Mandeville: 2891 US 190.
Dakota Wine & Feed Store
Mandeville: 2975 US 190.
For most of the last twenty-five years, the standard of restaurant excellence in the Mandeville-Covington corridor has been Dakota. Owners Ken Lacour and Chef Kim Kringlie ran the North Shore equivalent of John Besh or the Brennans, with first-class food, service, wine list, environment, and general sophistication, all of which Dakota continues to hold high.
The team made two expansions over the years. The more recent was with Cuvee and Rambla in the CBD, both of which came to an end within the past couple of years. But a decade before, the Dakota guys opened two casual restaurants in separate spaces in the same strip mall. The menus were quite different from one another, but both Dakota Wine & Feed and CreOla (pronounced “kree-oh-LAY”) are well remembered by Northshorinians of the day.
The typical customers at these two restaurants were the kind of people who, recently moved across the lake, wanted to go out to a tasty and with-it bistro for dinner. But they had school-age children, and that didn’t work at Dakota or La Provence or even Nuvolari’s.
That pretty well describes my own family at the time. We became regulars at the Wine & Feed, and then at CreOla. Both restaurants were easygoing enough that the kids fit right in. They had the kind of food that children liked: sandwiches, hamburgers, and (the great savior of all such outings) pasta dishes. But at the same time, there was plenty of evidence that the owners had a gourmet perspective.
Culinarily speaking the Wine & Feed was the better of the two. Quite a few Dakota dishes made it to the menu–most notably the crabmeat and Brie soup and the superb dark-roux duck and andouille gumbo. The North Shore had no sushi in those days, and the Wine & Feed filled that gap. It also had a few salads with an Asian taste, duck pot stickers, a pesto-flavored Nicoise salad and other fusions.
Entrees included things like veal meat loaf, roast chicken with garlic and herbs (fifteen years ahead of Zea), and perfect liver and onions. All of this was first-class food, prepared by deft hands. Chef Kim was there about as much as he was at Dakota, and his wife was there the rest of the time.
Between the tables were racks selling a wide range of retail foods: deli, cheeses, wines, and gourmet-to-go dishes. This side of the restaurant may have been responsible for its downfall. The supermarkets invaded that segment, with much lower prices.
Dakota Wine & Feed originally opened on LA 22 across from Beau Chene, where it was a little too well hidden. It moved to one end of a new strip mall adjacent to the Pelican Athletic Center, which put it in the middle of a desirable traffic pattern.
Not long after that, an investor approached Ken and Kim with the idea of building another restaurant in the same strip mall. CreolA had the good looks and comforts that national chains routinely install in their restaurants now. It also had a much more mainstream menu, with more emphasis on the likes of hamburgers, ribs, pasta, salads, and basic seafood. It was somewhere between Houston’s and Mr. B’s, with the food being a bit closer to the Houston’s end of the dial.
Chef Kim told me that the goal of CreolA was to lure Mandevillians and Covingtonians away from Chili’s and Applebee’s, ostensibly with better food. That it had, but not to the extent that the Wine & Feed had demonstrated. CreolA seemed to imitate the chains as much as they tried to improve upon them.
Most of the seating was in booths, in a large room with subdued lighting that stops short of darkness. A row of tables was on a platform along the windows, and became the most desirable places to dine. Both the bar and the kitchen were exposed to view.
When CreOla first opened, they didn’t serve bread. When I asked about this, I was told, “Well, Houston’s doesn’t serve bread.” That was the most memorable of a bunch of little irritations that we might have allowed an impersonal, highly-formulated chain to get away with, but not restaurateurs like these.
But CreOla was such a comfortable, swell-looking place for happy hanging out with friends and their kids. And the place improved over time. Bread finally arrived. The specials really made an upmarket move.
They called the menu “melting pot cuisine.” The pot was dominated by New Orleans and Southwestern tastes, with a not-quite-melted admixture of Standard Everyday Restaurant American. The dreaded wrap-sandwich phenomenon was going strong.
However, original, good things were all over the menu. Smoked onion rings had a fascinating flavor. They smoked a lot of other stuff, too–a welcome thing, since barbecue was almost non-existent in this area then. Mexican fondue was a forerunner of the now-common choriqueso. Fish was grilled on a cedar plank. “Jambaella,” was black-iron-skillet fusion. It was always fun, if never brilliant.
I don’t know why CreolA closed. Maybe the influx of chains on the North Shore did it. But it wasn’t the location. A number of restaurants opened and closed in the space until, shortly after Katrina, St. Bernard refugee Mark Benfatti too it over and turned it into a hit again with his N’Tini’s. Which. now that I think about it, has a lot in common with CreolA.