For decades in Baton Rouge, Creole cuisine was limited to a narrow interpretation best represented by seafood prepared under classic French methods. A fresh fish fillet sautéed, topped with crabmeat and drizzled in beurre blanc was a mainstay—and it remains a popular dining experience today.
But restaurateur Stephen Hightower, managing partner of City Group Hospitality, wanted to expand Baton Rouge’s appreciation of Creole cuisine through the group’s new eatery, Rouj Creole. The concept is inspired by trail-blazing New Orleans chefs like Donald Link, Aaron Burgau and others, who pushed Creole cooking with inventive preparation techniques and unexpected ingredients.
“Creole is not just French,” Hightower says. “I think that’s the power of what we’re about, which is reinterpreting Creole and recognizing the rich ethnic influences behind it.”
Indeed, Louisiana Creole is beholden to a long list of immigrant groups from Spain, Haiti and other parts of the West Indies, Italy, Germany, Croatia, Hungary and others, as well as slaves from West Africa. All of these groups, along with the French who first colonized Louisiana and the Native Americans who were already here, left their culinary mark on everything from gumbo to jambalaya to link sausage, making south Louisiana cuisine global before its time. The evolution continues today with more recent influences from Vietnam, Mexico, Central America and the Middle East.
Thus, everything is up for grabs, Hightower says. While Rouj is plenty comforting to those who like their Creole old-school, there’s enough to keep intrepid diners interested. Chefs Rory Wingett and Tyler Guelfo craft Johnny cake shrimp tacos, in which Gulf shrimp are stuffed in a Caribbean cornbread cake with pineapple salsa, avocado cream and queso fresco. The socca and red bean hummus features chickpea crepes, which hail from both Provence and Liguria, paired with the classic Middle Eastern spread made with Louisiana’s favorite legume. The pescado paella, prepared with fresh fish, crawfish tails, mussels, shrimp, chorizo and saffron, is a Creolized version of the traditional Spanish rice and seafood dish. And the Moules Frites, mussels and fries, is straight-up Belgian.
Elsewhere, trappings of classic Creole abound, but they’re given a modern or thoughtful twist. The deconstructed “gombo” arrives with a skewer of grilled shrimp and fresh crabmeat atop the bowl, highlighting the tenderness of both.
An impressive brunch menu is available on Saturdays and Sundays, including an elegant Commander’s Palace-styled Jazz Brunch on Sundays.
It’s all served in an environment that exudes comfort as much as it does style. A rustic red “R”-shaped neon sign is the first thing diners see when they step inside the entrance. Sleek white tables are paired with rich navy velvet chairs, offset by gold and leather accents. Dim lighting and herringbone wood floors keep the vibe warm.
And whether it’s due to the atmosphere or food, Rouj Creole has become the kind of instantly popular spot that has fans waiting for a table. That’s just fine with Hightower. “I want people to come 10 times and still say there are things they want to try,” he says. “The goal is for people to have fun and take a journey.”
Opened June 2019
7601 Bluebonnet Blvd., Ste. 100
Rouj Creole isn’t the only place rethinking local food traditions
Opened December 2018
Chef Russell Davis is all about creating the perfect po-boy. To a base of Leidenheimer bread, he adds house-roasted meats or golden-brown fried fresh Gulf seafood to make high-quality versions of familiar flavors. But he also features inventive po-boys that draw from other sandwich traditions, like the Cuban and the shrimp banh mi. jedslocal.com
Opened February 2019
At The Myrtles Plantation in St. Francisville, Chef Daniel Dreher and his team cook all manner of proteins and vegetables over a nearly 9-foot-wide wood-burning hearth. The modern Southern restaurant took its lead from other open-flame eateries nationwide. The restaurant will eventually be joined by a kitchen garden and fruit orchard on the Myrtles’ grounds. myrtlesplantation.com
Click here to head back to our Hot New Restaurants cover story from the December 2019 issue of 225 Magazine.