The Griffin Bakery in Mandeville opened in 1901 on Lafitte Street, in “downtown” Mandeville. It was constructed of barge boards, and the metal and cast iron came from the Catskills in New York. The oven used for the bakery was made of bricks. It was 20 feet long and ten feet high, and took six days to get going. So it just stayed lit.
When the bakery closed, the building was vacant for many years. For about a year pre-Katrina, two Mandeville women opened a bakery with Rene Bajeaux at the helm. The brick oven was converted to gas. That venture lasted about a year.
After Katrina, Pete Kusiw’s restaurant Juniper was obliterated in its location at the lakefront, so he moved into the barge board house across from Our Lady of the Lake Church. This was a delicious development for churchgoers and everyone else.
Pete even used the brick oven, but just occasionally, to cook a Thanksgiving feast and Christmas morning brunch for employees and anyone else who wanted to come. The rotisseries inside the oven were enticing, but even after the gas conversion, it still took three days for the oven to even be heated to 350 degrees.
Juniper lasted about ten years, when Pete decided he didn’t want to play all the roles in a restaurant. His food can still be enjoyed at The Lakehouse a few blocks away.
Enter Alex Patout, which is a sentence that could be written in half the stories about New Orleans food. That lasted a month or two. He’s back home in New Iberia, at Landry's.
The next owners of this historic property didn’t share the appreciation for its past as their predecessors. Jubilee was the brainchild of a real estate developer and his wife. One of the first things they did in the renovation was to dismantle the brick oven, The eight-foot-high brick pile that hung around the back yard for way too long was a reminder to everyone what was lost. Some of those bricks are posts for the fence surrounding the outdoor patio, one of their better ideas.
After the demise of Jubilee, the building sat again for a while. It opened the next time as Lama’s St. Roch Seafood, which never seemed like a fit for such a building. The two previous restaurants were definitely fine dining, and the seafood joint didn’t follow what was now an established pattern.
And now the bakery has new life, with the appropriately-named Lafitte. Chef Phil O’Donnell and his partner came from Ponchatoula with very different backgrounds-one fine dining, the other an alehouse. Fortunately, the fine-dining chef is in the kitchen.
And the dining is fine. Last week we had dinner and left very excited about this new addition to the north shore culinary scene. We started with crab cakes, which I always order with some trepidation. Now I expect a flattened ball of crab stuffing inside a deep-fried shell of breadcrumbs. I like this well enough, but I prefer a pan-seared hunk of jumbo lumps loosely held together by bechamel or something I prefer not to think about, like ground shrimp. Lately, I have been seeing a hybrid of these. The bread crumb crust is there and the stuffing is there, but there is more actual crab. That’s what these were, served over a bed of roasted corn salad, finished with a Chardonnay butter and chipotle lime drizzle. These were some of my recent favorites.
There was a really tempting-sounding mushroom bisque as the soup du jour, but I got the duck gumbo instead. I thought this had a peculiar taste. Not bad, just not what I expected. Tom loved it and he ate it. Very generous portion.
Tom ordered a double-cut pork chop that was spectacular. Cooked perfectly, it was beautifully presented, napped with a roasted garlic honey and rosemary port glace over country skillet sweet potatoes. These potatoes were slightly undercooked for my taste, which was disappointing. I really wanted to eat them. The pork was tender and moist in the middle, with a nice searing on the outside. Everything you would want a pork chop to be.
Neither of us was very hungry, so we will have to return soon to try some of the other things on the menu. It is not especially large, but there is enough to find something with each visit. There is even a Hawaiian steak on the menu, in keeping up with current trends. There are a few unusual things that pop out of nowhere, like Greek meatballs on the Small Plates part of the menu. There is a charcuterie board, again keeping with the trends.
The space wears its new glamorous update well. Still the same quiet vibe, and delicious food.
Lafitte Restaurant & Courtyard
301 Lafitte St . Mandeville