1600 W. McNeese St. • Lake Charles
My first encounter with this cute little café began several years ago. Any time I, or anyone for that matter, asked for recommendations to eat, Nina P’s was always at the top of the list. I decided it was time to check it out.
My wife and I started our Saturday by running some errands and doing a little late morning shopping. Before long, we found ourselves hungry. A well-devised plan had us in close proximity to the restaurant.
Arriving at the gorgeous brick and wrought iron building with architectural reflections of the French Quarter, we shuffled our way across the threshold. The dining room was as full as the parking lot. Yet we managed to secure the last remaining stools at the bar.
Nearly two hours later, leaving absolutely impressed and stuffed, I felt compelled to thumb out my first restaurant review. And I’ve been a huge fan ever since.
I love to include my family and personal life in my restaurant reviews, which usually involve my wife and our kids. However, the review was going to be even more special than usual. I planned to treat my mom and dad to this lunch while they were visiting for Thanksgiving.
Wait — Dad? OK, if you follow me closely, you’ve read about my long time yearly tradition of making a margarita toast to honor my biological father’s passing many years ago. But I do refer to my stepdad as Dad. He’s earned that title.
The weather was chilly as we arrived for our post-Thanksgiving lunch. A good breeze made the outdoor seating option non-viable, and the interior was again, packed. As I checked in with the hostess, I was informed it would be a 25-minute wait and she would call me when our indoor table was available. In little more than 10 minutes, my phone rang; our table was ready.
We were graciously led to our table. Just behind us, a beautifully decorated Christmas tree stood tall amongst the diners. Within seconds, I and my parents were welcomed by our server Emily, a radiant, energetic young woman.
She began by taking our drink orders and asked if we’d like to start with an appetizer. Now, my parents have reached that stage in their life where they travel. A lot. They are world travelers, and even with all that experience, my mother had never tried fried green tomatoes. Well, you cannot come to the south and not try fried green tomatoes.
We completed our feast of appetizers with a plate of Cajun boudin eggrolls and Mudbug Bread.
At this point, we had an idea what we wanted to order for our main meals. However, we definitely needed to get through the appetizers first to see if there was room for the entrees.
It wasn’t long before Emily returned with a plate of fried green tomatoes — four slices of firm and tangy tomatoes in a thin and crisp fried batter, spooned with a creamy spiced crawfish sauce. To see my mother take her first bite and watch her eyes light up with approval was only the beginning.
Before we could finish the tomatoes, the boudin eggrolls were placed on the table. We had meaty boudin and pepper jack cheese in a wheat flour wrap, fried, sliced, topped with a dusting of powered sugar and finished with a drizzle of Steen’s pure cane syrup. This was the epitome of “I wasn’t expecting that.” Savory and spice met the sweet and crunchy.
I know it’s hard to believe we actually had room to continue, but we were there to eat. For our mains, my mother ordered the grilled shrimp salad, while my dad opted for the famous Nina’s spud topped with grilled shrimp. I was torn between the blackened redfish and the Philly cheesesteak poboy. When I asked Emily which direction I should go in, she insisted I needed the Voodoo Burger. Who was I to argue with that?
Even with a full floor, there was never a hint of delay in the service of our food. The salad was a display of vibrant greens and a variety of fresh vegetables topped with seasoned and perfectly grilled shrimp, with dressing on the side. The massive spud was split down the center, fluffed and loaded with butter, melted shredded cheese, scallions, bacon bits and a heap of grilled shrimp, all venting steam as it sat waiting for me to take a few pictures before I allowed Dad to dive in.
Then there was the Voodoo Burger. This was the burger I tried during my first visit, and that’s why it was so easy for Emily to sway my decision. The cooks start with a 1/2-pound beef patty on a sourdough bun and load it with gouda, Muenster, grilled onions, bacon, pepper jelly, jalapeño mayo and lettuce. I asked for more napkins than I thought I’d use and dug into the explosion of flavors that all work together. In pure delight, I rolled my eyes into the back of my head and grabbed more napkins. It was impossible to finish when you had indulged as we had.
When we have a family-oriented restaurant dedicated to serving the best in Southern Cajun cuisine coupled with lively and personable service and an atmosphere that makes you feel at home, it will always be at the top of the list.
23077 Hwy 383, Iowa
Ah, Thanksgiving is over, you’re done entertaining, the family has gone home and it’s time to relax and catch your breath. My wife and I survived a rather hectic yet memorable Thanksgiving holiday with our families. But, when the leftovers are pushing the doors off the fridge and the house is tidy again, you may just need a day to yourselves to unwind.
We both took a day off with the intention of just staying home and being lazy. I woke up and headed to the kitchen. With my Christmas PJs on, I was sipping coffee on the sofa and just hanging out with the dogs. Then my wife got a sudden craving for satsumas.
OK, that wasn’t a big deal. Just the day before I’d noticed a gentleman sitting at the intersection down the street from the house selling his produce. We hopped in the truck and made the short drive to the corner, only to find nobody there. As we racked our brains to remember where we’d seen satsumas, my wife remembered hearing of a produce stand just north of Iowa.
Not wanting to go home empty-handed, we headed north on 383 and went only a few miles out of town as we made our way toward Kinder. Nestled in the trees, just after the left, was a quaint little produce stand named Fresh Pickins. Amazed at the beauty and the perfect setting, with the morning sun peeking through the pines, I believe my wife had the door open and was exiting the vehicle before I even came to a stop. She ran up those wooden steps to the porch, giggling and in awe of how cute the little place was.
The front doors were open wide. A woman stepped out, welcomed us and asked if we were looking for anything in particular. “Satsumas,” I replied. She shook her head and explained the satsumas were largely damaged in the freeze; most crops had taken a heavy toll.
This did not deter my wife’s adoration for what she was seeing. Nuts and produce, fresh-baked fig pie, handpainted art and home decor, kitchen gadgetry, canned peppers, jellies, soaps and wearables. We found ourselves walking around this quaint little store and repeating, “oh my gosh, how cute,” and placing more and more items on the counter for purchase.
The store has been in the family for generations, and its offerings are always available, even if the store is closed. Fresh Pickins uses an honor system if the staff is out. The prices are written on a chalkboard; you take what you need and drop your money in the slot.
What started out as simple satsuma craving turned out to be a discovery that will have my wife and I taking plenty more trips up 383. But I might change out of my red Christmas PJs before I head out next time. Merry Christmas!