Chef Chris Wise has spent over 25 years in the culinary industry; he held his first cooking job, in fact, when he was only 15. He went on to work at restaurants across the country, including stints at the famed Greenbrier Hotel in Virginia, and as head chef and manager at The Five Spot, one of the Savannah, Ga., area’s hottest eating establishments. He’s been featured on shows on the Cooking Channel.
So what brings a chef of that caliber to Moss Bluff, of all places?
“I did,” quips his wife, Bonnie.
Bonnie, a Moss Bluff native who met Chris while living on Tybee Island off the Savannah coast, says the couple wanted a change, and felt coming home to Moss Bluff was a perfect idea.
“We wanted to establish (Moss Bluff) as a home base and travel around the country,” she says.
But they soon saw a great need in the Moss Bluff area for a high-quality eating establishment. And Chris says he liked the idea of working for himself rather than letting his reputation and work earn financial success for someone else.
They noticed a vacant building on Sam Houston Jones Pkwy. which formerly housed the Fiesta restaurant, and opened the Brown Bag Café in the building on May 5. The response, says Bonnie, has been “overwhelming.”
“From day one, we’ve been packed,” she says. “We had no idea the restaurant would be this popular.”
In just a couple of months, the Brown Bag has gained a reputation as one of the area’s hottest new restaurants, offering a diverse menu combining the best cuisines from around the country.
“We wanted to combine dishes from the places Chris has been,” says Bonnie. “Barbecue from Chattanooga, Caribbean cuisine like the Cubano, dishes from Brooklyn. You take a culinary trip around the country when you eat here.”
The menu is varied and sophisticated, and features dishes like the lamb gyro; Greek pasta salad; the Dixie Meets Yankee smoked salmon BLT; a Brooklyn-style Rueben sandwich; the Milwaukee Bratwurst Sandwich; the Staten Island Italian Sausage Sandwich; and breakfast items like the South Texas Breakfast Burrito with chorizo sausage; New York Style Cheesecake French Toast; and the Olympus Breakfast Burrito with lamb, eggs, peppers, spinach and feta cheese.
And you’ll also find the Bayou Surf and Turf Pasta, Wise’s version of crawfish pasta.
“I served this dish a couple of times when we first opened, and it was requested so much we decided to put it on the menu permanently,” says Chris.
Like all of the Brown Bag’s dishes, this one is simple, yet showcases high-quality local ingredients and fuses different regional cuisines for a unique and tasty result.
To prepare the dish, Wise uses two skillets over medium-high heat. In one, heavy cream is brought to a boil. In the other, onions, shaved garlic, peppers, zuchinni and squash are sautéed in oil. While the vegetables are sautéing, Wise adds lemon zest to the cream, and seasons it with salt and pepper. Once the cream comes to a boil, he lowers the heat and reduces the cream by half.
While the cream is reducing, Wise adds New York strip slices to the vegetable mixture, then adds the shrimp and crawfish tail meat, and cooks until tender.
Wise then adds cooked pasta to the cream sauce, and lets it reduce further. The pasta, now well coated with the creamy, lemony sauce, is topped with the meat mixture, and garnished with fresh basil and oregano. He adds toasted French baguette slices, coated with garlic and herbs.
The dish is phenomenal. The lemon brightens the rich creaminess of the sauce perfectly. The salty tang of the crawfish is a perfect match to the richness of the beef and pasta, and the vegetables add flavor, freshness and texture.
Bayou Surf and Turf Pasta: Feeds 4
1. Slice your NY strip into thin slices 24 hours prior to your meal and immerse in an airtight container with your favorite marinade.
2. Zest 2 lemons to get a tsp lemon zest.
3. Briefly rinse your crawfish tail meat … but not too much … you don’t want to lose the slight brine flavor.
4. Dice 1 Vidalia onion, or other variety of sweet onion, till you have 1/2 cup finely diced.
5. Shave your roasted garlic thinly until you have 1/2 tsp.
6. Slice up your yellow squash and zucchini into 1/4-inch slices.
7. Julienne 1 red bell pepper.
8. In a saucepan 2/3 full of water, throw in a pinch of salt and bring to a rolling boil.
9. Once at a rolling boil, deposit 1 box of capellini pasta. Go to an al dente finish.
10. Shock and cool your pasta with cold water, drain excess water, and toss lightly with extra virgin olive oil.
11. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
12. Cut your French baguette into 8 4-inch pieces, slather each piece with unsalted butter, and sprinkle dried basil, Greek oregano and garlic salt in equal portions. Place in oven. Bake for 12 minutes.
13. Put 1/2 teaspoon olive oil in a sautee pan with 1/2 cup Vidalia onion, and shaved garlic. Sweat to a clear translucency.
14. Throw in your yellow squash, zucchini and red bell peppers, and sautee for 3 minutes at medium heat. Throw in your shrimp and crawfish tail meat. Cook until done and tender.
15. Throw in your 2 cups of heavy whipping cream.
16. Toss in your lemon zest, and pinch of salt and pepper. Reduce heavy cream by half at medium heat.
17. Throw in your cooked capellini pasta and continue to reduce your lemony heavy cream by another half. Sauce should coat your pasta, protein and vegetables.
18. Remove your pasta with tongs and twirl it into the center of each plate, equally distributing proteins and vegetables to each plate.
19. Put two pieces of baguette onto each plate, and garnish each plate with the micro green basil.
This is the kind of dish the Brown Bag is already becoming well-known for — simple, yet cosmopolitan, and featuring the highest-quality ingredients.
The Brown Bag Café’s numerous fans will be happy to know that Chris and Bonnie plan to build not one, but two larger restaurants on property in Moss Bluff. The new and larger Brown Bag Café will offer the same upscale casual dining customers expect at the current restaurant, while the NextDoor Bistro will offer small-plate casual fine dining in an intimate, 20-seat setting, with dishes that utilize local farm-to-table ingredients and an extensive wine list. Liquor and live music will be available at both restaurants.