Restauranteur Barry Reeves and head chef Maureen Little have joined forces to create an exquisite and unique soul food menu. Kreol visited them in their charming establishment Café Fricassée to find out more about their vision.
Café Fricassée, based in Carencro, Louisiana, has recently gone through some major changes to become the cosy, welcoming eatery that it is today. Owned by restaurateur Barry Reeves and with a kitchen headed up by talented chef Maureen Little, the restaurant is only in its early stages of business since its recent grand reopening, but already it looks set to make a serious impact on the local area.
At the time of the interview with Kreol Magazine, Café Fricassée had just finished their second lunch service since their full reopening. They did a soft opening two weeks prior, which welcomed 150 people in to dine and sample the delicious new menu over the course of one weekend.
The following weekend, 80 eager diners were lucky enough to get a taste of the restaurant. Despite the owners’ attempts to keep things relatively quiet as the restaurant first gets into the swing of things, it’s clear that people are already very eager to see what Café Fricassée has to offer.
New ownership and new direction
Barry first purchased the restaurant in April 2016, and since then has worked tirelessly to completely refurbish both the kitchen and dining area. With over 34 years in the food business where he has been involved in over 100 restaurants, it’s clear that he has the knowledge and experience to make Café Fricassée a success.
His vision began with the head chef herself, who Barry had been headhunting for the past eight years.
Due to family commitments, Maureen had repeatedly turned down Barry’s numerous job offers, but when she saw a picture of the charming Café Fricassée she was finally convinced and ready to take on the new challenge. Prior to that, she had been in charge of Virtual Bistro Catering in which she would bring the restaurant to the homes of her customers, including the table linens and wait staff, and cook four-course meals. “Now I tell people it’s like coming to my home here!” she says in reference to the warm, homely atmosphere of the restaurant.
“It’s a place that you want to come to, feels like you’re at Grandma’s house,” explained Barry, who thought very carefully about creating the cosy, friendly environment, “Very country. A lot of soul, a lot of heart.” The restaurant combines antique décor with modern, refined style in order to provide a charming, unique environment that is a pleasure to dine in.
The restaurant’s name is the same as one of Barry’s previous restaurants, and was created in homage to the local area’s controversial definition of fricassée.
Fricassée traditionally is a vegetable stew with a white gravy. However, in the Carencro area, fricassée is known as a brown chicken stew. In homage to the long-standing debate of white stew versus brown stew, Barry and Maureen have a trio of fricassées on the menu – a white one with vegetables, a brown chicken stew, and a brown lamb fricassée – definitely something to keep everyone happy!
Café Fricassée’s concept
The concept behind the Café Fricassée menu is to provide diners with hearty, delicious soul food, but not just dishes from the Louisiana region. Instead, Maureen and Barry are taking inspiration from international soul food. “There is a lot of culture that is in Louisiana that came from all over the world,” Barry explained, “We’re going to take the soul food inspirations and use those techniques with our ingredients.”
At the moment though, the menu is only in its early stages of development, and looks set to change over the coming weeks and months as Barry and Maureen begin to perfect their style and techniques. With only 46 covers over 12 tables, the restaurant is on the cosy side and functions with just six or seven members of staff.
These early days are designed to help train up the new team, and the head chef is still practising some key techniques to ensure that together they can produce some of the more complex dishes to a high standard in her kitchen.
As a sneak peak of the future menu, Barry revealed a dish they have planned which is an adaptation of the classic South Carolina soul food dish shrimp and grits. They have taken inspiration from Japanese soul food sushi to create a unique shrimp and grits sushi roll.
“We’re going to take the mustard greens to make our nori, we’re going to spread the grits on top of the nori, and then we’re going to layer the shrimp on top so you get the sauce inside.”
The menu will also adapt according to the tastes and demands of their clientèle, as they get to grips with what works for their customers and what doesn’t. “You can’t be stubborn,” explains Barry, who with so much restaurant experience under his belt knows that an establishment must put the tastes of their customers first, no matter how much the chef and owner love a dish.
Of course, with it being such early days for the business, it may be difficult to gauge exactly how the clientèle will react to the ambitious soul food fusion menu.
Barry, however, already has a good idea of who their diners are likely to be. He expects lunchtime clientèle to be business people working in the area and ladies who lunch, whilst the evening service is expected to appeal to diners looking for an intimate dining experience and a venue for celebratory meals and special occasions.
The Café Fricassée experience
It’s not just food that the owner has high standards for, but drinks too. High quality wines and bourbons are available for those who value the finer experiences in life, and Barry plans to grow a collection of rare and highly sought after whiskies. The aim is to create an environment in which quality of produce and service are second to none.
“I am so service oriented,” Barry said, explaining that his main motivation is, “Providing something and knowing that [customers] are going to be satisfied.” Maureen has a very similar motivation: “I get enjoyment by [customers] loving what they’re eating. It’s not just them coming in to eat, it’s an experience.”
She makes a habit of coming out to chat to customers about the food and to check they’ve been happy with their dishes, and even finds herself getting emotional when people tell her how much they loved the food.
Maureen also loves having the creative freedom to produce soulful food that she loves to cook. “He [Barry] is allowing me to be as creative as I want to be, within reason. […] For a long time I used to sleep with a notepad beside my bed, because I would wake up with an idea and have to write it down then go back to sleep.” Now, she has almost full rein to bring her creative ideas to life for Louisiana diners to enjoy.
During Kreol’s visit to Café Fricassée, Barry and Maureen cooked us up alligator liver 3 ways. This is a dish, which, according to Barry, 99.9% of earth’s population have never tasted before but will be eager to taste again and again after a visit to the restaurant.
Kreol can’t wait to see what other culinary experiences the pair provide us with as the menu develops and grows over the coming years.