Two weekends ago, I was asked to participate in the Shreveport-Bossier City Convention and Visitor Bureau’s Mardi Gras Media Tour. I do some Shreveport-based writing for a newer travel website called VisitSouth.com, and I was fortunate enough to have the lovely ladies from the CVB contact me to participate. I’ve got to admit, it was a really enlightening experience to see my own city from a different perspective. I toured the highlights with a group of other writers from around the country, and we broke bread at some outstanding restaurants.
Wine Country Bistro & Bottle Shop (herein known as “Wine Country,” for the sake of brevity) was one such restaurant. The atmosphere that night was festive and happy. Smack dab in the middle of Mardi Gras season, we had just come from the Krewe of Centaur’s float loading party, and were still a bit buzzed on cheap beer and Jell-O shots. Wine Country’s other diners that evening were feeling similarly jovial–some were celebrating birthdays with gag gifts and cake, while others were simply decked out in plastic beads, enjoying the season. It was indeed a great night to be out, and an especially great night to be a Louisianan.
Michael Brady, the executive chef at Wine Country, made a brief appearance to speak with us personally before showcasing some amuse-bouche that weren’t on the menu.
Generally speaking, an amuse-bouche is an unlisted appetizer of sorts, meant to be more of a tiny glimpse into the chef’s style than a formal course. We began with a fried pickle chip topped with herbed creme fraiche, which was followed shortly by a scallop atop bacon grits with an apple-bourbon puree. These two little bites made it pretty evident what Chef Michael’s aim is at Wine Country–to remove southern food from backwoods stereotypes and fancy it up a bit using the type of ingredients that most of us are more likely to see on the Food Network than in our local grocery stores. This is a cause I can get behind.
After much deliberation, I picked the shrimp and grits for my first course at Wine Country. A southern staple, I thought the dish would showcase what the restaurant is all about. While the shrimp themselves–large and plentiful for a first course–were a touch overcooked, the grits were outstanding, with an ultra-heady smoky hit from the andouille sausage floating happily in the dish.
My companions ordered the veal sweetbreads and fried green tomatoes (respectively) for their first courses. I had never had sweetbreads before, and was eager to try them. Sweetbreads are traditionally the thymus gland and the pancreas of a calf, and now that I’ve tried them, I only have a few key anatomical features to sample before I’ve successfully eaten an entire cow. But I digress. Served in a roasted red grape and tarragon butter emulsion, the sweetbreads were actually sweet, but not cloyingly so. The texture, I was interested to discover, is somewhere between the Indian cheese paneer and tofu. Not my favorite dish, but certainly not because it was poorly prepared. The execution was comfortable enough for a beginner like myself.
The fried green tomatoes were just that. We’ve all had them.
Some people adore them, and some people merely feel apathetic towards them. I am sorry to say I fall into the latter category, but I am glad to say that the connoisseurs among me were quite pleased with them. I’ll admit, the presentation was a far cry from the Whistle Stop Cafe.
The main event finally arrived, and I was genuinely looking forward to my trout amandine. The trout itself, crispy and cooked just to finishing, was served in its natural habitat, a deep pool of butter. Enjoyable? Without a doubt. But even I, a seasoned fan of saturated fats (in moderation, contrary to the content of this blog) found that much butter to be overwhelming. I wrapped up about half of it to bring home. (Fear not–it was enjoyed thoroughly the next day.)
When dessert time finally rolled around, the crowd at Wine Country had thinned considerably–but in the name of journalism, we pressed on. Some varietal of South African white was still flowing freely through me (sorry, folks–I’m not a wine blogger, but I’m getting there), and I foolishly agreed to help my neighbor finish his dessert, a berry crumble with buttermilk ice cream. A refreshing end to a meal of Dionysian proportions, I think I was satisfied until well into the following afternoon.
Wine Country is an excellent option for date night, girls’ night, or a small party. The wine flows freely, and Chef Michael Brady has managed to strike a balance between comfortable southern cuisine and high-end ingredients that would impress any uptown girl. Dinners range from $8.50 for half portions to upwards of $30 for fresh fish.
Leave the kiddies at home and linger over a few plates at this tucked-away eatery for an unexpected weeknight date (the menu changes daily, making use of seasonal ingredients, so be sure to check their website). Don’t forget to hit the bottle shop on the way out to bring some of the magic home with you.
Wine Country Bistro & Bottle Shop
4801 Line Avenue, Suite 14 (attached to Pierremont Mall)