Being close to Louisiana on our trip to the Emerald Coast of Northwest Florida, I made it a point to search out Creole/Cajun-style seafood places. One place that I read about while we were there is a restaurant named after the famed Faubourg Marigny neighborhood in New Orleans - The Marigny. For lunch one day, we found The Marigny in Santa Rosa Beach.
The Faubourg Marigny neighborhood in New Orleans - simply called The Marigny (mari-in-knee) by locals - is one of the more historical sections of New Orleans. Brightly colored homes and businesses feature architectural influences from 18th century French and Spanish colonists, as well as elements of Caribbean architecture. The neighborhood is named for an eccentric Creole by the name of Bernard De Marigny, a 19th century renaissance man who was a land developer, a politician and also well-known as a ladies man in early New Orleans. De Marigny was also a degenerate gambler - actually bringing to New Orleans the forerunner of the dice game Craps (from the local New Orleans dialect crapaud) from his travels to England as a young man. Due to gambling debts, De Marigny was forced to parcel out the family's plantation and he developed Faubourg Marigny. The man and the neighborhood named after him influenced owners Chef Chris Mongogna and managing partner Jason Jaume with the Marigny name when they opened their restaurant in 2013.
Mongogna and Jaume are both natives of New Orleans. Mongogna began to cook with the help of his mother when he was 13 making the Creole staple of red beans and rice. With the influences of his mother and two grandmothers, Mongogna began to dabble in Italian, classic New Orleans and Southern-country styles of food.
Mongogna and Jaume became best friends in high school and both began careers in the restaurant industry after graduation. Mongogna - who was never formally trained as a chef - began to work in the kitchen of restaurants around New Orleans, while Jaume gained experience as a manager in restaurants, bars and the hospitality industry. In 2005, Mongogna ended up working in the kitchen at Fire in New Orleans, a restaurant located in an old firehouse. Of course, the devastating Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans head on later that year. Fire was not as crippled as other businesses, but owner Brenda Farr found the going very slow for a couple years after.
In 2007, Farr - along with Mongogna, executive chef Carl Schaubhut and a handful of other employees - made the move to South Walton County in Florida's panhandle to open a new Fire in Grayton. Four years later, Schaubhut had an opportunity to go back to New Orleans to be the sous-chef at the famed Commander's Palace. (Schaubhut is currently executive chef at Cafe Adelaide, a sister restaurant to the Commander's Palace.) Mongogna, who had been the restaurant's pastry chef, was named executive chef of Fire upon Schaubhut's departure.
Fire eventually moved to the Gulf Place condo/entertainment/restaurant complex in Santa Rosa Beach in 2011. Farr - wishing to be closer to family in Atlanta - made a decision to close Fire a couple years later. (Fire was eventually bought by New Orleans native Drew Messina and is now Messina's on 30A.) It was then that Mongogna began to look for an available restaurant space in the area to showcase authentic Creole food. And to help him out on his venture, he brought in his old high school buddy from New Orleans, Jason Jaume.
They were thinking at first of just having a small shop that served authentic Po-Boy sandwiches since none existed in the area. But a larger restaurant near Mongogna's house in Santa Rosa Beach was available. They soon moved into what was the old Love Shack Oyster House in 2013 and opened The Marigny. (I was told by a friend of mine in Santa Rosa Beach that the Love Shack was a real dive.)
It certainly didn't look like a dive when we made it inside The Marigny, located down Hewitt Road near the Hogtown Bayou in Choctawhatchee Boy. (see map) Elegant woodwork, tables with linen table cloths and subdued lighting gave the room a nice comfortable feeling. The only problem is that the place looked like it was close, save for a couple televisions on behind the bar. Cindy finally wandered over to some doors that led to an outdoor seating area. "Ah ha," Cindy exclaimed. "There's life out here."
We went out to the outside patio area and we were met by our server, Micki. She told us to sit wherever we wanted and brought us over a couple menus when we found a seat. She told us right off the bat, "We're out of oysters today, just to let you know up front." That wasn't going to be a problem for us.
Micki asked what we wanted to drink and Cindy asked if they had mai-tai's. Micki said, "No, we don't have them." Cindy ordered something else instead - probably a pina colada. I saw that they had a number of beers on tap including the Grayton Beer Company 30A Blonde beer. I hadn't tried one yet, so I ordered one of those. (I didn't care for it - I ended up getting an Abita Amber for my second beer with lunch.)
While we were waiting for our drinks we took a quick look around The Marigny's outdoor patio area. It's part of a condo complex that includes a pool. The bar area is covered and features a number of flat screen televisions, banners for Louisiana sports teams, and an intricate wood beamed ceiling.
The bar area opens out into the pool area. We were told by Micki that swimming is free to customers of The Marigny. But no one was in the pool and there were only a couple other people in the patio bar having lunch. I could see myself lounging in the bar area at The Marigny eating Cajun food, drinking hurricanes and taking a dip every once in a while.
When Micki brought out our drinks, she had a mai-tai for Cindy. "I had the stuff to make a mai-tai. I just went ahead and made one for you," she said. Cindy was more than appreciative.
Authentic Creole/Cajun rules the menu at The Marigny. Po'Boy sandwiches, a muffaletta sandwich, jambalaya, grillades and grits, crawfish etoufee and crab-stuffed catfish were all on the menu. They had a number of appetizers including poutine (potatoes with beef debris gravy and covered in cheese), beef or crawfish meat pies, shrimp remoulade and gumbo. The Marigny had a number of salads both as an opener and as a main entree including the crabmeat ravigote and the blackened chicken Caesar salad.
Years ago - over 15 years ago - I ate at the famous Mother's Restaurant in New Orleans. Actually, it was right next to our hotel and I ate there three or four times, mainly because I fell in love with their roast beef Po'Boy sandwich. I've never found one yet that has come close - mainly because not a lot of Creole/Cajun places I've been to since have roast beef Po'Boys on the menu. But they did at The Marigny. Heck, they had ten different Po'Boy sandwiches on the menu including a meatball Po'Boy that came from a recipe from Chris Mongogna's grandmother, a traditional fried shrimp Po'boy, a pulled pork Po'Boy called Cochon de Lait, a poutine Po'Boy with potatoes, beef debris gravy and cheese, and even a hamburger Po'Boy! Their Po'Boys came in three different sizes - small, medium and large. The large, we were told, was big enough for sharing between two or three people.
But they also had a muffaletta sandwich. I had the one at the Central Grocery in New Orleans, the original maker of the muffaletta sandwich. Although it is more of an Italian sandwich than a Creole/Cajun sandwich, finding a good muffaletta outside of New Orleans is hard to do. Just a quick look at the number of Po'Boys they had on the menu at The Marigny, I figured the muffaletta they had was close to the original.
When it came down to ordering, I was still up in the air. Cindy ordered the crabmeat ravigote salad - a wedge salad topped with lump crabmeat, fried capers and a ravigote dressing that is more of a French/Creole citrus vinaigrette. It came down to the muffaletta or roast beef Po'Boy. Since I've had a muffaletta sandwich many times since I've had a good roast beef Po'Boy, I went with the Po'Boy. Fries came with the sandwich.
I thought about getting a cup of gumbo just to give it a shot, but when I ordered it Micki said, "We have a crawfish bisque that's not on the menu. Our gumbo is great, but I like the crawfish bisque better." I couldn't say no to her after that.
The crawfish bisque was as good - if not better - than Micki described. The slightly spicy, creamy and buttery bisque had chopped chunks of crawfish throughout. It was a generous sized cup - more of a bowl, if you like. The crawfish bisque was simply outstanding.
The lunches came out and Cindy's crabmeat ravigote salad featured a nice sized lettuce wedge with ample amounts of crabmeat and fried capers drizzled with a liberal amount of the ravigote dressing. Sliced tomatoes - very fresh sliced tomatoes - came on the side. I took one of Cindy's tomato slices since she doesn't like tomatoes all that much on their own and I have to say that they were the closest in taste to the tomatoes that I had in Hawaii - ones that I still feel are the best tomatoes I've ever eaten. She offered me a bite of her salad and the ravigote dressing had a slightly citric taste with a slight spicy bite. I liked it and so did my wife.
But my roast beef Po'Boy was the highlight of the meal. I got the medium size Po'Boy (I would have hated to see how big the large would hae been.) The bread was soft and fresh, but had a slight crunchiness to the outside layer. The thin sliced roast beef was swimming in its own debris (au jus) and was topped with shredded provolone cheese, chopped lettuce and mayo dressing. Now, I don't remember much about the roast beef Po'Boys at Mother's, but I've got to bet that the one I had at The Marigny was damn close. It was so tasty that I'm sure that if I would have gotten a large I would have made a straight forward attempt to try to eat the whole thing in one sitting.
But the medium was enough. I had a basket of fries that was about the same size as the basket in which the roast beef Po'Boy was served. I may have had a couple fries, Cindy too. But that was it. I was concentrating on the sandwich. I was in heaven eating the sandwich. I was really sad to see it gone from my basket when I had the last bite.
A couple three nights later, we were going to go back to The Marigny for dinner with my cousin and his wife, our friends Bob and Lisa Steeno, and a friend of theirs who we met that night. However, we had a dead battery in our car and no one had jumper cables in the immediate area. The Sandestin Hilton offered to take Cindy and I to The Marigny in their courtesy van, but as I jumped up into the van I popped a calf muscle. It was so severe that it immediately began to swell up and I couldn't put any weight on it. The night was then spent in our room with an ice bag on my leg and room service from the hotel. It was a shame because I was looking forward to going back to The Marigny and trying their jambalaya or some other Creole/Cajun dish. (My cousin told me the next morning that their food was - also - very good.) For lunch - especially Po'Boy sandwiches - I can't help but wholeheartedly recommend The Marigny. If we ever make it back to the Emerald Coast, it will be one of our first two or three places we go for food.