Local Restaurants

red_gravyOk, so I was just going to be lazy and post this picture to Finding Fresh's social media accounts* . . . I mean, I try so many different local products and sometimes they aren't good or just mediocre at best.

But this "Red Gravy" from Tony Mandina's in Gretna that I picked up on a whim today at Rouses in Thibodaux was a really great surprise. I mean,

I think this is the best store bought pasta sauce I've ever had . . . 

I actually enjoyed it a lot. And I'm a slow-cook-your-homemade-sauce-all-day girl. But this is a great option for a lazy or crazy busy day . . . 

Well done. Worth the $8. And, I saw that you can even buy it at nolacajun.com if you can't make it this far south.

*so take note . . . just because I'm too lazy [insert too busy] to post to the actual blog sometimes . . . I'm always posting pictures to my social media . . . so follow me over there ->

nola_la_heartGRETNA

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pistachiosIt's been a while. I mean, I've still been eating (and even posting some of the pics to Instagram), but I've been really distracted by other stuff. . . . like distracted going on 4 months now.

I've had food things to talk about… we grilled veggies marinated with the Baton Rouge-based Hooked on RE: on Labor Day and it was awesome on everything it touched … my husband took me to The Little Village in Baton Rouge last week and then to La Thai in New Orlean's uptown this weekend . . . and both were fabulous . . . 

eats. . . but then something else comes up and I forget… or, more likely, I decide that actual eating and keeping everyone alive takes precedence over writing about it. I feel like the waterspout of parenthood, career, volunteerism and [fill in the blank]… has sucked me up and all I see is the blur as everything shoots by.

So I've decided… either I need to win the lottery (I totally don't play) and hire a personal chef, trade husbands for a true Cajun one that likes to cook (yes not-from-Louisiana ladies, Cajun men cook . . . like well . . . . I'm still trying to get my jambalaya to taste as good as one of our good friend's . . . of course that may be because I don't use all the meat stuff . . .), or, I suppose I'm just going to have to simplify and, just like it dawned on me to bring my kids' school lunches back to basics, I need to bring my life back to basics.

Now, there are a few new things in Thibodaux that can help with a crazy life and eating well.

  • Elizabeth Cotter's community-supported 12th Street Bakery is back from a summer break with organic, I'm-not-really-even-a-bread-person deliciousness available for pickup every week.
  • And then the new Momentum Fitness has worked with a local chef to offer healthy and good-tasting (because we all know those two things don't always go together) meals you can buy each week.
  • And then another resource for organic foods . . . especially stuff you can't find at local markets or farms . . . is Azure Standard, an Oregon-based company that delivers to local drops (the closest for us is Gonzales).

That's a few . . . I'm trying out some others and I'll let you know about them soon.

So anyway, what did I do last night? I ate pistachios for dinner while I watched The LSU game with my family … completely ignoring the freelance projects that keep trying to suck me up.

la

SOUTH
LOUISIANA

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salad copyThis summer has been psycho busy. What was supposed to be a peaceful summer turned into freelance-work hell (pardon my explicit, though accurate term), some add-on (though lovely) trips and 2-weeks with a broken air conditioner (Louisiana is spelled j-u-n-g-l-e).  

We just got back from a weeklong trip to the beach, we have a new air conditioner and I've made big progress on most of my freelance projects. So in an attempt to foster the peace, my husband took me to one of my favorite out-of-the-way places — Nottoway Plantation — for a date the other night.

The first time my husband took me there, I sort of thought we weren't ever coming back . . . it's that in the middle of nowhere. But I know why they built there in the 1850s, it's serene and beautiful on the banks of the Mississippi. And The Mansion Restaurant, with over-sized windows overlooking lawns with sweeping Oaks, has delicious food.

As with all restaurants that I love, their menu features local Louisiana foods. And as the waiter went through their daily specials he said they had a duck special. My husband loves duck. Duck with Swiss chard and wild rice in a fig and raspberry reduction . . . totally what my husband would love. And then the waiter said it.

duck_pie copy"And it's really delicious. It's Mallard."

I'm not sure what I thought my husband was eating when he ate duck . . . but I never envisioned it was one of the cute, green-headed kinds. I suddenly had visions of a limp, iridescent green head lying on his plate. The waiter actually laughed out loud at my wide-eyed stare. There's a reason I'm mostly a vegetarian.

Anyway, I usually get the Louisiana strawberry salad, but this time I tried and loved their house salad with almond brittle and Louisiana cane vinaigrette. And even with the duck trauma, I took a vegetarian break and had an amazing chicken breast over mini-cubed potatoes tied together with a savory, full-bodied sauce. I guess chickens don't make me feel as bad because they're ugly?! But in the end, both the chicken and the duck looked remarkably similar . . . and the fig and raspberry sauce on the chard was divine.

And date night is always a dessert night. I'm funny about sugar, I'll only eat it if it's made with really good ingredients and worth it. And the bourbon pecan pie was worth it. . . which reminded me why I get pecan pie in the South and not in New York City (like I did for Thanksgiving last year and couldn't even finish one bite).

And for a minute, just before the school crazy begins, the summer was peaceful and I was on a hot date.

wc_la_heartWHITE CASTLE

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genealogyMy mom and I worked on genealogy when I was at home last week . . . and since then, I've gone a little berzerk. Like I've traced my husband's family back to the 1600s in Spain on one side and the 1500s in France on the other . . . who then moved to Acadia, Canada, and then here. 

So yesterday we decided to take his mom and go on a little day trip to the family homes and gravesites and take pictures to add to the family tree. We took some pictures of his South Louisiana heritage and found some South Louisiana good eats along the way.

We started in Paincourtville to find the grave site of a relative who drowned in Bayou Lafourche at age 10 and his sister who died after shooting herself in the leg . . . . hmmmm . . . Anyway, we decided to stop for lunch in Donaldsonville on our way to Brusly and randomly found The Grapevine Cafe and Gallery when I did a quick search for lunch options. And it was such a nice surprise — a creative, locally inspired menu in a gallery of Alvin Batiste art. Not a lot of vegetarian choices, but the portobello fries with garlic aioli were delicious. And across the table, my husband was raving about the blackened redfish with lemon butter . . . if you like that kind of thing . . .

We had a few more stops and ended up at two cemeteries . . . that are now in the 'hood . . . in Baton Rouge for a couple of great-great grandparents. We also stopped to see Mike the Tiger . . . because that's just what you do when you have little boys and are in Baton Rouge.

On our way back south, I was searching for a new local place to get dessert and came across some locally produced caramel apples, Le Posh Pomme, sold at Alexander's Highland Market. So we stopped. And, I can't believe I just discovered this market. Its whole focus is local food and they carry all my favorite stuff. Now, I will forgive myself a little . . . it just opened a little over a year ago. But still. Anyway, they are sooo conveniently located south of Baton Rouge just off of I-10 by the Blue Bayou Waterpark. It's closer than Whole Foods, has more local stuff and is missing the frantic, watch-out-for-the-crazy-yuppies Whole Foods' experience.

We never found the caramel apples, the bakery people said they hadn't seen them in a while, but that they're really good and sell out really quickly. Hmmm, Le Posh Pomme, be on notice, I'm hunting you down. But we did find some locally made bread from Our Daily Bread bakery and I finally got a bottle of the locally made Re:'s dressing/marinade that I've been wanting to try. I'll let you know what I think.

So it was a good day — tripping with my family, tracing their family's steps and finding new local foods.

la

SOUTH
LOUISIANA

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athenosSo we're geauxing Greek (and Lebanese) in the big Thib!

I've been patiently waiting for Athenos Cafe to open, watching the progress inside and keeping an eye out for the neon open sign to light up. 

They actually opened last week, but I was in Texas . . . and my really sweet husband, who was home, waited for me to get back (it's the little things y'all).

Anyway, I've been excited about this place first because I love any kind of Mediterranean food, and second because up until now, Chinese has been exotic for Thibodaux.

I know you're supposed to give new restaurants a little while to get into a groove before trying them . . . but I just couldn't wait. So since I knew better and went anyway, I'll forgive the hostess asking my mother-in-law, who came in by herself, if she wanted a table for two (my mother-in-law asked us later if she looked that big) . . . and I'll forgive the wait staff for getting a little confused with table orders and for them being out of falafel (fried patties made out of ground chickpeas).

I ended up getting the vegetarian plate with hummus, grape leaves, spanakopita (spinach pie) and eggplant musaka. And it was good. I'm a little spoiled by Greek and Lebanese food in bigger cities, like Mr. Greek and Lebanon's Cafe in New Orleans. But this was good. And I expect they'll get even better the longer they are open.

I know I'll be back. It's fresh and a completely different flavor palette than anything else in town. So geaux for the big vegetarian menu and geaux to support a new food adventure in Thibodaux.

thib_la_heartTHIBODAUX

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trulyfreeThis post marks a conscious decision to be real. Very real.

I really wish everything in South Louisiana was wonderful with fairies and sparkly dust. But is isn't. Alligators are scary, it's more humid and hot than you can possibly imagine until you've experienced it and… not all local food and goods are . . . well . . . good.

So, here I go with being real.

bangsFirst, I'm skeptical of trends and fads. Ever since I did poofy bangs in the early 90s, I have been wary of what's "in." Look over there, see, I learned the hard way (and I was so good, I did my little sister's hair too . . . poor thing). Anyway, I feel like the trendy food thing right now is gluten free/diary free/something free . . . whatever. Now I know allergies are real and if you truly are allergic to one of these things, that must stink.

Another thing I dislike is substitutes. I've been around health conscious people all my life and have seen oils/fats in a recipe replaced with applesauce, meats with processed soy "meat," and chocolate with carob. I say, if I decide, for whatever reason, not to eat something, then I just won't eat it . . . I'll eat other stuff rather than look for substitutes.

So all of that influenced my lunch experience yesterday. I've been wanting to try Truly Free Bakery and Deli, a wheat, gluten and dairy free eatery in Baton Rouge. I mean it's local, its mission is healthy, they will deliver even to Thibodaux, and . . . . . it's just not good.

Other than the humorless waiter . . . seriously, he never smiled and recoiled at my friend's 10-month-old's bottle asking, "is that dairy?!". . . . they were really nice. Now to be fair, the sweet potato fries sweetened with Agave were good. But the fresh-squeezed limeade was overly sweetened with something that left a strange residue and bad aftertaste in my mouth . . . like for hours. And the vegetable panini was dry with raw summer squash and zucchini, overly sweet raspberry salad dressing all on strangely textured gluten-free bread. I will say the 10-month-old liked the bread for a little while . . .

I'm totally hoping this was just my personal experience — a one-time thing — and in the sub-genre of everything-free food, they're really great. But I think I'll just be moving on to other food experiences. And if I want food with nothing in it, I just won't eat.

br_la_heartBATON ROUGE

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geauxfishFirst, let me just say that I think it's charming that anything with a long o sound in South Louisiana gets spelled eaux.

So it's no surprise that my favorite local sushi and hibachi restaurant is named Geaux Fish.

Not only does it have a cool, local-styled name, but they also have two fantastic vegetarian choices: vegetable sushi rolls and vegetable tempura . . . oh and they also have vegetable spring rolls, though I can only handle one fried item per meal and the tempura gets my vote.

Vegetable tempura is basically vegetables dipped in a very light batter, fried, and then served immediately with tentsuyu sauce — kind of a sweet soy sauce — for dipping. My favorite vegetables for tempura are broccoli, green beans, sweet potatoes and mushrooms. But you can basically do any veggie.

My grandmother was born in Asia (the Philippines to be exact, but they also lived in China and other countries) to missionary parents and is a fantastic vegetarian cook . . . especially Japanese food. She taught me how to make vegetable sushi and happily slaved away over tempura for us. It's funny how you have no idea how much of a pain something is until you grow up and try to do it for yourself. . . . so I eat at Geaux Fish until I can make it to my grandma's kitchen in Northern California (remember that Air Force brat thing . . . . yea, that means my family is all over the freaking place. . . no good, really).

Anyway, while tempura is best fresh, it and the sushi still make pretty good takeout when you just can't stand the thought of managing your kids in public . . . which would be me tonight!

thib_la_heartTHIBODAUX

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m_andersons2Every time we go to Baton Rouge, my husband tries to talk me into eating at Mike Anderson's Seafood . . . he says it's an institution there. Problem is, I hate fish and anything that comes from the sea. And he knows it.

But, I guess I was feeling giving . . . maybe it was the Easter break . . . and I went to make him happy . . . and hopefully to get him to stop suggesting it. Anyway, the obvious part is that there was basically nothing on the menu without some kind of seafood in it.

Except one: the fried green tomato poboy.

I don't do fried very often, but this was delicious and so worth it — a fun take on two Southern specialties: fried green tomatoes and poboys. On the side I got the sweet potato fries. I was a little on fried-food overload, so I chose the baked option, which makes for a soft textured and rich flavored fry . . . I guess without being fried it's then just a slice/wedge/chunk?

Anyway, there may only be one thing on the menu I like, but it's good enough that I don't think I'll mind when he suggests this again. And I did have fish . . . . just as my plate 🙂

br_la_heartBATON ROUGE

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soup_povOne of the many great things about South Louisiana — in addition to the food community — is the vibrant local magazine community.

And in the April issue of Point of Vue there's a recipe for a Southern-inspired vegetarian tomato soup that looks really good . . . . no, I haven't had a chance to try it yet, but it's by the executive chef at one of my most favorite restaurants, Cristiano Ristorante in Houma. So the odds are good.

So grab an April issue before the end of the month or check out the recipe on their website.

houma_la_heartHOUMA

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curryThai food is crazy diverse with awesome, rich flavors that don't need meat. And my favorite Thai food nearby is Song Phi Nong in Houma.

I usually get red curry with tofu. But the other day I was chatting with my seriously tall Australian student and he looked down at me like I'd lost my mind . . . . "Nobody eats that. Try the green curry." But I don't like chunks of eggplant and green peppers . . . .  "Try it." OK.

And you know what, the big chunks of eggplant were really good in this coconut milk-based sauce. And he's right, it's a new favorite.

Just one quick piece of advice . . . the spice levels are kinda unpredictable. I'm sort of a big sissy and don't like much spice. And even though I've learned to ask for no spice, it was still so spicy once that I couldn't even eat it. Like sweating, chugging water kind of spicy. So I said something and the waitress was just like, oh OK. I've decided you get what you get.

So I asked the Aussie if he had any trouble with the spice. No. But then again, when you're 6'7", most people know better.

houma_la_heartHOUMA

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