiana shrimp and crab encased in the mild Anaheim.  A flavor combination that inspires delight!

Jim wasn’t in the day that Genelle and I had lunch at the restaurant.  But his Mexican Cajun creation was there.  And it’s thriving.  Evolving.  Growing.  Marvelous!

 

 

 

Poor Boy Lloyd’s

April 14, 2014 – Mary Kuntz was pretty in pink.  She told us she has worked at Poor Boy Lloyd’s in Baton Rouge for 37 years.  The original Lloyd died a while back, she said.  She seemed pleased to tell us that she was here to show current owner Fred Taylor the ropes when he took the place over more than 30 years ago.

My cousin, Genelle, and I were at Poor Boy Lloyd’s because Lloyd’s had what I needed.  What I needed was a po’ boy, Louisiana’s greatest contribution to the sandwich world.  (With apologies to Central Grocery of New Orleans and the muffuletta.)

The po’ boy originated in New Orleans.  Like many of the world’s favorite meals, it was working man food.  A section of French bread is sliced open and stuffed with fried oysters, shrimp, catfish, softshell crabs or any combination thereof.  The roast beef po’ boy, filled with shredded beef called “debris” and drowned in rich, dark gravy, is a New Orleans tradition.  And in recent years the French fry po’ boy has become popular. To put it simply, a po’ boy is a chunk of French bread stuffed with whatever you have on hand.

The predecessor of the po’ boy was the oyster loaf, popular in the last part of the 19th century.  It was also known as the “peacemaker,” allegedly because many an errant gentleman staggered home in the wee hours of the morning with one under his arm, hoping to distract the wrath of a waiting wife.

The name po’ boy originated at the Martin Brothers Coffee Stand and Restaurant.  Before Bennie and Clovis Martin opened their eatery they had worked as conductors on New Orleans street cars and were members of the streetcar employees union.  On July 1, 1929, streetcar motormen and conductors walked off the job and thus began one of the nation’s most violent strikes in a time known for brutal labor conflicts.

Patronage of the city’s streetcars fell to near zero partly due to fear of the viciousness exhibited by both sides.  But public support for the striking employees was also high among New Orleaneans.  The union received many letters of support, including one from the Martin Brothers in which they promised free meals to their striking union brothers.  The Martins ended their letter by saying, “We are with you till [sic] h–l [sic] freezes over, and when it does, we will furnish blankets to keep you warm.”

To keep their promise the Martins sliced long loaves of French bread into sections to make sandwiches.  Cheap.  Portable.  Delicious.  Immortal.

Bennie Martin is credited with uttering the phrase that led to the name po’ boy.  Tradition has it that he said, “Whenever we saw one of the striking men coming, one of us would say, ‘Here comes another poor boy.'” In the unique way New Orleaneans have with the English language, it didn’t take much to get from  “poor boy” to “po’ boy.”

Today I was in need of a fried catfish po’ boy.  I’d had the craving for a couple of days.  We had gone downtown one evening to find a place for dinner and spotted Poor Boy Lloyd’s.  But there was a blues festival on the river and the closest parking was many blocks away.  We went elsewhere for food that evening but Poor Boy Lloyd’s stayed in mind.

I ordered my po’ boy dressed.  In the language of the po’ boy that means with lettuce, tomato, pickles and mayonnaise.  For good measure I asked for a cup of red beans and rice on the side.  And a plate of fried pickles to share with my cousin.

I bit into the sandwich and it was exactly right.  The  crusty crunch of the French bread. The juiciness of fresh tomato and lettuce dressed with mayo.  Another slight crunch of the breading protecting the delicate filet.

Catfish is one of my favorite fish but only fried.  I’ve tried it many other ways but, to me, the fine texture of the white flesh just doesn’t stand up well with most treatments.  There are other fish more adaptable.  But fried with a light breading to hold in the moisture, catfish is exquisite .  Hard to find better.

The pickles were terrific.  Crunchy and sour and fun.

And the red beans and rice…well, I could write a whole separate piece about red beans and rice.  Oh wait!  I’ve already done that.  These red beans were great.  Just great.

After lunch, I stepped up to the register to pay the tab and met owner Fred Taylor.  Fred is one of those people born to be a restaurateur.  I had never met him before.  I only talked to him for maybe five minutes.  But when I walked away I had the feeling I’d made a new friend.

Even better my new friend knows how to put a po’ boy on the table.

See you soon, Fred.

 

 

Ruth’s Chris Steak House

April 12, 2014 – My cousin, Genelle, and I were carefully studying the menu like we’d never seen it before.

“What are we doing?” I asked her.  “We’re in Baton Rouge.  We’re at Ruth’s Chris.  We’re having steaks.”

I have a simple philosophy on such matters.  If you’re at Ruth’s Chris and you don’t order a steak, what’s the point of being at Ruth’s Chris?  Ruth’s Chris serves the best steak in the world.  Any Ruth’s Chris is good.  The Ruth’s Chris in Baton Rouge is the top.  It’s just as simple as that.

The Ruth in Ruth’s Chris was Ruth Fertel who passed away in 2002.  In 1965 she was a single mother faced with raising two sons and getting them through college.  Against all prevailing wisdom of the day she mortgaged her house and bought Chris Steak House in New Orleans for $18,000.  The mortgage was for $22,000 because she figured she needed another four grand to get started.

The Chris was Chris Matulich who opened the steak house in 1927.  He sold the place six times and each time the new owners didn’t make a go of it so he got it back.  Cheap.  Then along came Ruth.  He didn’t get it back.

She operated at the original location until 1976 when the building burned down.  Fortunately she had recently purchased a nearby location to use as the base for a catering company.  Within a couple of weeks Ruth was able to open for business in the new location.  But there was the small matter of the name.

The sales agreement gave Ruth the right to use the name Chris Steak House but only in the original location.  The new place would be Ruth’s Chris Steak House.  Tongue twister of a name but a legal end run around a small problem.  Ruth said she always hated the new name but she had to make it work.

1976 was a memorable year for another reason.  That was when Baton Rouge real estate developer T.J. Moran convinced Ruth to give him a franchise to open a Ruth’s Chris in Baton Rouge.  It was the first franchise and, in my view, still the best of the some 130 Ruth’s Chris restaurants that have subsequently opened under franchise agreements around the country.

I sipped on Ruth’s Chris version of my favorite cocktail, a French 75.  They call theirs a French Quarter 75.  They make it with Roederer sparkling wine, St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur, Beefeater Gin and lemon juice.  A raspberry dropped into the Champagne glass along with a lemon twist adds to the presentation.  A preeminent variation on the original cocktail.  Refreshing.

I ordered what I always order when I’m at Ruth’s Chris.  The bone-in cowboy ribeye.  Rare.  Genelle ordered the filet mignon.  We asked for mushrooms and potatoes au gratin, served family-style.

You can hear a Ruth’s Chris steak coming well before it reaches the table.  Their steaks are seared and cooked quickly at 1800 degrees.  They come out sizzling.  A dollop of butter is dropped onto the steak just before serving.  It adds to the sizzle.  It’s a happy sound.

The ribeye was perfectly rare.  Premier among steaks.  The mushrooms, dripping in butter, so pleasant to the taste.  Such a scrumptious partner to a sizzling steak.  And the potatoes, draped in a carpet of melted cheese.  Simply delectable.

Genelle ordered a crème brulee for dessert.  I went with my favorite southern sweet dish. Bread pudding with bourbon sauce.  The slight bite of the bourbon sauce turning day old bread into a succulent pastry.  A ballet for the palate.

We waited silently in the cool air of a Louisiana early spring evening while the valet brought our car up.  Dinner was at Ruth’s Chris.  There was nothing more to say.

Dearman’s

September 16, 2013 – There was a time when Dearman’s was a real, old fashioned drug store with a soda fountain.  I didn’t see it in those days but I remember seeing others just like it.  When I was a boy in Anchorage it was Woolworth’s that had the most popular soda fountain in town.

They’re all gone now.  Victims of the big box stores with whom the small independents just can’t compete.

The good news for Baton Rouge is that while Dearman’s drug store is no more Dearman’s soda fountain lives on.  It’s right there where it always was. All the shelving that once filled the store is gone.  It’s been replaced with a scattering of tables that look like small versions of the table in my grandmother’s kitchen, right down to the metal chairs with red plastic seats and backs.  Matching red booths line the front windows and the soda fountain itself with its row of stools marks the boundary between dining room and grill. 

Pictures of long gone icons cover the walls.  Marilyn Monroe gazes across the room at Joe DiMaggio, the man who loved her most.  He’s there with his pals Ted Williams and Mickey Mantle.  The Three Stooges, the Rat Pack, Lucille Ball and James Dean. They’re all there.  A working jukebox is against one wall.  And standing proudly just below Marilyn’s picture behind the soda fountain is one of those machines that makes malts and milk shakes.

I love burgers and fries.  I have a favorite burger joint in most every city that I visit.  In Baton Rouge it’s Dearman’s.  Walking through the door is like stepping back in time.  It always reminds me of Charley Pride singing, “Burgers and fries and cherry pies…it was simple and good back then…”

I took my cousins Fred Parker and Genelle Parker Hughen to Dearman’s when we were in Baton Rouge recently.  Fred ordered a hot dog.  Genelle was happy with just an order of fries and a chocolate malt.  I got my usual.  Cheeseburger with grilled onions and jalapenos, large order of fries and a chocolate milk shake.

The burgers are made by hand and taste like they just came off a backyard grill.  They’re deliciously messy to eat.  At least a three napkin burger.  The best kind.

The fries are hand cut from real potatoes.  Nothing frozen or thawed about’em.  And the large order turned out to be a basket.  A mountain of perfectly fried potato.  Crispy and browned on the outside.  Soft and tasty on the inside.  Fred and I worked our way through the basket of fries.

All too soon Genelle’s malt and my milk shake were gone.  It was time to rejoin the world as we know it today.  As we drove away I looked back at Dearman’s.  I’m pretty sure I could hear Charley singing still.  “And it was burgers and fries and cherry pies…in a world we used to know.”

Restaurant IPO

September 14, 2013 – Chef Chris Wadsworth opened Restaurant IPO in Baton Rouge a little over a year ago and immediately attracted the attention of local foodies. He was named one of Louisiana’s young chefs to watch this year. You had to look quick. He’s already gone to television as a celebrity chef with a national audience.

Meanwhile Restaurant IPO is doing just fine. Better than fine. It’s good. Brian, the young man who tended our table, told us that the remaining partners, Eric Macicek and Brandt Broussard, have brought in Chef Scott Varnado, previously of Stroube’s Chop House.

I was there with my cousins, Fred Parker and Genelle Parker Hughen. I had some business in town and they came down for a long overdue cousins’ reunion.

We spent some time discussing the menu with Brian. I was impressed with his knowledge of food. Especially his restaurant’s menu. I was more impressed with his knowledge of football. We spent some time discussing the Saints’ prospects for the season (excellent!) and how it feels to have our coach back (really great!).

We talked football for quite a while. We were the only ones in the restaurant. But it was early on a Saturday evening and there was an LSU game in town. The crowd would be along later. Sure enough by the time we left the place was filling up.

The football discussion might also have gone on because of the Brass Monkey I ordered from the cocktail menu. Meyers dark rum, citrus infused vodka and orange juice. The musky taste grows on you. It makes you want to order a second one. And it apparently makes you want to talk football.

It was an oysters night all the way for me. I requested the Bayou Eggs. Three deviled eggs seasoned with crawfish and tasso, that wonderful, spicy, peppery, smoked pork unique to Louisiana. A perfectly fried oyster was laid on each egg. An imaginative innovation on comfort food.

I was a little puzzled but Fred was delighted to learn that the Gulf fish of the evening was mahi mahi. As far as I know there’s never been a mahi mahi caught in the Gulf of Mexico but Fred didn’t care. While I was growing up in Alaska, my cousins were coming of age in Hawaii. Mahi mahi is his favorite seafood.

I did, by the way, once throw down the shovel I was using to clear three feet of snow from my driveway after a blizzard to call my dad. I asked him to explain how it happened that he moved his family to Alaska and his brother took his to Hawaii. Dad just laughed.

For an entrée I opted for more oysters. The Oyster Loaf. A panino, really, made with ciabatta with a Boursin cream sauce. The light cheese sauce was tasty and mild enough to allow the oysters to headline the show.

But Genelle really scored with her entrée. Shrimp and grits. The best grits I ever tasted.

We talked a little more football with Brian. We rather nonchalantly decided to share a dessert. Sweet potato bread pudding. The nonchalance disappeared with the first bite. That memorable traditional bread pudding flavor enhanced by the sweet potato, dressed with a praline sauce.

Extraordinary!

Amazingly delicious!

Louisiana inspired cuisine!

Acme Oyster House

April 30, 2013 – The other great New Orleans restaurant that opened in Baton Rouge after Katrina, and stayed, is the Acme Oyster House. 

Of all the wonderful restaurants in New Orleans, the Acme Oyster House is my number one.  It’s the first place I visit when I’m in the Big Easy.  It’s where I take first time visitors.  It’s where my wife first had raw oysters and boiled crawfish.  She tried the raw oysters following her discovery just a few minutes earlier of the quaint Vieux Carre custom of the “go cup” at a bar a couple of blocks down Bourbon Street.  Without the “go cup” there might not have been oysters.

I discovered decades ago that the Acme Oyster House is the perfect place to spend a rainy Sunday afternoon, sitting at the bar, watching the talented swift fingers of the shuckers opening oyster after oyster.  Oysters, gumbo, red beans & rice, boiled crawfish and cold beer.  Superlative foils to bad weather.  When the weather is sunny, just absolutely good food.

The Acme Oyster House opened in 1910 in a three story building on Royal Street in the Vieux Carre.  A disastrous fire burned the Acme Saloon Building to the ground in 1924.  That was when they moved into what had been an elegant 1814 townhouse on Iberville Street, just half a block off Bourbon.  It’s not elegant these days but it doesn’t have to be.  The food is enough.

By the mid 1980s the Acme had fallen on hard times.  Business was slow.  There was only one waitress on duty.  That led to the neon sign, still prominent in the window, saying, “Waitress available sometimes.”

Native New Orleanian Mike Rodrigue had faith in the Acme and in 1985 he bought it.  His faith was well placed.  The Acme has returned to its former popularity.  The expansion into Baton Rouge and a few other communities within short driving, and delivery, time of the Gulf oyster beds have done well.  These days the Acme goes through almost four million oysters a year.  That’s nearly 10,000 a day.  Bound to be some pearls in there somewhere.

When it comes to the Acme, I am completely traditional and immovable.  I want oysters, raw.  And red beans & rice.  If it’s a long afternoon, there might be a bowl of seafood gumbo involved also.  And if there are enough of us maybe even a bag of boiled crawfish.  But first oysters.  Then red beans & rice.

These are Gulf of Mexico oysters.  They’re bigger than the ones harvested on the Atlantic Coast.  I’ve seen oysters as big as my fist at the Acme.  On this day they weren’t that big.  Maybe two oysters to a fist.  Big.  Meaty.  Plump.  Juicy.  Beyond compare.

I wasn’t all that hungry so I passed on the gumbo and crawfish.  But I wasn’t going to miss out on red beans & rice.  Outside our kitchen, the Acme’s red beans & rice are the best.  Classically slow-cooked in their thick, well-seasoned broth.  And they come with a huge link of grilled sausage dripping  onto a chunk of French bread.

The Acme Oyster House.  Just add horseradish and Tabasco.