Authentic, homemade Cajun-style food
7:40 p.m. … The weatherman keeps saying it’s cooler than it feels.
“Laisse le bon temps rouler” is the mantra in New Orleans, meaning, “Let the good times roll.” I will campaign this to be changed to “Laisse le bon cuisine rouler!” Let the good food roll! New Orleans may be my favorite restaurant city, and it’s truly a fun place to visit. However, it’s difficult to travel there as often as I’d prefer, so I’m left craving many of the amazing dishes that has made NOLA famous. Luckily we have a few Cajun-style restaurants in Hot Springs to keep my cravings in check. One of the newest, and maybe the best in our Spa City, is Frenchie’s.
Frenchie’s is owned by Russ Jefferson and his son, Matt. Russ was the owner of SOB (Shrimp, Oyster and Beerhouse) in Little Rock before opening Hot Springs Oyster Bar. Hurricane Katrina then devastated the oyster industry (among many others), and Russ smartly closed this restaurant as he couldn’t get top product. (The New Orleans levy inspectors will be forever dammed …) Russ is a perfectionist and is passionate when it comes to quality, so you can expect Frenchie’s to have excellent fare. A pharmacist at a local hospital by day, Russ’ scientific background has lent itself to formulating the best recipes possible.
Located in the old Pompeii space in Freeman Center at 2012 Central Ave., Frenchie’s is a casual, full-service restaurant. The front room has a bar, condiment station and several tables, while the cozy side room is booths and tables. New Orleans themed art and memorabilia hangs throughout, and the feel reminds me of Felix’s in New Orleans.
I’ve always said Oaklawn has the best oysters in town, but Frenchies’ fresh shucked oysters on the half-shell rivals those. Russ searches for the best suppliers on a regular basis. The boiled shrimp in the shell are also exceptional. The cocktail sauce is homemade and is brilliant, extra horseradish available upon request. Either of these are a perfect start, but maybe only outdone by Russ’ Louisiana Dark Roux File’ Gumbo. This seafood and chicken gumbo is thick and rich with flavor. I’ve seldom had better, and it is available in a cup or bowl. A splash of Louisiana Hot Sauce kicks it up a notch.
Everything at Frenchie’s is homemade, including the hand-breading of fried shrimp, oysters and catfish. Russ uses a separate breading for each, and this attention to detail makes a huge difference. The shrimp breading is very light, yet maintains a fine crispness. The oysters’ breading has a bit more meal, and is a superb pairing for these fresh shucked delicacies. I have a hard time sharing these, as I’m a bit shellfish …
I’m a catfish snob, and Frenchie’s filets are worthy of ordering. Many restaurants use small 3-5 ounce filets. These are so thin that you end up with too high breading to fish ratio.
Russ uses larger filets, then slices them lengthwise to give you a beautifully thick piece of fish. These filets are cooked with a light, but tasty homemade breading. Also, Frenchie’s fish has never been frozen! The quality here is evident in every bite of every dish. Even the tartar sauce is homemade. With Russ, it’s all about the food.
The above fried items are available in combo baskets or alone. Homemade hush puppies are served with your entree, and they are addicting. Other sides available include slaw, french fries, salad or red beans and rice. The red beans and rice are flawlessly seasoned and fantastic. Other entree items include a really good Crawfish étouffée and blackened catfish. The étouffée has soft and delicate flavors and will be one of your favorites.
Save room for dessert! Russ’ wife, Kathy, makes one of the best bread puddings with whiskey sauce that you will ever have. Trust me on this and order Kathy’s 5 Star pudding. They also have a very light Killer Key Lime Parfait.
Frenchie’s currently has limited hours: Friday and Saturday dinners from 5:30-9 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday for breakfast and lunch from 9 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Breakfasts include homemade beignets (French doughnuts) and café au lait. I’ve been told the biscuits and gravy are great and other standard breakfast items are on the menu. Limited wines and Champagne are available and also many beers, including a tasty LA31 Pale Ale.
They give outstanding effort to get your food to you quickly, but be patient if it’s not instantaneous. Any wait will be worth it. I am always impressed when the owner/chef is as passionate about their product as this family. After eating at Frenchie’s, you too will be passionate about this food. Laisse le bon cuisine rouler!
8:50 p.m. … The weatherman has gone almanac depressive on me …