Roberto’s Restaurant in Sunshine serves up innovative takes on Creole and Cajun cuisines in a circa-1950s general store
Fish en Papillote: Fresh catch of the day, wrapped in parchment paper and baked with fresh herbs, lemon and white wine in the traditional French style, topped with jumbo lump crab meat.
Several factors make Roberto’s River Road Restaurant in Sunshine memorable. For starters, the location — it is nearly impossible to find to the extent that it can start to feel like a prank as you drive and drive, seemingly going nowhere — and the appearance of the former 1950s general store when it finally sprouts up facing the levee in the gravel parking lot. It pretty much screams “dive” from the exterior but the telltale line outside of the door prior to opening for lunch and dinner is a dead giveaway. Located 10 miles or so south of Baton Rouge on the Mississippi River levee in a clapboard building erected in 1850 that once bore a coat of white paint, Roberto’s changes the game just as soon as you open the door into a warm, rustic, inviting interior. There’s an echo throughout the cavernous space as you walk across the old wooden floors. Numerous salvaged mirrors of no discernible lineage and rustic signage lend a casual, shabby chic charm.
Mary and Roberto Sandoval started their careers together at the nearby Mike Anderson’s before moving on to join the opening team at Juban’s where, Mary says, Roberto, a native of Guatemala City, really found his groove in the kitchen, which he put to good use as one of the original owners of Mansurs. Several restaurant gigs later in 2001 the couple rented the old J.J. LaPlace Store on River Road in Iberville Parish in order to complete a catering job for which they were under contract when they lost their existing building in downtown Baton Rouge. The state suddenly commandeered it for a downtown redevelopment project. The Sandovals had no intention of remaining in the rather dubious River Road building, which originally served as a commissary and post office, before, in 1990, J.J. LaPlace was robbed, shot and killed while managing his general store.
Despite the building’s unsavory past the Sandovals quickly realized the strength of the petroleum industry in the area and the almost built-in clientele that came with the River Road location. They opened for lunch and dinner with Roberto in the kitchen executing riffs on the Creole and Cajun cuisines he had mastered at Juban’s and Mansur’s. And the rest, as they say, is history.
4 Dishes to Try
1. Shrimp Roberto
Three large shrimp stuffed with seafood dressing, wrapped in bacon, fried and served atop a pool of silky beurre blanc and finished with lemony Hollandaise.
2. The Roasted Duck St. Gabriel
Half of a waterfowl glazed with a currant and blueberry demi-glace reduction and served with creamy potatoes.
3. The River Road Shrimp
Packs just the right bite of spice with large Gulf shrimp sautéed in a brandy butter sauce seasoned with plenty of trinity and served over linguine.
4. Peppermint Mocha Crème Brûlée
A silken interior when you crack the sugary crust with the back of your spoon that you’ll never forget.
Shrimp Roberto: three stuffed shrimp wrapped in bacon, fried, set in beurre blanc and finished with hollandaise and parmesan cheese.
If travelling to Iberville Parish consider Nottoway Plantation & Resort in White Castle. The largest remaining plantation home in the south, the magnificent 64-room home was completed in 1859 for Mr. and Mrs. John Hampden Randolph and their 11 children. The Mansion Restaurant is situated in a meticulously restored dining room overlooking centuries-old oak trees and graceful gardens. The menu changes seasonally and the extensive wine lists features over 200 labels.
Roberto’s remains generally packed with regulars who come again and again. The usual steaks and fried seafood are here for sure but skip them unless you become a regular — and you just might.