Small Bites: A taste of NOLA in St. Louis and Black History Month cooks

by Terry B on February 8, 2012

Riverbend Restaurant & Bar brings New Orleans to St. Louis, and African American wine director Brian Duncan makes wine accessible, enjoyable. Both are subjects of recent USA Character Approved Blog posts.

One of my favorite passages in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is the one in which Mark Twain describes St. Louis as Huck’s raft glides by at night on the Mississippi River. It’s not a long or detailed passage, but it always takes me home when I read it. I grew up in St. Louis and can tell you firsthand that the river’s influence on the city cannot be overstated.

Happily, much of the Mississippi’s influence has actually flowed upriver from places like Memphis and New Orleans. Marion and I heard our first zydeco music in St. Louis. Fernest Arceneaux and the Thunders had packed the beer garden of the Broadway Oyster Bar, and our friend Sharon, who tended bar there, called us and said, “Get down here now.” We did. And we still thank her for making that call.

Some glorious food has traveled up the Mississippi too. For decades, the aforementioned Broadway Oyster Bar has served up po-boys, muffalettas, crawfish and more. And almost as long, BB’s Jazz, Blues and Soups (just stumbling distance up Broadway) offers red beans and rice, filé gumbo and other Cajun/Creole specialties.

Now these two Louisiana-flavored stalwarts have company: the Riverbend Restaurant & Bar. Here the food isn’t the only thing from New Orleans. So are the owner and his chef. The menu is French Quarter perfect, with six different po-boys, crawfish or shrimp étoufée, seafood gumbo… and in keeping with New Orleans tradition, they only serve red beans and rice on Mondays.

To find out more about Riverbend Restaurant & Bar—and why we’re ready for a St. Louis road trip really soon—check out my recent post on the USA Character Approved Blog.

Recognizing African American culinary stars for Black History Month

Almost six years ago, The New York Times ran a telling article about the scarcity of African American chefs at the top of the professional food chain in restaurant kitchens, “Black Chefs’ Struggle for the Top.” That is slowly beginning to change.

This month USA Network’s Character Approved Blog celebrates the achievements of African Americans in many fields. I’ll be recognizing some culinary stars. This week, it’s Brian Duncan, wine director and co-owner of Bin 36 and Bin Wine Cafe here in Chicago. In a field rightly known for its snobbery (think the brothers Crane, Frasier and Niles), Duncan takes a friendly, inclusive approach to wine. Make no mistake—wine is front and center in importance at both restaurants, and Duncan is a nationally renowned expert.

But the whole point of wine education for him is to help his customers enjoy wines. So each menu item is paired not with a single wine, but several, to match not only the food, but diners’ preferences and taste buds. Duncan also works with select winemakers to develop house wines truly worthy of the Bin 36 label.

To find out more about Duncan and his open approach to enjoying wine, check out my latest post on the USA Character Approved Blog. And while you’re there, make sure to read some of the other exciting posts honoring Black History Month.

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