The Parish Cafe: NOLA in Healdsburg
Two years ago I posted about the fried-to-order beignets sold by Louisiana Legacy at local farmers markets. *
“Cajun in Exile”, Rob Lippincott Jr. opened his breakfast and lunch place in Healdsburg on October 20 and still serves beignets as well as other New Orleans specialties. I had a chance to try it at the two-week point, sliding in at 3:30pm to snag a table on the porch.
At this time of day, nearly everything was already sold out. No gumbo. No beignets. No etoufee. No focaccia to make muffalettas. From New Orleans herself and a member of the family, my waitress was a big part of the charm and authentic atmosphere here. She guided me toward the seafood, saying it’s flown in daily. I pointed at the “using local California ingredients” statement on the menu and asked the source of the shrimp and oysters, “Wild gulf shrimp, I hope?” Not sure, she went inside to ask the kitchen, then we both learned that the shrimp are farmed and the oysters are from Washington State. Next she suggested a po-boy, explaining that the bread is baked to their own recipe by Healdsburg’s Costeaux Bakery (Lippincott’s in-laws).
Wanting to diversify my order, I opted for one side and a salad. The fried okra would have to wait for another day, this time I went for the Cup of jambalaya, $4. Packed with meaty chunks of sausage and ham, the portion was not only overflowing the cup, but outsized in bold spicy flavor too.
Up next, the Fried oyster salad, $11 – Baby spinach generously coated in perfect uniformity with a tangy buttermilk vinaigrette, just enough to cling but not weigh down the tender leaves, picked up another flavor punch from a crumble of blue cheese and pale slivers of bacon. Medium-size oysters fried in a delicate cornmeal crust popped with briny juices and freshness and harmonized beautifully with the blue cheese.
I had requested hot sauce for my oysters and was presented with not only Louisiana's Crystal but also Knipplemeier & Lippincott's Honkey Donkey Haut Sauce. Taste-off time!
Made with habanero, serrano, red jalapeño and cayenne chiles, Honkey Donkey’s greater complexity won this contest handily in kick-ass form. With more pulp, the weight and consistency of Honkey Donkey is almost ketchup-like consistency versus the thinner Crystal. Using rice vinegar as well as white vinegar as the acid components gives Honkey Donkey a mellower, less sharp aftertaste that I found more appealing as well.
A good first showing, I’ll need to return to try a breakfast of shrimp and grits next or maybe a po-boy. The muffaletta’s recommended here by “jerry1235”.
The Parish Café
60 A Mill St.
(Note: Prices for po-boys are $1 higher on the printed menu than the website version. There’s also a breakfast menu, served until 11:30am, and a beer and wine list that includes Abita Amber.)
Closed Mondays and Tuesdays
Open Wed-Sunday, 9am to 4pm
(Note: These are the hours painted on the door. The website states 3pm closing time.)
* This is my August 2010 photo of the beignets linked in my Louisiana Legacy post,
and here’s the article by Carey Sweet for SFGate.com that stole my photo,
and published here on Hauteliving.com too,
That they would use focaccia as the bread for a muff shows they are trying to actually do those iconic sandwiches "correctly". No one in NOLA is these days! The muff bread I remember from my time in the Crescent City in the mid-60s had a more open airy texture, and a chewy consistency, somewhat akin to focaccia, but actually more like a very good, very large English muffin. A few years ago I did some research which indicates the muff bread introduced by Sicilians in New Orleans had roots in a bread in Sicily which was influenced by something like an English muffin (I seem to remember the English had some influence in Sicily in the 1800s or so, maybe building railways?). Anyway, the bread originally used was Sicilian in origin, but related to the English muffin, and that is the texture I remember from 1964-67. Today's bread seems like an overgrown hamburger bun to me! Perhaps with a bit more chew.
So hats off to these folks for trying to emulate that old-style bread. Tells me the rest of the menu might be worth checking out!
(By the way, this is why a recent CH thread about finding a great muff in the Bay Area made me chuckle. Hell, you can't even find a really good one in NOLA anymore! It's all about the bread!)
Thanks for the background on the origin of the muffaletta. As I mentioned, Costeaux Bakery in town is part of the family, so I hope they'll keep working on the appropriate breads until they can reproduce the real deal.
The advice I'd often heard is that one should hold a muffaletta for a day or two, as one would pan bagnat, to let the flavors meld and the oil seep into the bread. If the bread were better and not hamburger bun-like (I agree with your characterization), maybe that wouldn't be necessary.
Here's my old post on the muffaletta from Central Grocery that a friend had carried back and frozen for me. I shared it at a chowhound fundraiser after the Katrina disaster.