We pulled onto the I-440 ramp at West End Avenue at 10:45 a.m., Sunday, May 31, 2009, and arrived at Ri'Chard's Louisiana Café at 11:03 a.m., Sunday, May 31, 1945. Give or take a decade or two. Surely there is no easier trip back in time than the journey to the intersection of Whites Creek Pike and Old Hickory Boulevard, where Richard Trest is seeding a live-music landmark in a historic building at the sleepy crossroads.
For you city slickers, imagine airlifting the gritty brick-walled dining room of Mad Platter or the bygone Café 123 and setting it down caddy-corner from a plumbing store and across the street from an abandoned gas station. Add a stretch of two-lane road lined with cow pastures and a menu dotted with crawfish, shrimp and fried pickles, and voilà—Ri'Chard's Louisiana Café.
A New Orleans transplant and recovering financial manager for a major corporation, Trest opened Ri'Chard's almost four years ago. Since that time he has been steadily fortifying the menu, updating the building and fleshing out a roster of singer-songwriters who play nightly against a backdrop of quilts on the homespun stage in the front of the room.
The Scene's inaugural review of Ri'Chard's praised just about everything about the low-key eatery—with the notable exception that Ri'Chard's lacked beignets, étouffée, chicory coffee and beer. Let the record show that the beer permit ultimately came through, Trest remedied the other omissions, and our overall enthusiasm for Ri'Chard's as an anachronistic delight remains.
At 11:03 on the morning in question, Gary Cavanaugh was serenading a handful of tables in the roux-colored room with his folksy lazy-Sunday repertoire, until John Richards took over with a light jazz set. The plates emerging from the kitchen were equal parts brunch and dinner fare, with oversized stuffed bell peppers, pancakes, waffles and jambalaya, though the labor-intensive étouffée was not in the brunch offerings.
A basket of beignets and a cup of Community Coffee made a delicious overture. Trest said he was slow to introduce the staple New Orleans pastry until he found just the right recipe. He landed on a dough that rises just enough that the finished product is like a pillow of sweet stretchy yeast roll with a delicately deep-fried patina. Covered in powdered sugar and served piping hot, the beignets are reason enough to seek out Ri'Chard's and, frankly, are enough to make a whole breakfast. But save room for a roster of homemade New Orleans-inspired delights, most of which are available at both brunch and dinner.
With an emphasis on fresh and seasonal ingredients, Ri'Chard's menu and the individual dishes vary from day to day—depending on the availability of Gulf seafood and other regional specialties such as boudin. On our visit, jambalaya was made with four kinds of sausage—andouille, chorizo, smoked sausage and tasso ham—and no chicken. The texture of the rice was unexpectedly fluffy, and the savory brown medley showcased the smoky flavor of the sausages rather than leaning too heavily on overly salty seasoning.
Having found a good price on bell peppers, Trest was serving them stuffed with rice, diced flank steak and a medley of chopped bell, ancho, sweet banana peppers (grown by a neighbor) and four kinds of onion. We did not see this special until mid-meal, when a vibrant oversize pepper at a nearby table caught our eye, but we'll ask for it next time we're there.
Shrimp creole was a pretty, if characteristically bland, mélange of tomatoes, peppers and onions, but the shrimp were of good size and very lightly cooked to retain their fresh, sweet pop. And the generous side of fried okra was bright-green under a crisp golden-brown coating—and free of any okra goo.
From a list of po'boys—including ham-and-cheese, sausage and cheesesteak—we chose fried shrimp, which were lightly dredged in Zatarain's-flecked flour and served on fluffy loaves flown in from Gambino's Bakery. (Gambino's also supplies the bread and olive relish for the 2-pound muffuletta.) Paper-thin pickle chips covered in the same sandy coating were served with homemade ranch and Creole mustard for dipping.
On a more breakfasty note, an enormous omelet arrived fluffy and filled with vegetables, ham and cheese. (Note to self: If you don't want onions and peppers in your omelet, then don't order the pico de gallo, a.k.a. Pico de Bayou, either. Duh.) Waffles and pancakes were both large enough to make an ample meal for a child. (At $3.50 and $2.50 respectively, pancakes and waffles rival the kids' meals, which come with fries and Mardi Gras beads for $4 and under.) In fact, Ri'Chard's is surprisingly kid-friendly, with a stack of coloring books and a box of crayons at the back of the room and a treasure chest from which kids get to pick a prize—as long as they finish their food.
As for us, we finished all our food, to the extent that we were too stuffed for any of the cake and pie, made by the mother of one of the servers. Of course, if we'd had any room, we would have revisited the outstanding beignets or added ice cream for a beignet bomb.
We'll save that indulgence for our next trip, later in the summer, when Trest finishes the patio. From outdoor dining to chicory coffee, things keep getting better at Ri'Chard's, and since Trest is so committed to improving his quirky Bayou-flavored music venue, we'd like to make one more request: pure maple syrup for the pancakes and waffles. He answered the call for beignets, so it never hurts to ask.
Ri'Chard's serves dinner with live music 5:30 to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and brunch 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday. For a complete listing of music, visit richardtrest.com.
Email email@example.com, or call 615-844-9408.
Dr. Preuss of Georgetown University and Dr. Mary Enig, Ph.D.
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