Louisiana, one of the great cultural melting pots in a country rife with such examples, can correctly lay claim to possessing a treasure trove of Old World customs amid New World landscapes.
The presence among us of the Isleños, a people indigenous to Spain’s Canary Islands off the coast of that historic European monarchy, further reinforces our state’s international heritage. When Spain needed its loyal subjects to populate its holdings in distant lands, Canary Islanders, Isleños, were called upon. More than 2,000 arrived in St. Bernard Parish from 1778 to 1783.
When John Besh conceived the idea of a new restaurant honoring the cuisine of the Isleños of Louisiana, he tapped the culinary talents of another son of New Orleans, chef Brian Landry, and Borgne was born, taking the restaurant’s name from that region around that lake where the Isleños maintain their ways of life even to this very day.
The Spanish-style cuisine that forms the core of Borgne’s menu is as familiar as the food your mother prepared. Vegetable beef soup, jambalaya, meat pies, shrimp Creole, grillades and more, all form the bridge between what we know and what the Isleños brought from home.
Chefs Besh and Landry have approached their task with love and respect. Coming out of the kitchen are beautiful things, using raw Louisiana ingredients in “new” ways. The menu is culturally revealing, and Landry’s hand-written liner notes provide further guidance to this culinary journey.
Begin with crawfish croquetas in a chipotle remoulade, or duck poppers with jalapeno and bacon, or the slow cooked pork empanadas accompanied by a white barbecue sauce, or the goat cheese a la plancha, which is a delicate Spanish caña de cabra, served with sofrito marmalade.
The garlic soup is punctuated by idiazabal cheese and cured egg yolk. Running to more familiar fare is an alligator soup, which chef notes is better than turtle soup, and into which goes Pedro Jimenez Sherry – or the more understood duck and andouille gumbo.
Salads are of the traditional ingredients, enhanced with cheeses and tasty accompaniments such as beets, artichokes and even ham chips.
Main courses to be considered are fish in a bag, featuring the freshest daily catch available, with caramelized fennel, spinach, tomato and crab fat; crawfish cavatelli with pioppini mushrooms, English peas and tomatoes; black drum a la plancha cooked in brown butter with pecans and jumbo lump crab; and twice-cooked garlic chicken, served with arroz a la plancha.
Whatever you do, leave room for the chocolate hazelnut puddin’ topped with a scoop of condensed milk sorbet.
Borgne tells another side of the story about our region’s European heritage. It feels quite new, but it’s a story that has been hiding in plain sight since 1783.