In the past, I have sung the praises of meals at Datz. Owners Suzanne and Roger Perry know what they are doing! With food, drink, business… and they’ve expanded their enterprise to include Dough for (mainly) desserts, Dazzle for catering, and the soon-to-open Roux, for a taste of NOLA right here in Tampa. (NOLA = New Orleans, Louisiana)
But that’s not all they handle… Roux is not even open yet and already has almost 10,000 likes on Facebook. How? Their social media company, Chat. (Notice the Chat logo looks just like the Datz & Dazzle logos.)
Last week I was lucky enough to be invited along with fellow Tampa Bay Bloggers to a Roux tasting. I had followed their progress with the new space online for months, and was thrilled to get a sneak peek! I was hoping for gumbo, something made with cornmeal, and a fun dessert.
When I entered the Roux space I loved the blend of reclaimed brick, vintage gas lighting (some repurposed to be electric) and graceful wrought iron details. They plan to complete the experience with “dark-wood accents and sumptuous fabrics.” Personally, I love the tiled ceiling. (Is it copper?)
Roux promises to be a casual, friendly spot for a quick NOLA-style lunch: muffuletta, gumbo, po’ boys – honoring the Cajun and Creole flavors of Louisiana with a modern twist and local flair.
Then at night, Roux will be more of a white linen scene, which is what we had for our special evening.
Our tasting kicked off with a bar serving specialty NOLA potent potables. For those who like light and sweet, there was the French 75: gin, lemon juice, simple syrup and champagne. The champagne was the dominant taste with a bit of lemonade flavor.
The more daring drinker can enjoy the Sazerac – the oldest known American cocktail with roots in New Orleans before the Civil War. The blend of absinthe, rye, creole bitters and sugar is served neat with a twist. (I think I had 3 sips, but I am a lightweight and wanted to remember the fine details of my meal.)
We were seated to an awaiting salad of smoked shitake mushrooms over bitter greens with satsuma (mandarin orange flavor) vinaigrette. The mushrooms were meaty and flavorful, while the salty dressing paired perfectly with the sweet sauteed onions. I tried to get a few bites that had a little bit of each taste in them.
I could have enjoyed the whole salad and a fun dessert and called it a night, but I knew we had more yet to come and saved tummy space.
Our next course was Vietnamese smoked duck spring rolls with mayhaw gastrique. Suzanne came to our table and gave a brief NOLA foodie histoire. Cajun culture moved in from the country to slowly become part of mainstay NOLA culture and blended with the already-present creole. That was before I was born… Then in the ’90s, similarly, Vietnamese culture and food began blending in. Suzanne calls NOLA restaurants “schizophrenic” for this reason. (During the months following Hurricane Katrina, the Vietnamese American community in New Orleans was among the first to return to the city.)
Thus, Vietnamese duck spring rolls make sense at Roux. They didn’t skimp in the duck (which I love!) and they had a great crispy, crunch to the outer wrapper. I didn’t try the sauce because our server said Mayhaw is related to squash, and I can’t eat eggplant or zucchini, so the risk scared me away.
Our next dish was divine: Cajun duck and andouille sausage gumbo with wild pecan rice and duck cracklings. True gumbo, the official dish of LA, combines cuisine of West African, French, Spanish German and Choctaw cultures. The blend of flavors in the gumbo at Roux was such that I couldn’t pick out or guess anything in particular. It just blended in deliciousness. Again, we had chunks of duck, and halved slices of andouille in a dirty gravy with some heat.
Don’t worry nut allergy peeps – pecan rice doesn’t even have any nuts in it. Sometimes it is rice with bran left in so it tastes like pecans without having pecans in it, but when it’s done right it’s a a hybrid variety of Della rice with a distinctive aroma similar to popcorn and a flavor that provides a rich nutty taste. And, surprise, it’s indigenous to Louisiana. “I don’t even like rice and this is good!” was Alice’s testament to the yumminess.
We were then treated to jumbo lump crab beignets with house-made creole cream cheese and saffron remoulade. Golf-ball sized crab balls were lightly and served on a plate drizzled with remoulade.
Up close you can see the beignet batter fluffiness
Don’t let the color fool you, this is no thousand-island dressing crap. Up until now, creole cream cheese could only be found in Louisiana, but Roux brings it to Tampa. Here it is flavored with saffron to create a condiment you won’t want to stop dipping in.
The next course stunned a few of us – New Orleans’ famous head-on BBQ shrimp with grilled french bread. Now I’ve peeled a shrimp, but we needed a lesson from Suzanne on how to eat these shrimp. But not Alice! “I just got 100% on this in my science dissection class. Just grab it by the cephalothorax and pull up.” She took care of 3-4 shrimp for herself and one for me (I did another one just to feel brave for a moment).
Can’t take these 2 anywhere…
Basically you rip the head off then the tail, then dip the shrimp in the sauce. the shrimp were easily 5″ long, and the staff was apologizing that they were not larger. “The prawns coming later will be even bigger!” we were assured.
The next course was my favorite: sauteed red snapper in Maker’s Mark pecan brown butter and sweet potato hash. The hash was diced sweet potato with onions and peppers. The snapper on top was crispy and sprinkled with great flavor. The Maker’s Mark pecan brown butter left a buttery flavor on everything.
Our eyes grew wide as the colossal wild prawns stuffed with shrimp & crab came our way. They were indeed colossal! About the length of Alice’s forearm, and she’s 5’7″. Katie named hers Al.
The head of each prawn was resting atop what I thought might be a crab cake. Alice took a bite. “I think it’s potato.” I didn’t buy that. I took a bite just as Suzanne came over to tell us it was a grits and Creole cream cheese cake. The grits were white and dotted with creamy goodness. I didn’t dig into my prawn and eat it all – the way some friends of mine surely would, but I certainly enjoyed the center, already cut open and overflowing with finely chopped shrimp and crab. The sauce on the plate was red and chunky and delicious. Our server thought it was tomatillo.
Our tummies got a break momentarily as Roger Perry told us more about the restaurant and what they have planned.
“We’re all excited about the menu!” he emphasized for the group. “And the wood-burning grill for wood steaks and chops.” They are even bringing down a NOLA expert to educate everyone on char grilled oysters.
Along with our meal(s), we had been drinking Brancott Estate Flight Song Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand, with hints of pink grapefruit and passionfruit that I tasted immediately. (Their website has a cute, chalkboard feel. You should click!) But for dessert we were treated to cafe au lait made from Community chickory coffee. Community is the largest family-owned retail coffee brand in the U.S. “Experience a little bit of Louisiana in every cup,” they say.
Dessert was torched baked Alaska made with creole cream cheese ice cream. I’ve never had baked Alaska, but knew it existed since 1982 from the movie “Annie”. I remember once thinking that I didn’t even know what it really was, and Googled it, so I was prepared for something with apples… but not this! A dense wafer base topped with creole cream cheese ice cream surrounding a dollop of apple cinnamon goodness. Then the server torched the topping at our table, browning the cloud of white fluff on top. It was fun and yum, and left a sugary scent of s’mores over the table.
Little did we diners know, that back in the kitchen Roux was experiencing the WORST. Earlier that day, the gas went out and the whole night they were cooking on butane burners and small fryers. “The kitchen looks like we’re camping!” Suzanne said. Katie laughed and said, “If the food were like this every time I went camping, I’d camp more often.” Seriously, except for perhaps the extra crisp on the edges of the snapper or odd consistency of the sweet potatoes, we never would have known anything was going on in the kitchen! We had gourmet course after course prepared on camping stoves and we were still wowed! That’s how great this team is!
When Roux opens, I could totally see myself sipping at the bar, Toula’s, with my husband. The bar will be made of Carrara marble, like antique French Quarter bars. “We hope to have a sexy absinthe room in back,” an employee said that night. “And a tasting space for Dazzle, our catering arm.”
Dazzled we were! Who knew this hole in Tampa Bay cuisine existed? Now that I have the taste of NOLA on my pallet, I’ll certainly be back for more!