Sunday brunch. It’s an oddly timed meal. Not quite the breakfast which, perhaps, you had planned for the morning until you realized your failed ambitions of getting out of bed on time. Yet, it’s not quite lunchtime. So you can pour yourself a cup of coffee and stretch your departure out a bit.
If you’re like me, I reach a certain point in the morning when my appetite is no longer focused on eggs and hash browns — that window has closed. My wife, she can go with breakfast just about any time of the day. Our different preferences are what makes brunch a perfect medium. And Southwest Louisiana has quite a few options for brunchers.
Just this August, the local business scene was rocked with news of a merging partnership between two iconic Lake Charles family-owned restaurants — the Harlequin Steakhouse, a household name since the 1950’s, and The Villa, a fine dining Italian venue established in the 1980s.
After more than a decade-long hiatus, The Villa re-emerges, the owner of the Harlequin becomes mayor of Lake Charles and the two restaurants announce a merger. We all collectively reacted “what?!”
I’m usually one to give new food venues a little time to get all their working pieces in sync before I go. It’s only fair. But these two restaurants have a proven track record. And it wasn’t like they had to rebuild. They just had to make a few adjustments. So, I figured it was time to see what’s going on.
It’s a beautiful sunny Sunday morning as we drive down Pujo Street. The city is super quiet, due to its hangover from Chuckfest, though a few churchgoers are dissipating from morning services.
It’s easy to find a parking spot across the street within a quick walking distance. The building is historic, and it definitely has its stories to tell, with its old hand-laid glass and years of paint and weather creating a welcome patina.
We’re immediately greeted by a young lady ready to seat us. Rather than being confined to a table, we, as usual, ask to be seated at the bar, which is occupied by a few other guests. We are also introduced to our server, Ginger.
There is an abundance of seating available. Some little booths are tucked away and hidden by a rack of wine. Or you can choose the lounge and tables in the spacious mezzanine. The restaurant has a very cool layout throughout.
Brunch menus tend to be limited in their selection. There are a few appetizers and breakfast choices, coupled with some midday options, and, of course, a choice of alcohol. Some might insist that you don’t need alcohol first thing in the morning. The Bloody Mary is a perfect argument as to why you do.
Ginger creates a fantastic Bloody with the free-pour vodka, mix and an assortment of veggies, citrus, and crisp bacon. Equally impressive are her mimosas: we witnessed a few leaving the bar top.
My wife and I agreed on the stuffed mushroom to start our meal — a meaty portobello cap, loaded with a creamy mixture of crab, crawfish and shrimp, a spicy nduja salami spread and roasted red peppers. It was topped with greens and teardrop peppers. It has a slight kick in the spice department, but it’s not overpowering, just very flavorful, very satisfying.
Still in a breakfast state of mind, my spouse decides on the braised beef cheek benedict. Of course, I want to sample it. It makes for better reading and my wife encourages it. My daughter, on the other hand, would rather not entertain any idea that someone else would touch her food. That’s completely off limits and creates issues. I laugh. Her, not so much.
Anyhow, this benedict is not only visually appealing, it’s downright delicious. The base is a thick fire-grilled ciabatta — rich, saucy and tender beef cheek that falls apart and melts — caramelized onions, bacon hollandaise, poached eggs and balsamic.
When you slowly sautée onions, liquid is rendered and the natural sugars in the onion begin to stand out. The slower the process, the sweeter the outcome. These onions set off flavors that make this a fantastic dish. The subtle sweet, the savory taste of the beef cheeks and the creamy bacon sauce with the poached eggs make this an undeniably desirable choice.
I chose the Villa Brunch Burger. This is a veal burger with a fried egg, bacon and basil hollandaise. It is no secret, I’m a carnivore. I love red meat, and when it’s a formidable option, I’m all in.
Now, when I think of veal, it’s tender, it’s delicate, it possesses a unique flavor and it requires a bit more attention in the kitchen than run of the mill beef.
Although I was not offered an option as to my desired temperature, I wasn’t expecting a crispy exterior with a full-on, well done interior. The flavor nuances you’d expect from veal were grilled out. The saving grace was the hollandaise, which made it a bit more palpable, and the bacon, which offered a bit of overall taste.
It’s fair to admit I was a little disappointed. Maybe it’s house procedure to serve it as such. However, my takeaway is that I should make my preferences about how I’d like my veal prepared known.
With that being said, we enjoyed our Sunday brunch. The Villa Harlequin has a great atmosphere, amazing history and is stimulating throughout.
Happy anniversary, my beautiful wife.
An Extra Dish
Common Grounds Sit and Chill Coffee House
Not long ago, there was quite a bit of buzz going around about a little coffee shop in a rather rustic and cute building located in Gillis. The day I went to get the scoop on this little joint, I pull up to an empty parking lot and a sign on the door which stated that due to a bad roof leak, the store was closed indefinitely.
I can tell you this: a minor setback did not deter owner, chef, creator Michele Williams. Regrouping, she set her sights on downtown Lake Charles and has opened Common Grounds at 619 Ryan Street. She is located right in the middle of where everyone wants to be.
Common Grounds is lively, it’s uplifting, it’s positive all around. Williams’ faith guides her and keeps her going. It is evident in every aspect, from the decor to her creations.
The offerings consist of coffee, pies, sandwiches, cobbler, soups, chili, cinnamon rolls, and the list goes on. Williams has an amazing little slice of heaven to offer, and it always comes with a smile.