American Fryer 

Tiny downtown eatery serves up unusual, delectable Louisiana specialty

Tiny downtown eatery serves up unusual, delectable Louisiana specialty

Wilma Kaye’s Restaurant

205 Third Ave. N. 248-7800

Open 7:30-10 a.m. and 11 am-2:30 p.m. Mon-Fri.

Transplanted New Yorker Olando Joseph Digiambattista (O.J. to his friends, family, and colleagues) is a loyalist. He’s loyal to his borough: “There’s no place like Brooklyn!” Loyal to his baseball team: “The Yankees are gonna win it all!” Loyal to his football team, the Miami Dolphins: “Through thick and thin!” And loyal to his restaurants: “I come here every day for lunch,” he testified early this week as he stood at the counter of Wilma Kaye’s on Third Avenue North.

Wilma Kaye Hinshaw, manning the counter, and her son, Randy Ramsey, standing at the grill, nodded in affirmation. “Every day,” Wilma Kaye said. He’s not the only regular. The tiny storefront, tucked between a parking garage and a vacant building, opened last November and has been growing a steady customer base ever since; Hinshaw and her son fax out weekly menus to just over 300 people. Still, their business is so small that it’s easy to walk right past their door without noticing.

A flier touting the restaurant as the Home of the Cajun Fried Pie, along with an unsigned letter from a “Wilma Kaye devotee,” lured me downtown to check it out. Besides the Cajun fried pies, the nine-seat luncheonette offers other Louisiana specialties, including po’boys, chicken and sausage gumbo, crawfish étouffée, jambalaya, and red beans and rice, as well as salads, Cajun catfish, chicken fingers and shrimp, and breakfast turnovers.

Cajun fried pies are described as “large turnovers made with a delicious, flaky semi-sweet dough and filled with great flavorful dishes of Cajun, French, and Southern heritage.” Ramsey based his dish on a meat pie popular in Natchitoches, La. According to John Egerton’s fine book Southern Food at Home, on the Road, in History, Natchitoches is the oldest permanent settlement in the state, predating New Orleans by four years. It is also home to Lasyone’s Meat Pie Kitchen and Restaurant, which grew out of Jo Ann and James Lasyone’s butcher shop in 1968. Remembering the meat pies that vendors sold on the street in Natchitoches, James experimented with some recipes and ended up with a highly seasoned beef and pork hash deep-fried in a half-moon pastry.

Ramsey, who with his mother is from Lake Charles, La., went a step further with the meat pie, filling his with dishes like chicken fricassee; sirloin, potato, and cheese; shrimp and crabmeat au gratin; cheese and hot pepper chicken; and shrimp Diane. Ramsey does all the cooking from scratch using his own recipes.

The Cajun fried pie we sampled—Monday’s version was chicken fricassee—was terrific, filled with chicken and rice, then deep-fried, but not a bit greasy. Fresh fruit turnovers are made with the same dough and deep-fried as well. The other offerings were also quite good. The red beans and rice had a thick red gravy flecked with bits of green pepper and onion. The soupy gumbo was chock-full of andouille sausage, dark-meat chicken, celery, onion, green pepper, and rice—but no okra, which is a plus to many gumbo lovers. Neither dish was spicy; grab a bottle of Tabasco and turn up the heat as you like it. Except for the roast beef po’boy, which is doused with a thick, brown gravy, the po’boys come undressed, with only shredded lettuce and sliced tomato. Mayo, mustard, cocktail sauce, and tartar sauce are available in packets, although I like mine pre-dressed with that mayo-based sauce common to many Louisiana eateries (but not Wilma Kaye’s).

One thing O.J. Digiambattista isn’t loyal to is any particular dish at Wilma Kaye’s. He gets something different every day. “It’s all good!” he says. I’m taking his word for it. The downtown workers who walked right past Wilma Kaye’s on their way to lunch somewhere else are truly missing something special. Just ask O.J. He’ll tell you.

Night shift

Sylvia Harrelson and Greg Fox, owners of the delightful Cibo cafe on Church Street, have commenced their Salon du Vin, an offering of select wines and light appetizers that should be especially appealing to TPAC patrons before the performance. The menu changes, but some things to look for are a vegetable terrine with a goat cheese center on a bed of greens; soups; salmon mousse; a Sicilian-inspired antipasto; and a champagne Parisian salad. The new evening hours are 5:30-8 p.m. Wed.-Sat. Cibo is at 706 Church St. Phone: 726-2426.

Now serving

Several new openings to report:

Defying superstition, Le Cou Rouge, which translates from French as “The Red Neck,” opened for dinner on Friday the 13th. The restaurant, partnered by chef-owner Richard Graham and executive chef Kevin Alexandroni, moved to Nashville from Dyersberg, Tenn., where it attracted a following for its innovative menu based on a fusion of French and Southern ingredients and techniques. The menu will change daily, with a special menu of caviar and fresh oysters on the half-shell changing seasonally.

Graham and Alexandroni held a special preview tasting on Oct. 4. Invited guests sampled items like caviar and crème fraîche served over a crab-cake blini; seared foie gras served over a bed of red lentils with a drizzle of blackberry sauce; seared day boat scallops served over polenta with a sweet confit of jalapeño; and black peppercorn ice cream with fresh berries.

The opening-night menu a week later included the pair’s signature gumbo salad; a half-dozen oysters on the half-shell with apple-shallot sorbet; braised lamb shank with white bean purée and cranberry Marsala sauce; and Creole honey-glazed rack of lamb on wilted spinach and a sweet potato mash.

Le Cou Rouge, in the former Sylvan Park Restaurant on Bandywood in Green Hills, is open for dinner Tuesday-Saturday from 5:30-11 p.m. and for Sunday brunch from 9 a.m.-2 p.m.

Virago, which loosely translates to “strong-willed woman,” opened three weeks ago in the former Slice of Life/Peaceful Planet building at 1811 Division St. Owned by Chris Hyndman, Virago features a full sushi bar and a West Coast-inspired menu with Latin American, Asian, and French influences. Chef Anthony Bates put in time at Bread & Company, Wild Boar, and the Capitol Grill. Virago operates its sushi bar from 5 p.m. until midnight Mon.-Sat.; the dining room and full kitchen open at 6 p.m., and a late-night menu is served until 1 a.m.; the bar is open until 3 a.m. The restaurant expects to begin serving lunch by early November. Phone: 320-5149.

Mooooove over, Baskin-Robbins. Maggie Moo’s, a national franchiser based in Columbia, Md., has entered the Nashville market with a new store in the strip center on the upper perimeter of The Mall at Green Hills, a couple of doors down from Ruby Tuesday. The ice-cream store’s specialty is something called “hand-folded ice cream.” Customers choose an ice cream flavor from 40 possibilities and a mix-in: chocolate chips, cherries, nuts, sprinkles, candy, etc. The ice cream is scooped onto a cold marble slab, and the extras are mixed in with a spatula, then loaded into a bowl, cone, or waffle bowl. The store also makes smoothies, ice cream cakes, milk shakes, and fudge. Located at 2120 Green Hills Village Dr. Phone: 297-6244. Open 11 a.m. daily, closing 10 p.m. Sun.-Thurs and 11 p.m. Fri.-Sat.

Continuing education

Parco’s Cafe, the popular lunch counter in Farmers Market, is temporarily closed. Couple Tsuo and Chun Fu, who own the cafe, have gone back to their native Taiwan for additional culinary schooling. They’ll return, new recipes in hand, before the Thanksgiving holiday.

Do The Jerk

In the meantime, Farmers Market visitors can instead buy lunch at the African Caribbean Market, owned by Gallo Fall, located just two aisles away from Parco’s. Jerk chicken by the piece ($1.99) and beef or chicken patties ($1.75) are available every day. On Saturdays and Sundays, get a plate of curried goat or jerk chicken with potatoes, rice, and beans for $6.

Mirror, Mirror

Mirror, the new restaurant on 12th Avenue South that features a diverse menu of tapas (small plates), has added a more conventional menu focusing on different regions each month. September was France; October is Italy.

Get in the mood with the appropriate aperitif: Campari and soda or strega liquore. There are four starters, among them potato gnocchi with a lemon-sage broth, and bleu-cheese-and-basil polenta fries with spicy tomato sauce. The four entrees include osso bucco with risotto and red wine demi-glace, and grilled leg of lamb stuffed with rosemary-and-sage pesto, potato pancakes, and mushroom ragout.

Mirror is at 2317 12th Ave. S. Phone: 383-8330.

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