949 Ryan St. • Lake Charles, LA
The Local Grubscape • By Justin Morris
It was a beautiful Southwest Louisiana day. It was so beautiful, in fact, that it was genuinely scary. Nature had delivered a little bit of Southern California’s May weather to us in mid-January. It was pretty enough to make you get out and soak it up.
This particular Friday was also the start of a three-day weekend, and I had no items on my Saturday agenda except for some automobile maintenance. Midafternoon, I rolled into downtown Lake Charles to find whatever this bizarro day wanted me to find. As I rolled up Ryan Street, something did in fact catch my eye.
I’m ashamed to say that, though I consider myself a food geek, I somehow hadn’t yet eaten at 1910. I found myself turning into the restaurant’s parking lot in hopes that the place didn’t close between lunch and dinner. Fortunately, they do not.
I stepped inside, and found the comfortable and inviting space very welcoming, but rather empty. Since it was around 3 pm, that really wasn’t a surprise. But it did make the space starkly different than it had been the couple of times I visited during the sundry downtown festivals. Now, instead of being packed with excited festival goers, the place had but two customers: a young man eating at the bar nearest the door and a young woman sipping a drink far down on the other end.
As I took my seat, I began to wonder what story could unravel there. Two people sharing a bar, each alone on a beautiful day. Scenes started to play out in my mind, but I soon realized that my presence here screwed them all up. No matter. I had a bartender approaching and a bigger task at hand than I first imagined.
The friendly gal greeted me and asked if she could get me a drink. I noticed a sizable whiskey collection covering the back wall of the bar directly in front of me. Not only was it a large collection, but it has some absolute hall of famers in the line-up: Weller CYPB and Antique, Col. E.H. Taylor Small Batch and Single Barrel, George T. Stagg and Stagg Jr., and, yes, even the famed Rip Van Winkle 10, Pappy Van Winkle 12 and Van Winkle Family 15. However, the menu is more than just $30 and $40 pours. The 106-item bourbon menu has something for every fan’s palette and wallet, starting at $4 a pour for the J.W. Kelly and Co. Old Mill and topping out at $46 a pour for the Noah’s Mill BW Small Batch.
Speaking of pours, for the rarer and allocated bottles, you get only one ounce for the prices listed on the menu. This helps keep the bottles on the shelf longer and makes the price per pour a bit easier to handle for those just wishing to try “the greats.” I approve of this emphatically.
Despite being awash with bourbon options, a handful of scotches and vodkas caught my eye. I at first missed the small shelf of rum attached to a large column in the middle of the bar facing away from me. Fortunately, the bartender pulled the half dozen or so high-end rum bottles off of the shelf to show offerings from New Orleans Rum (10th Anniversary) Bambu, and a few others, including a bottle of Diplomatico that did not look familiar to me. The Reserva Exclusiva is the 12-year variant on the Venezuelan brand. It comes from one of my favorite rum producing countries and smelled excellent, so it ended up being my choice. The bourbon rabbit hole will have to wait for another visit.
Now that I had a dram in front of me, I needed to figure out what I was going to eat. I was assailed by a list of heady options that all sounded way too good to ignore. Even before I’d finished looking at the appetizers, my heart leapt when I saw foie gras. Not only did they have foie gras, but its preparation looked slightly like that of long-departed Snake River Grill, which made me fall in love with this dish. I so wanted to order six of them, but at $19, I knew it would probably be best enjoyed on a return trip when I had no other objective than to be at one with the foie gras. Begrudgingly, I moved on.
Listed just below the fois gras was another weakness of mine: poutine. Now, I’ll admit to never having made it to the Great White North to try actual Canadian poutine, but I do love just about every variation I’ve had on the theme. This one not only promised hand-cut fries, white cheddar cheese curds and gravy, but it threw in some beef tenderloin, as well. At $12, it was an option that my inner food geek and wallet could better agree with, so I put that order in while I continued to look.
Since it was around 3 pm, this had more a “late lunch” feel than “early dinner,” so I took to the sandwich menu and left the divine dinner entrées for another day. Even the list of sandwiches made making a decision tough. Pork shoulder or turkey and brie sandwiches, or a fried green tomato and grilled shrimp po boy? All were huge contenders, but my earlier excitement from the foie gras returned when I saw the cherry and feta burger: an 8-oz. blend of house ground beef, feta, fresh spinach and the same cherry and Steen’s syrup glaze from the foie gras (the bit that reminded me of SRG’s preparation). This sounded like an excellent compromise, and I put an order in for that to follow the poutine.
I had planned to sit at the bar and converse with the bartender, but a group of young ladies had showed up to meet the girl that was seated alone when I walked in. With the bartender now occupied by the four or five new patrons, I decided to step outside while I waited for my food.
Man, it was intoxicating out there. I found a spot that would leave a patio umbrella between myself and the sun and I sat sipping rum, staring at the courthouse and just soaking up the day. I was thinking of going in and making sure it was okay that I sat out there when the young man tending to the floor and patio brought my poutine out to me. The staff knew just as well as I did that that weather couldn’t be beat. The group of young ladies seemed to feel the same. They occupied a table at the opposite end of the patio, sipping cocktails and happily chatting away, so I was left to settle into the poutine.
I’d say it was as fine a poutine as I have had. The hand-cut fries were a dark golden brown, almost looking overdone, but they were exceptional. They had just the slightest bit of crunch. It couldn’t have been more perfect. The gravy was thick and well portioned, and the white cheddar cheese curds were a near solid mass of rich cheesiness, encouraging you to eat quickly, before the curds cooled and firmed up.
These traditional elements were beautifully done, but the beef tenderloin was so flavorful and tender that it could make your eyes roll back in your head. I’m more inclined to fatty, marbled beef as a general rule, but this was so impressively flavorful that I do think it was the single most enjoyable part of the meal, by a solid margin.
That is not to take anything away from the cherry feta burger, though. It was its own impressive little adventure. I like fresh spinach and feta on just about anything, and they worked their magic effortlessly with this very tasty house ground burger. The big point of interest was the cherry and Steen’s syrup glaze. I’m not normally huge on Steen’s, to be honest, but the cherry was an important part of the foie gras preparation. If it was too heavy on the Steen’s, I might not care for it.
Lucky for me, that wasn’t a problem with this burger. The earthiness of the Steen’s was notably covered by the cherry, which really got going on the palette when the feta got involved. It was sweet and bright, but not so syrupy sweet that it turned the burger into a dessert. It was as delightful as I hoped it would be, perhaps even more so, with the brioche bun toasted just enough to add a crispy texture to the edges and a slight crunch that added complexity to the burger. The fries served with the burger were just more of the greatness I had with the poutine. They were not long for this world, either.
Soon, I was stuffed to the gills, enjoying a second splash of rum, and siting to digest and reflect a bit back on the bounty of the day. The fact that I had waited this long to try the food at 1910 genuinely began to bother me. I had to think that if I had waited so long, a large number of you readers hadn’t tried it, either. It may have a price tag a bit higher than one’s day-to-day, but it’s not prohibitively expensive, nor is it pricey but lacking substance. There is an innovation and style that is present both in the aesthetic of the restaurant and patio and in the creative diversity of the menu.
It actually takes me back to a conversation that I had a couple of years ago with chef David Sorrells, then head chef at Restaurant Calla. We talked about taking dining past the plate and creating food and an atmosphere that is as experiential as it is tasty. I said something along the lines of “It’s changing how I want to dine,” and I felt the same at 1910. Even on a slow, quiet afternoon with hardly a soul there, the food alone intrigued me. It delivered not just good flavor, but an experience that I know I won’t be able to replicate anywhere else, and that excites me. In a world of restaurants serving “all the favorites,” I’ll always take one that is doing something a little different, and 1910 certainly fits that bill.
The sun dropped below the umbrella and the last few drops of rum clung to the ice in the bottom of my glass. I guess that was the day’s way of letting me know that it was time to move on. I’d trusted it so far and didn’t see any real reason to buck it at that point. But there was a part of me that just wanted to spend the whole evening sitting right there. I’ll be back soon to see what other great flavors, moments and adventures await me there. I genuinely can’t wait.