Sunday, March 24, 2013

Dee Felice Café Would Turn Santa into a Duck Dynasty Fan

Dee Felice Café, a Cajun-Creole joint in Covington, KY, stands in a historic building near the site of the 1856 slave escape that inspired Toni Morrison’s novel, Beloved.

About 130 years later, the late jazz drummer and band leader Dee Felice started his restaurant in this building at the corner of 6th and Main. Three decades after that, his daughter Shelly now runs the front end and her husband Patrick Nelson runs the kitchen.

Patrick is a writer buddy of mine and I’ve read his stories. After a day herding ourselves through the maze at IKEA (where the Swedes apparently stole the color scheme from the US Navy Blue Angels and then mocked up a floor plan to approximate the layout of the children’s game “Candy Land”), Jill and I went to see if Patrick is as skillful in the kitchen as he is on the page.

Shelly greeted us at the hostess desk like we were old friends. She seated us at a table near the big picture windows that overlook MainStrasse Village.

We surveyed the room: Historic stamped tin ceilings, brass rails, stained glass and ornate fireplaces in the back room where the doctor used to see patients. N’awlins-themed and a three-piece jazz band on a stage at eye level, above and behind the bar. I don't know if we had the "best" seats in the house, but it felt like it.

As we got settled, Jill scanned the area and worked up her assessment of how good this place might be, using as her metric the fashion accessories of women in and around the restaurant.

"That girl at the bar has a nice purse," Jill observed. "Oh, yeah?" I said.

"Yeah. Marc Jacobs. That's Marc with a 'C.'" "Ahhhh," I said.

Looking out the window, Jill pointed and said, "That girl is wearing $400 shoes." "No kidding," I said. "Who makes those?"

"Tory Burch," she said. "She used to date Lance Armstrong." Jill sat back and said with confidence, "You might know guns, but I know shoes and handbags." It was best for me to agree with her.

Patrick came out from the kitchen to welcome us and to meet Jill. He came back about 10 minutes later with a basket of homemade rolls, warm and yeasty, and a dish he introduced as Cajun Shrimp and Grits.

These were not your Cracker Barrel grits. Creamy and savory with a peppery Cajun bite, floating a half-dozen plump and grilled shrimp.

Forrest’s best good friend Bubba reeled off 20 different ways to prepare shrimp, but was unfortunate to miss this excellent preparation.

Jill had her share and I finished off the bowl. "What about our program?" she said. "That's a lot of carbs."

"Patrick made it for us,” I said. “I don't want to appear rude." (A bullshit excuse, I know; it was awesome and I wasn't going leave any of it on the table.)

Next came their signature Dee's Filet, a blackened tenderloin served over a cream sauce and ringed by a dozen shrimp, like a rock star in a crowd of adoring pink groupies.

After I’d finished my filet, a quarter-inch of Cajun shrimp cream sauce remained on my plate. Mike came around to fill waters and clear the table. I laid a finger on the edge of my plate to hold it and said, "Mike, do you think they'd kick me out of here if I went at this cream sauce with a spoon?"

Mike considered it for a moment, reached down to pat the napkin-covered bread basket and said, "You've got a couple rolls left."

I threw my hands up and looked at Jill and said, "I LOVE theeze country!"

Patrick had hinted at something special for dessert, so we waved off Christopher's offer of bread pudding or carrot cake or something-something with chocolate. "Better check with Patrick," I said. "I think he's got something in mind."

While we waited, I looked out the window at a foursome exiting a taxi. "How much do her shoes cost, Fruit?" (Pet name. Long story.)

Jill appraised the lady's hoof covers. "I've never seen those before," she said. "I'll tell you what, though... she's got way too many animal prints going on. Shoes, pants, handbag...." Fashion can be brutal.

Patrick came out with a plate holding a small Grandma Stutzman's Cheesecake. "I don't know who Grandma Stutzman is,” Patrick said, “but the old gal makes a hell of a cheesecake.” Around the plate was painted what Patrick told us was his “Balsamic Glaze.”

A vinegar reduction with cheesecake? Are you mad? A better question is: "Are you delicious?" The answer was: "Every bite."

Next to the cheesecake, Patrick laid a plate of cookies: Molasses Gingersnaps with Chili and Habanero. I know, you wouldn't think.…

But lay out these cookies with some milk on Christmas Eve and you’ll have Santa auditioning for “Duck Dynasty,” making venison out of Prancer and Dancer, hooking up flying gators to his sleigh, and listening to Zydeco music while delivering his presents. And he’s already got the beard for it.

Dee Felice Café is in Covington, Kentucky, just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati. My advice: If the bridge is out, you gotta swim for it.

No comments: