The north shore of Lake Pontchartrain has its own great assortment of dining establishments. Like any place else, we have a representative amount of boring chains, our share of terrible places, and enough great ones to get us on a list of the 10 small towns in America with world-class dining.
As one who has watched this my whole life, I definitely agree with that honor. We have come a long way since the days of Dakota as the sole establishment in this lofty category. I have often said that Del Porto is my favorite Italian eatery in the entire metro area. It is my wife’s favorite restaurant in the whole metro area. We also like its neighbor Oxlot 9, and Osman Rodas is a skilled restaurateur operating three over here, the flagship Pardo’s being one in this upper tier.
I have also said often enough for it to come back at me that I never go to new restaurants. Since the Marys are always some of the first in the door when a new restaurant opens, I am sometimes dragged along.
Such was the case the other night when I went to Pyre Provisions, which has just opened in the space on Hwy 21 that was once Bacobar, and before that Jerk’s Island Grill. Not a lot was done to the look, though enough was done to make it unrecognizable as either of the two previous residents.
What is really didfferent is the menu. It is really different from most other places of any kind. It is so different one wonders what it will be in the time when I would normally make it in there. The Marys have been twice now, once when I was at Manresa, exactly two days after it opened. Then they had a hamburger, and macaroni and cheese, grits and brisket. And a gumbo that was more like a pork stew that they are still talking about.
On the day I went we had Brussels sprouts, creamy greens, chargrilled oysters that were not local oysters, and lamb ribs with Moroccan spices, as well as a grilled chicken sandwich. There was also a pulled pork sandwich with Vietnamese tones on the table. And a spinach gnudi.
The gnudi was good, with a light cream sauce and exotic mushrooms scattered about. Mary Ann raved about the Brussels sprouts, which are among her favorites, and she gets them everywhere. The creamed greens were good but not great, (how could greens be that good anyway?), and the chargrilled oysters are not typical, i.e., swimming in any butter for dipping. There was a breadcrumb component that prevented sopping up juices, and these were not local anyway. There is never anything to complain about with oysters, and these were no exception.
Mary Ann got a grilled chicken sandwich that she liked well enough, but only got it because there was nothing else that moved her much on the menu, except for the sides. ML got a pulled pork sandwich she declared to be very tasty. She ate it all, which is rare for her. My lamb ribs were almost assigned to me by Mary Ann, and the spice level was good, but I found them a little tough and not very meaty. (A common problem with lamb ribs.) The Moroccan spice preparation was interesting, and not in any bad way.
The girls reported a better meal at dinner the previous Friday, where a hamburger was good, with fresh-cut potato chips, and the exceptionally great “gumbo” was consumed. And there was brisket on the table, which comes on a plate by itself as slabs. This was good but not brilliant, though certainly up to Northshore barbecue standards with what the barbecue-fanatic Marys call the sad absence of Smoke.
Mary Ann is especially intrigued by this place, so she talked to the chef, Jeff Matthia, an alum of BRG, the Hyatt, Sonesta, and Craftsteak, the Tom Colicchio concept in big cities like New York and Los Angeles. He was last in Charleston when he was recruited by BRG to work at August.
But the chef, who spent years in the military, became intrigued by the food cultures of all the countries he saw, and mostly the Southern charm of feeding the family. The provisions. As a chef in the high-end tablecloth places, he began to wonder why home barbecue cooks always handily defeated the gourmet guys in competitions. He often wondered, what was it about the skills of cooking over a wood fire that they were missing?
So it was the warmth, love and social interactions of the family table learned from his grandmother, the skills of the barbecue masters of the open fire, the steakhouse ideas imparted from his time at Craftsteak, as well as the Southern ideas of providing for loved ones that all came together to form the concept of the restaurant. Add a sprinkling of the culinary cultures of the many countries that were part of his military tenure, and you see what Jeff Matthia is trying to do at Pyre Provisions.
Pulling this all together will be quite a challenge. His inspiration comes from a single quote from an icon of chefs, James Beard. It is, “ Grilling, Broiling, Barbecuing, whatever you want to call it, is an art, not just a matter of building a pyre and throwing on a piece of meat as a sacrifice to the gods of the stomach.”
This grand idea of Jeff Matthia is primal. It will be tough to pull off, but so interesting to watch. And a very welcome addition to the north shore dining scene.
70437 Hwy 21 Covington
Dinner 5-10 Tue-Th till 11 Friday & Sat
Happy Hour Tue-Fri 3-5