Let’s give three cheers to our local restaurant industry. There’s probably never been a year as tough on it as 2020. Restaurants faced shutdowns and capacity restrictions. Owners and workers have felt the stress of layoffs and lost revenue—all while trying to keep staff and diners safe in the middle of a global pandemic.
But this roller-coaster year has not stopped Baton Rouge’s restaurant scene from growing. Many restaurateurs braved uncharted waters to keep one dream alive: providing special new concepts to the Capital Region. Have a look at a few:
Drago’s Seafood Restaurant—The year was off to a strong start when this New Orleans staple opened on Constitution Avenue after nearly five years of planning. The former FYE store was transformed into a Big Easy-style restaurant and bar, complete with a live-entertainment stage. On the menu: rich seafood dishes like lobster mac and cheese, fried catfish and the big draw—charbroiled oysters. dragosrestaurant.com
Sugarfield Spirits—Gonzales’ first distillery opened with bottles of vodka, rum and bourbon, plus a bar serving craft cocktails. Its January opening was serendipitously timed. Mere weeks later, it enabled the distillery to help with much-needed hand sanitizer production in the early days of the pandemic.
The Vintage—The New Orleans-born, beignet-themed restaurant took over the former Magpie Cafe space downtown. Its opening coincided with Louisiana’s phase one reopening, and its sophisticated style felt like a breath of fresh air after a spring cooped up at home. It’s also been one of a handful of downtown restaurants that’s remained open in the evenings this year, with a fun menu of beignet flights, craft cocktails, charcuterie and cheese boards, and other light bites.
Millennial Park—Young developer Cameron Jackson is the visionary who brought Louisiana’s first shipping container park to Florida Boulevard. The mixed-use, mural-covered venue kicked things off with a Juneteenth Block Party, and it quickly became the go-to spot for drive-in movie nights and outdoor lunches. Debut food stands included Jive Turkey, Royal Taste of Jamaica and Memphis Mac BBQ (which also opened a separate bricks-and-mortar in February). Planned future openings include The Daiquiri Spot and a build-your-own pasta stand. Jackson’s next venture is a produce market, slated to open in 2021 at North Street and North Acadian Thruway.
Torchy’s Tacos—One of the year’s most wildly popular openings arrived from Austin. The highly anticipated fast-casual restaurant lives up to the hype. It’s all about the impossible-to-resist queso and “damn good” breakfast and specialty tacos. There’s even a taco you can only get in Baton Rouge: the Bayou Pirate, with local fried crawfish tails, andouille sausage, cabbage slaw, pickled relish, and chipotle and Diablo sauces.
Boom Box Pops—This dessert shop opened on Highland Road. The ’80s-themed spot is decked out with nostalgic decor like a cassette-tape collage and retro arcade games. While listening to a soundtrack of ’80s hits, guests can savor popsicles, milkshakes and ice cream.
Modesto Tacos Tequila Whiskey—With authentic Mexican fare, a colorful tiled bar and a string-light-strewn patio, Modesto became one of the most buzzed-about new spots in the LSU area. The project is courtesy of Ozzie Fernandez, the local restaurant giant behind Rocca Pizzeria, Izzo’s Illegal Burrito and Lit Pizza. This menu is personal for Fernandez, who is of Mexican descent and incorporated recipes belonging to his mother and grandmothers.
Cypress Coast Brewing Co.—After more than two years of delays, this rustic brewery opened in Mid City. Friends Caleb and Brittany Schlamp and Justin and Rachel Meyers got their start dominating home-brewing competitions and decided to open a small brewery of their own, where they could experiment with different flavors.
Bonjour—On Essen Lane, Anass Ecacharkaoui opened this shop serving French pastries and crepes. There are more than 10 different varieties of sweet crepes, plus interesting waffle-based treats.
Boru Ramen—Ronnie Wong and Patrick Wong (both also part of the Ichiban Sushi Bar & Grill team) opened their ramen concept in Electric Depot. The decor and menu were inspired by the brothers’ training at and travels to Japanese-style ramen spots in Tokyo and New York. Its noodles and broth are made from scratch. The bar serves Japanese whiskey, sake flights and Asian-inspired craft cocktails. Patrick also owns neighboring dessert shop Sweet Society.
Istrouma Brewing—Surrounded by livestock and the Louisiana countryside, the “art farm”-themed brewery opened at Sugar Farms in St. Gabriel. The brewery serves an array of house-brewed sours, stouts, blondes and ales. Sugar Farms also houses a restaurant called Feed & Seed.
Gov’t Taco—After White Star Market’s March closure shuttered Gov’t Taco’s booth, owner Jay Ducote and his team kept their eyes on the prize: making their first bricks-and-mortar restaurant. After a year and a half in the works, the Government Street restaurant debuted on Election Day—with American government-themed tacos and a political-conspiracy-inspired interior to match.