2020 Ends With A Bluster

Written by Mary Leigh Fitzmorris January 07, 2021 22:26 in Dining Diary

On New Year’s Eve the weather was nasty. Cold and wet, and after dark, sort of scary blustery. Tom and I contemplated staying at home but it seemed a shame to do so on the night everyone is supposed to have a blast, right?

We got into the car and started driving toward the Southshore, knowing that our destination was on the lakefront in Mandeville.

Our daughter had casually mentioned that Rest-A-While, the new casual seafood restaurant Pat Gallagher was adding to his empire had already opened. We knew it was imminent, but this was great news. She had been bicycling on the lakefront that day and noticed people going in. She took a peek of both the place and the menu, and that was enough to entice us.

This new era of the property is a wonderful development. Located on the lakefront near the main drag, Girod Street, Rest-A-While has been a number of things in its nearly two hundred year history. It sits on an enormous tract of land with a main building on the Lakefront, with cabins deep in the back of the property. These cabins date back to 1850, 1870, and 1912 respectively, and have been used as an orphanage, a camp for unwed mothers, and a summer camp, but none for too long. Our own family has fond memories of the place, because it was a Girl Scout camp for one week in 1998, and Tom was a camp counselor with Mary Leigh as camper.

The buildings sat idle for the last twenty years, enduring storms and the feverish development of all its neighboring properties. Many of the original cabins did not make it, leaving only the three mentioned earlier.

When signs of life appeared a few years ago at Rest-A-While, we and many others started pulling for the place. It took several years for the dreams of the owner to become reality.

The cabins were collected from the back of the property and moved to the front, sitting on pilings so substantial they will survive whatever fury Mother Nature can conjure. The reuse of these old buildings is gorgeous, inventive, and just plain fun.

We arrived for the evening about 8pm, and it was hardly jumping, but no one knew it was open. We broke Tom’s cardinal rule of not going to new restaurants, but we are doing that a lot these days. Curiosity.

The main building has a dining room and a small bar to the side. We were seated at a window with a view of the lake. The table was handmade sinker cypress, wood reclaimed from the bottom of the Tchefuncte and Tangipahoa Rivers. All of the wood is original - floors, windows, and walls. 

The menu is abbreviated. The mark of an experienced restaurateur is a manageable menu to start. It was one page with six appetizers, a few salads, a soup or two, and six entrees as well as a fried seafood section. And a burger, because it is Pat Gallagher.

I got the burger, because it is Pat Gallagher. And Tom got the thin fried catfish platter. And an oyster artichoke soup, which came with oyster crackers. The onion rings with Crystal hot sauce looked good but we didn’t get them, and so did the salads but we passed on those too.

The oyster artichoke soup had a healthy dose of Pernod, and it was creamy and thick with the requisite amount of spinach.

This was served with a few oyster crackers, which excited me because I never see those. 

Pat Gallagher stopped in shortly after our food came and he chatted a bit, explaining how the place was put together, giving construction details that were fascinating. He told us where the wood came from and the beams that were used to shore it up forever, and how buildings were fused seamlessly together. He told us to come get him after dinner for a tour.

The burger I had was $14, which seems high for a burger but not so anymore. That’s now the going rate for a first class hamburger in a steakhouse or really anywhere in the higher end restaurant world.

It was an inch thick and crusty on the outside. Melted cheddar coated the burger. Nice dressings of the classic variety made for a great bite of food. The brioche bun was toasted nicely, and all of this came with a pile of fries not good enough to accompany Pat Gallagher’s food. The burger was so good it was a forgivable offense.

Tom was equally delighted with his choice. Before him was a huge pile of thin fried catfish that was golden brown and very hot. It seemed to have Crystal hot sauce in the batter as well.

Another pile of ordinary fries accompanied this catfish, as well as a little mound of coleslaw, and two hush puppies. The coleslaw was good but not special, but the assortment on this plate worked well together. 

After an enormous amount of food Tom shocked me by ordering dessert. It was a rather glamorous offering for such a casual seafood place. Coffee and chicory creme brulee with a lovely pop of green color from a leaf of mint, flanked by two vanilla shortbread cookies. This had a nice hard shell and underneath was a luscious creamy custard that resembled pots de creme. I was tempted to try this even though I never touch coffee. It was that pretty.

Pat returned to get us for a tour. He took us through the meandering footprint of the place, starting with one of the three cottages moved from the back of the property and hoisted up on the second floor. It was from 1850, and it was restrooms. Beautiful restrooms.

We moved to a second cottage, this one from 1870, which is a private room. With its original floors and walls, and decorated with Walter Anderson paintings, this is a lovely room for a smallish party. Lastly, we went into the adults-only bar, which was a small building from 1912 which housed tiny rooms for unwed mothers for summer camp. Numbers over the door frames are original. This small bar is cozy and fun.

Connecting all of these original buildings are wide walkways and outdoor dining spaces, as well as a long oyster bar. There is another oyster bar downstairs, as well as a brick patio, more outdoor seating for lounging and maybe eating, and a doggie water fountain.

Before we left we sat on the rocking chairs that line the porch of the main building. It was hard to contemplate getting in the car and driving across the lake to see Andrea and toast 2021. The lake was a dark abyss with no horizon. The wind howled, and a mist hung in the air. It was hard to imagine this dark gloomy, and ominous-feeling night that we visited, but come spring, this place will definitely be a scene.

We did drive across the lake to visit Andrea. His house was hopping, but still a hundred people off. We stayed until a few minutes before midnight, parking for a few minutes on the Causeway to watch a fireworks show along the shore at midnight. It was a lovely way to end the evening and the year.

Good riddance to 2020. Annus Horribilis.