121 Dr. Michael DeBakey Dr. • Lake Charles, LA
Table Salt • By Bill Coyne
It seems as if Southwest Louisiana gains a new restaurant every week. People flock to the latest opening to see what it’s all about. And quite often we forget about the long-standing restaurants that created the dining scene in and around Lake Charles.
DeAngelo’s Pizzeria used to stand at the location which is now home to 121 Artisan Bistro. The pizzeria was reduced to ashes in an early morning fire in 2008. It was decided to rebuild and use the address in the new name. 121 Artisan Bistro rebranded itself at DeAngelo’s original location, in proximity to Christus Ochsner St. Patrick Hospital. Around this time, South Ryan St. was renamed Dr. DeBakey Drive.
Over the years and after several visits, it’s become the norm for me to walk into 121 and see what degree of consistency I’m going to experience. Some evenings have been less than stellar, while others, when I was expecting nothing more than the last visit, have been outstanding.
I recently decided it was time for a little revisit and popped in for lunch to see which end of the spectrum I was going to experience.
As I exited my vehicle, the smoky aroma of wood-burning fire filled the streets. Even though it was late November and fall was in the air, it could only have been coming from the kitchen because, honestly, it was 80 degrees out and nobody was stoking a fire at home.
As I stepped inside, the place was nearly as dark as it is during the evening. It offered a quiet and peaceful opportunity to converse or just relax during the meal. There are dark wood tables and trim, as well as cream colored walls. The kitchen can be seen through glass from just about any seat in the dining room. It’s a tranquil setting.
I took a seat at one of my favorite spots and was greeted by Dani, my server. I was informed of the day’s special, a burger and beer for $12, with the exception of the shaved smoked ribeye and shrimp burger. The appetizers are designed to be shared by two to three people. They would’ve been complete overkill for this solo trip, and weren’t really an option.
Since an appetizer wasn’t feasible, I opted for a Caesar side salad, the shaved smoked ribeye “burger” with au jus to dip, and a seasonal cold pecan brew.
My order was taken and my beer placed before me. Right about here is where I started to see which part of the ride I was on.
In a few moments, Dani came to inform me a Caesar salad would not be available. Through no fault of the restaurant, it seems the nation has been crippled by an E. coli outbreak in the romaine lettuce industry and a massive recall is underway. She suggested the mixed greens salad, and I took her up on it. As she was bringing the salad, I could see a little despair in her expression. She regretted to inform me that the shaved ribeye also wasn’t an option, as there wasn’t any available to serve.
OK, time to glance over the menu again to see what else might be appealing. I do enjoy their pizzas and calzones, but I’m saving that cuisine to try out at a new restaurant. So, I decided to stick to the burger plan and order the Bleu Burger with bacon and fries.
The salad was very appealing —big leafy wild greens with chickpeas, chunks of Gorgonzola cheese, candied pecans and bright beet strings tossed lightly in the house dressing, a version of vinaigrette. It was a very flavorful and fresh salad with flavors that ranged from creamy and pungent to sweet and zingy.
At first sight, the Bleu Burger looked promising — a large beef patty, chunks of gorgonzola cheese, thick bacon, sautéed onions, greens, tomato and a balsamic glaze dripping off the sides. It’s a hefty burger that definitely requires two hands at all times. Each bite was perfect. It was cooked just right, it was juicy, and all the flavors came together harmoniously. The bun held up well despite everything that was piled on it. It’s a big burger, and I wasn’t able to finish it completely. That’s not like me.
As far as the fries, they were just fries, though I know to some the fries are just as important as any part of the meal.
Overall, the meal was good. It was a traditional 121 meal. I understand things happen and restaurants run out of things. Dani composed herself wonderfully through hiccups which she had no control over, and that’s a huge positive.
An Extra Dish
I don’t have as big a sweet tooth as I used to, but I can certainly appreciate good treats now and then. RhinoPOP (4211 Lake St.) came onto the scene in early 2019, and I was, as the saying goes, “like a kid in a candy store.”
This is a cool little sweet shoppe, and with the holidays coming up, if you’re going to have out of town guests looking for something to do, this would be the perfect place to take them.
There are tons of popcorn tins to choose from. Tins have McNeese, military, seasonal and other themes. You fill them with your favorite blend of popcorn.
RhinoPOP also has pre-made candy baskets; or you can bag up assorted candies that are sold by weight. The store also has old time novelty candy, homemade fudge and sodas that are hard to find.