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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Joe’s Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab

September 15, 2015 – Several months ago I received a text message that said, “We’re having dinner at Joe’s.  You have to try this place.”  The message was from my friend and colleague Paul Raak.  Since Paul is a self-professed “meat and potatoes” Midwesterner I figured Joe’s had to be special if he was recommending it.

It took several months before our schedules coincided but finally we met at Joe’s.  More specifically Joe’s Seafood, Prime Steak and Stone Crab.

The building at the corner of 15th and H Streets in Northwest Washington, D.C., is a historical one.  The African American entrepreneur James Wormley opened Wormley’s Hotel in 1871.  It catered to the rich and powerful of the day.  The hotel was the scene of the Wormley Hotel Conference during which representatives of Republican Rutherford B. Hayes and Democrat Samuel Tilden negotiated the Compromise of 1877 that resulted in the Hayes family moving into the White House.

As we entered the restaurant Paul asked me if it was part of a chain.  The answer, I said, is yes and no.

In 1913 Joseph and Jessie Weiss opened a restaurant in their Miami Beach home.  The specialty of the house soon became the unusual stone crab.  Found in the western Atlantic from southern New England around Florida into the Gulf of Mexico and as far south as Belize, the stone crab is harvested by breaking off its claw.  That’s all.  One crab.  One claw.  The crab is tossed back into the ocean and immediately begins to regenerate a new claw.  A marvel of self-preservation.  Fortunately for us also a miraculous self-sustaining food source.

The family operated Joe’s Stone Crab for more than 90 years.  In 2000, they partnered with Richard Melman’s Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises.  The new partnership opened the first Joe’s Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab in Chicago.  That was followed by a second restaurant in Las Vegas.  The D.C. presence premiered in January of 2014, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the original Joe’s Stone crab.

Inside the restaurant is all warmth.  Dark woods and leather.  Tuxedoed maître d’.  An impressively professional wait staff.

I told Bridget, who was tending our table, that I thought I should try the stone crab because that’s where it all started.  But, I told her, I had never eaten it before.  I needed guidance.  She explained that the crab claws would arrive cold and cracked.  It would be up to me to strip away the broken pieces of shell and extract the meat.

She also said the traditional accompaniments to stone crab were hash browns and cole slaw served family style.  Paul ordered the salmon au poivre.  The hash browns and cole slaw worked for him.

A few minutes later Miguel showed up.  He made the cole slaw tableside.  Cole slaw Hungarian style.  Bridget told us the restaurant still uses Joe Weiss’ grandmother’s recipe.  The chopped cabbage is marinated in apple cider vinegar.  Miguel skillfully mixed it with mayonnaise and a pickle relish.

Bridget delivered the stone crab claws on a plate all by themselves with a light mustard sauce as an escort.  Clearing away the broken shell and extracting the meat is messy business.  It’s worth the effort.  The slight sweetness of the meat is mellowed by undertones of ocean.  The  chunks of crab dipped in the mustard sauce were delightful.

The hash browns were nicely done.  Their crispy warmth was a fine contrast to the cold seafood.  The sweetness of the cole slaw brought the savory flavor of the potatoes and the salt water tang of the crab together exquisitely.

When I was done with the meal I had crab everywhere.  The cloth napkin that came with the table setting made no progress whatsoever toward cleaning my hands.  Fortunately, no sooner had the dishes been cleared than I found a metal bowl placed on the table with instructions to cup my hands over it.  Juice from a lemon was squeezed over my hands and I was given a warm wet cloth with which to wash.  Paul received the same cleansing treatment even though he had a fork to eat with.

Did I say the service at Joe’s is peerless?  Well, I certainly should have.