In a swirling cloud of powdered sugar, jambalaya and fried okra, the boisterous bon temps of Bourbon Street have arrived in downtown Santa Rosa.
Flanked by flickering New Orleans-style gas lamps and perfumed by the spicy bouquet of crawfish and hush puppies, The Parish Cafe is warmer than a peach cobbler resting on maw-maw’s window sill–and owner Rob Lippincott means to keep it that way.
“Be nice or leave” reads a sign on the hostess stand, fair warning for anyone threatening to put a damper on Parish’s heaping helping of Southern hospitality.
This isn’t Lippincott’s first crawfish boil. The Healdsburg outpost of the Parish Cafe opened in 2012, and Lippincott has been slinging beignets at farm market stands for years — and was where many of us first met the NOLA native.
“I always felt like I was selling memories,” said Lippincott, sitting at a communal redwood table at the new restaurant. “New Orleans is such a vortex for Americans. Everywhere I’ve gone I meet new people who want to tell me about their experiences there — about Cafe du Monde.”
“I think that’s always been part of our success,” he said, coming off a bustling weekend that saw more than 600 diners between the two cafes.
Covered with enough powdered sugar to cover most of your shirt, pants, and shoes should you fail to take heed, beignets have always been the constant for Lippincott, and are on just about every table. Fried squares of dough and hot, oily air are New Orleans’ unofficial food mascot and a bellwether for a chef’s prowess in Cajun cuisine. Lippincott takes his very seriously, though not everyone’s a pro at the art of beignet eating. You can always tell first-timers by their watering eyes and embarrassed coughing after inhaling a cloud of sugar. Nothing iced tea can’t correct
The downtown location comes at an exciting time for Santa Rosa’s revitalizing restaurant scene. Parish has opened in the former La Bufa Mexican restaurant after the owner retired. A complete overhaul began last May, with groundbreaking in October, and opening almost a year later.
It’s been worth the wait for a restaurant that feels so natural in this space, with its shrimp po-boys, muffaletta sandwiches, fried oysters, shrimp and grits, red beans and rice and rib-sticking jambalaya.
Best Bets at the Parish Cafe
Parish is open for breakfast and lunch Monday through Friday, and breakfast is served all day on the weekend.
Lunch begins at 11:30 a.m., but we’ve heard that you might be able to get a crawfish po-boy if you order before 11:45, the best of breakfast and lunch. No promises, though.
Po-Boys: This NOLA classic is basically a sandwich on steroids. The bread, however, is the key, and Lippincott’s father-in-law happens to be Will Seppi, owner of Cousteaux bakery in Healdsburg. The two worked on a special recipe for the perfect soft inside and lightly crunchy outside that sets his po-boys apart from all others. Our favorite is the Surf & Turf, with fried shrimp, roast beef and “debris” gravy. $14 regular, $18 king-sized.
Red Beans and Rice ($6, $10): Not for vegetarians, it’s made with ham hock and andouille sausage so it actually tastes good.
Muffaletta ($14, $26 for a whole): This NOLA classic is a round loaf of focaccia stuffed with ham, salami, mortadella, provolone, mozzarella and olive tapenade. Olives are my kryptonite, but I actually ate a pretty darn big portion of this sandwich despite the tapenade. True connoisseurs, however, tell me this version is dead on.
Seafood Platter ($20): Big enough for one hearty eater, or two hungry lighter eaters, it’s a fried food bonanza with shrimp, oysters, fries, catfish and hush puppies.
Beignets ($5): A necessity.
Shrimp and Grits ($14): This is exactly what this Southern dish should be, full of butter, with Creole tomato sauce.
Overall: A love letter to his hometown, This second Parish Cafe has already woven itself into the fabric of downtown Santa Rosa.
Parish Cafe, 703 Fourth St., Santa Rosa, 707-843-7804, theparishcafe.com. Also at 60 Mill St, Healdsburg.