3479 Nelson Road • Lake Charles, LA
I had the pleasure of dining at Crust Pizza when it first opened to the public. I like to give any new restaurant and crew time to work out their kinks before I dine with the intent of writing a full-on review. So that early visit was for my personal experience. There wasn’t anything amiss with what I encountered during that first visit. The food was good and the staff was friendly; they were just nervous and doing their best in such a new environment.
Earlier this year, I was excited to hear about a new concept inside Crust Pizza. The addition of The Taproom at Crust Pizza is something I highly anticipated.
The Taproom has its own dedicated entryway. The approach to the building goes behind dark smoked glass through a single doorway. Once you cross the threshold, you can’t help but relax. The dark ceiling and walls, the bar back loaded with TVs and sports and video programs, the subtle white-washed brick stands over several high-back booths, and the low lighting sets the mood. It’s a sports bar, but it also resembles a speakeasy. It’s sophisticated and inviting.
When my wife and I went, I took a seat at the bar with its dark and smooth concrete top. Jamie Meiburg, master mixologist, welcomed us and asked for our drink preference as he placed the menus before us. My wife’s choice was a Patron margarita. I chose a Tito’s dirty martini. The first things I noticed about Jamie was the way he moved, his handling of the liquor bottle, his nuances with the shaker, the way he flowed across the bar. It was art. He was fluid and natural in this element.
The impressively thick card-like menus were the same for both the family dining area and the much more adult-oriented Taproom, with food options which included appetizers, soups and salads, custom pizza, pastas and desserts.
For starters, we agreed that the tomato basil soup and an order of meatballs would be perfect for this cool evening. The meatballs are served in a mini-skillet with a generous portion of marinara sauce and sprinkled with Parmesan. The sauce had a nice robust and deep tomato flavor — zesty with the herbs and flavorful meatballs.
The tomato basil soup was the star of the appetizers. Wow! Presented as a soup, it was actually more of a bisque. We could not have been more pleased. This soup is a game changer. If you’re on the fence about soup, this will change your mind. It was silky smooth, garlicky and mouthwatering. It was as if we couldn’t get enough of it.
Usually, my wife and I order accordingly to our appetite, meaning that what the appetizers do for our appetite will have an influence on what we end up ordering for our entrées. Sometimes the appetizers are so filling they steer us to a lighter entrée selection. That’s why my wife’s entrée choice was a bit of a shock. She’s not a big carb eater. And she prefers to limit her starches and cream or thick sauces. However, on this evening, the baked mac and cheese caught her attention. Still attempting to pick my jaw up off the floor, I managed to utter my desire for a signature gourmet Crust pizza, the Hawaiian.
Again served in a miniature version of a cast-iron skillet, the baked mac and cheese arrived, followed by my Hawaiian pizza. The mac and cheese was picture perfect, beautifully placed in the skillet, the deeper color from the bake in the caramelization of the cheese and topping, chunks of Italian sausage throughout. I dove my fork into the penne pasta and pulled up cheese and steam from the dish. My bite revealed the creaminess in the sauce and the telltale presence of fennel seed in the sausage.
With the traditional pineapple and Canadian bacon, the Hawaiian pizza also had cashews, cranberries and a cheddar and mozzarella cheese blend. You get the saltiness from the ham; the thin crust and sauce; followed with the sweetness of the pineapple, the tartness of the cranberries and the mild crunch of the cashews. It all made for an exciting pizza.
Well, of course we can’t just finish there. The desserts sounded appetizing as well. So, we did one more mini-skillet and had a go at the warm brownie. The brownie was baked in the mini-skillet, and then topped with vanilla ice cream and drizzled with chocolate syrup. It’s was definitely as good as it looked.
We enjoyed every aspect of our meal that night. From the moment we walked in the door, throughout the evening and with the finish, the anticipation of what The Taproom was going to be paid off. We enjoyed a very professional and entertaining crew and great food and atmosphere.
Smokehouse ‘36 At Linda’s Lounge
4338 Lake St. • Lake Charles, LA
As time creates a little chronological distance between today and the destruction of Hurricane Laura, we begin to see the reemergence of businesses once forced to close and those that have found an opportunity to create anew. Some of those opportunities have been in the works as part of a thought-out plan, only to be delayed, while others arose just by circumstance.
I began to notice postings from Smokehouse ‘36, a new food truck on the scene. The location of the truck and the times when their smoked meats and barbecue for the day were served were announced.
With the intent of checking it out, I too often found myself finishing up a project and performing the thumb scroll only to read, once again, a “Sold out, thank you” comment that had been posted in record time. I was thinking to myself, wow. I mean, one week he was posting his menu items, such as pulled pork, brisket, ribs and sausage, only to be sold out in two hours when he opened up.
The next week, another post popped up. “Hey, we’re coming out and we’re bringing three times as much.” Yet again, there was the same result — a record time sell-out.
I needed to find out more. Taking notice of the next scheduled appearance, I poised myself to be one of the first in line. I took advantage of the time I had to wait and met the people behind this project. Perched adjacent to the covered patio of Linda’s Lounge, a Lake Charles 24-hour bar and entertainment spot, was a small wagon proudly displaying the flags of Texas and Louisiana, representing the home states of this couple, Jake Elliott and Paula Latham AKA the Side Chick. The Side Chick? Yes. Paula creates the variety of side dishes and desserts. She’s noticeably always beside Jake as they hustle to complete the meals in the wagon.
Both have careers in aircraft maintenance and facilities. Jake is a lifelong backyard barbecue hobbyist. His passion for smoking brisket and ribs stemmed from early childhood memories of experiences with his father. “Smoking meat is something that is as big of a part of my childhood memories as anything else. There was always a brisket served for any special occasions growing up.”
When Hurricane Laura hit, access to Jake and Paula’s Moss Bluff subdivision was blocked by several felled trees and other debris. “I always had something on the smoker. We would work all day clearing roads and debris, and at night we were able to provide, along with our neighbors, a hot meal for our families. Everyone would bring something to put on the smoker, and we did this for weeks on end. Good food and the hum of generators — it became a tradition.”
Jake and Paula got the same sort of positive feedback on those meals that they’d gotten for their previous catered events. They decided to alter their career paths and make this passion their full time business.
“We had every reason to pack up what we had left and leave. Everything around us was damaged. We were going to have to start over. We thought about it, but this is our home; we love the community and the people. We want to do what we love and we want to do it here.”
So began Smokehouse ‘36 — launched, permitted, inspected and ready to go. Jake said, “I will only put out what I feel is the best. If a particular grade of meat isn’t available, the quality that I need, I won’t put it out there just to have it available. It just won’t be on the menu that day. It’s getting tough trying to find the best grade, but it’s all we’ll use.”
As the three of us were talking, I noticed Paula was preparing a small cup of one of her complex side dishes. This was her element. “We are going to let the people dictate our menu. The input from the customer is key. It’s a small space, and we want to provide what they love the most.”
It was getting closer to the time to swing the doors open. I heard some conversation going on just outside. That was my cue to stand in line. I placed an order for brisket, pulled pork, slaw and smoked beans. After sampling the loaded street corn, I knew I needed a full serving. I swiped my card, thanked them both for their time, carefully lifted the food and headed home — the aroma tempting me to pick at the food as I was driving.
I walked in the house, feeling as proud as if I were the hunter-gatherer who had just come home with a bounty — and I had.
As I placed the containers on the island and folded them open, the amount of food was impressive. The tender pulled pork sat atop sliced brisket, with its prominent smoke ring. I drizzled the house-made barbecue sauce over the meat and dug in.
It was perfectly seasoned and flavorful, with the smoke hitting every bite. The loaded street corn is a meal in itself. It included seasoned corn, chopped brisket, topped with red onion, cilantro, cotija cheese and a lime wedge. It’s was a flavor explosion that worked well. To round it all off, there was a mini-lemon pie. It was a custardy-smooth tangy finish to a great lunch.
If you get a chance to check these folks out, do so. You can take the food to go or you can grab a table and a cold adult beverage from the bar. And, if you’re late and they’ve already posted that “sold out” comment, you might find Jake on the stage getting some time in with the band. Check out their Facebook page for hours and specials.