For generations, Acadiana’s many people of Mediterranean descent strove to assimilate into their adopted culture, usually working as merchants while maintaining the culinary traditions of their ancestral lands in their private homes.
The oil boom of the 1970s and the resulting urbanization and growth of Lake Charles and Lafayette brought Mediterranean foods out of home kitchens and into the general stream of commerce as second- and third-born generations sought to capitalize on the foods familiar to them while diversifying the restaurant scene for a population that was growing both in numbers and wealth.
In response to demand from friends and family, Simone Reggie, a Lafayette native turned New Orleans resident, recently brought the Lebanese Sunday dinners of her youth to her eponymous Simone’s Market on Oak Street.
“I am using my grandmother’s recipes and building upon them,” Reggie said. “Growing up in Lafayette she did this every Sunday. When I moved to New Orleans in 2010, I started hosting Sunday dinners once a month or so at my home. People recently started asking when my next dinner party was, but these days I’m always at the market. So, I thought ‘Well, I’ll just do this at the market.’ So far it’s been a real success.”
Items are available for purchase á la carte, with prices ranging a thrifty $4-$9 allowing for customized meals, which may be enjoyed on site or taken to go. Hummus and the stuffed grape leaves for which Simone is justifiably famous are always on offer, but the menu changes weekly from there and may include Tabouli, Baba Ghannoush, baked Kibbe, Lebanese chicken dressing and (I cannot wait to try this!) Sheik Il Meshee. “That is my absolute favorite,” Reggie says. “It’s my grandmother’s most famous dish: a roasted eggplant casserole layered with hashwee – a spiced ground beef mixture with pine nuts – and a richly spiced tomato sauce. It is baked and served over rice.”
The new Sunday dinners are just a part of the highly personal, hyper local offerings at Simone’s Market, where everything that possibly can be is sourced from a Louisiana purveyor or made on-site. Daily to-go offerings include quarts of amazing, restorative bone broths, Gouda mac and cheese, lamb neck shepherds’ pie, smoked drum dip, pimento cheese and a smoked fried chicken thigh sandwich served with jalapeño buttermilk slaw and pickled sweet peppers on a Wild Flour brioche bun.
Currently in the planning stages are specialty dine-in or take-out dinners to be offered every night of the week, each with a focus on a different theme or ethnicity. Who says dinner at home has to be predictable or arduous?
Bao & Noodle
2700 Chartres St., 272-0004
8201 Oak St., 273-7706
611 O’Keefe Ave, 509-7334
Chef Kelly Fields of Willa Jean seems to be in every publication I grab right now – Vogue, GQ, Bon Appétit, Saveur and Garden & Gun among them. So I finally figured I, often late to the party, would finally drag myself in and get in on the action.
I have only a temporary lapse of reason to blame for having taken so long to discover the crave worthy airy biscuits with fried chicken and Tabasco-honey, and though I didn’t have a hangover if ever I do I’m heading back for The Hangover Bowl toute de suite. Combining braised lamb with grilled spring onions, crispy garlic and a poached egg over creamy grits I stand convinced this steaming deliciousness could cure pretty much anything. Or at least make you forget your woes for a while.
2 to Try
Also leaning away from the same old ho hum, chef Douglas Crowell of Bao & Noodle in Bywater recently blew my mind with his cumin braised lamb with perfectly chewy hand-made Biang Biang noodles and toothsome wheat Dan Dan noodles with spicy pork, chili sesame paste, Sichuan peppers and pickled mustard seeds. Cool things down with the Burmese tea salad of green tea leaves, shredded cabbage, brilliant fresh herbs, sunflower and sesame seeds, peanuts and fried garlic.