Grab your Mardi Gras beads and prepare to spice things up, a taste of the Crescent City has arrived in downtown Roanoke.
Spearheaded by veteran restaurateur Chip Moore and co-owners Agnis Chakravorty and Neal Keesee, The Quarter – “Roanoke’s only Cajun/Creole restaurant” – opened in late April on Salem Avenue in the former home of Tong’s Thai after more than a year of renovations to the 107-year-old building.
“The building had been condemned by the city [in 2009] because it had a lot of structural and electrical issues,” Keesee says. “We had to gut the whole first floor, including the floor trusses, and rebuild the kitchen area and the back wall.”
The hard work paid off. The atmosphere at The Quarter is somehow simultaneously upscale and relaxed. The first floor features 20-foot ceilings and is highlighted by a stunning hardwood bar Moore designed himself. The second floor is more spacious and offers another elegant bar as well as five giant flat-screen TVs. Hardwood floors, exposed brick walls, and paintings, photos and other décor from and inspired by New Orleans tie it all together. Not to be omitted, a courtyard also provides excellent outdoor dining. And when your attention shifts from stuffed gators to the menu, you’ll still feel like you’re looking at something straight off of Bourbon Street.
“We took a visit to New Orleans last August and poured through books and other menus,” Moore says when asked how he developed the menu. “Most of the stuff we have is mainstream New Orleans fare – red beans and rice, shrimp and grits, shrimp Creole.”
During recent visits I had a chance to sample a few of those standards, such as the chicken and shrimp gumbo. Served as an appetizer or as an entrée, the classic News Orleans stew was a perfect combination of plump shrimp, tender chicken and andouille sausage in a flavorful, slightly spicy Creole sauce. For my entrée I chose the blackened redfish topped with Creole crawfish butter, which arrived expertly charred with meat that was still moist and flaky. It came sided with maque choux, a traditional southern Louisiana dish consisting of corn, peppers, onions and tomatoes, but it was the heaping portion of bourbon mashed sweet potatoes that really grabbed the spotlight.
To my delight, my wife opted for the shrimp and grits, and I wasted no time stealing a few bites. The lightly sautéed shrimp, onions, green peppers and Cajun seasonings topped with andouille sausage gravy were excellent, but the creamy stone-ground grits are what really made the dish.
When it was time for dessert we sampled the chocolate mousse, bread pudding and, on a separate visit, the bourbon pecan pie. The light and creamy mousse definitely satisfied my chocolate fix, but my wife’s choice of bread pudding was even more amazing. However, it was the bourbon pecan pie that really blew us both away. Tradition has it the French invented the pecan pie soon after settling in New Orleans after Native Americans introduced them to the nut, and even though pecans are not exactly a favorite of mine, the sweet filling with just a hint of bourbon sandwiched between the thick, flaky crust and top layer of nuts was enough to make me exclaim “très magnifique” in my best French accent.
“We’ve been blessed, between the three of us we know a ton of people, and our friends have supported us and the word is getting out,” Chakravorty says of the reaction to The Quarter so far. “The vision Chip has is just amazing. We give him a lot of grief, because we’re such good friends, but it is amazing to see the passion he has for it.”
The Quarter. 19 Salem Ave., Roanoke. 342-2990.