Hillsborough, N.C. — When I heard there was going to be a restaurant in Hillsborough named LaPlace, I was thrilled. I was born in New Orleans, La., and grew up in the small town of LaPlace - just like restaurant owner Joe Tullos. And no, we didn't know each other. In fact, I didn't meet Joe until I walked into LaPlace Louisiana Cookery last week flanked by my entire Louisiana born and raised family.
When reviewing a restaurant about LaPlace, La., it is best to bring along the people who lived there for 30 years. They have since relocated to the Triangle area after Hurricane Isaac flooded LaPlace, destroying their homes.
Location: LaPlace is located on North Churton Street in downtown Hillsborough. Parking is available on the street and behind the restaurant. There is also a large free parking deck two blocks down near the Co-op grocery. The restaurant itself is in a "shotgun-style" room (no hallways, you can see the back door from the front). The ground floor is the restaurant and bar and all the cooking and sausage creating are downstairs.
Restaurant: The walls are lined with images from LaPlace's history. An image of Edward "Kid" Ory, a jazz trombonist from LaPlace, overlooks diners. Seating is limited, especially if you come with a large party. We got there just in time to grab a large table in the back for our party of eight. Seating is also available outside.
Menu: The bar is fully stocked and even serves up beer from Hillsborough's Mystery Brewing and Durham's Fullsteam alongside Louisiana favorites from Abita. The cocktail menu is highlighted by the "Official Cocktail of New Orleans" Sazerac, Mint Juleps and the French Quarter classic - the Hurricane. Absinthe is also on the menu and for those who haven't tried the "green fairy" before, there is the less strong Absinthe Frappe for $8.
The lunch and dinner food menus are populated with Louisiana favorites like crawfish etouffee, seafood gumbo and Po-Boys. Here's a rundown of what we ordered:
We started with these appetizers:
Etouffee fries ($8.50) - Their River Road crawfish etouffee is poured over their hand-cut fries. Everyone makes etouffee differently, but the key is not overwhelming it with spices. LaPlace's version is savory but not spicy. Spot on for what creole cooking really is about. Definitely authentic cuisine!
Sausage sampler ($10.50) - Since LaPlace makes its own sausage and sells it, we wanted to figure out which links we'd be taking home. This sampler included the shrimp, duck, green onion and "The Official Sausage of LaPlace" - andouille. (LaPlace really is the "Andouille Capital." We even have a yearly festival where they crown the Andouille queen. No, I wasn't Andouille queen and I am still mad about it.) All of the sausage we tried was delicious. My family is obsessed with green onion sausage and they could only find it back home. We liked LaPlace's sausage selections so much we bought duck and green onion to bring home and put in our next jambalaya.
Then, we had to try the gumbo.
Gumbo ($6 cup, $12 bowl; seafood gumbo is 50 cents more) - LaPlace offers two types of this traditional Louisiana stew - chicken and andouille and Creole seafood. Both were very good and not too spicy even though they contained spicy andouille. The seafood gumbo had giant oysters in it! I loved that they gave you the option to have the gumbo served with rice or potato salad. Growing up, none of us had ever had potato salad in our gumbo. We always had rice. Adding a scoop of potato salad was actually introduced many years ago by the Germans. Many families throughout south Louisiana serve it up this way. Since it was new to us, we tried it and I have to say it was actually good. Just don't mix it in with the gumbo!
Our entrees included:
Chicken and sausage jambalaya - We went on Jambalaya Thursday, so I opted for a bowl of this traditional rice dish. The chunks of chicken combined with their freshly made sausages were delicious! It was spicy, but not too overwhelming. It really helped that they served it alongside some Leidenheimer po-boy bread. They actually get the bread shipped in each day from New Orleans.
Po-Boys (like hoagies, served on thick French bread) - For their entrees, the rest of the family opted for fried oyster or shrimp po-boys. The shrimp were huge! And the oysters were pretty large as well. We loved the batter they were fried in. Truly cooked just like home - not all batter but just enough to coat the seafood. Side items ordered included red beans and rice and their house-cut fries. The red beans were delicious, as were the fries.
We were really full, but then the server said they had homemade Doberge Cake featuring chocolate from Matthew's Chocolates down the street. So, we HAD to try it! We also ordered their seasonal take on Bananas Foster - Strawberry Foster.
Doberge Cake - A true New Orleans dessert, this yellow cake features alternating layers of chocolate pudding. I already love Matthew's Chocolates, so I knew this dessert would be delicious and it didn't disappoint. We found ourselves fighting over this!
Strawberry Foster - Bananas Foster's origins go back to 1950s New Orleans when the chef at popular restaurant Brennan's started serving it. The dessert features bananas cooked with butter, brown sugar, cinnamon and dark rum. It is served atop vanilla ice cream. While LaPlace serves the banana version, we opted for the strawberry one and weren't disappointed. It was rich and delicious. I wanted to pick up the bowl and just drink it.
Service: Our server was attentive and very knowledgeable about the menu. She kept the Luzianne iced tea flowing.
The Bill: For seven people and a toddler to enjoy this feast, it was around $150. Not too bad if you consider that the adults ate a four course meal! I wasn't hungry again until late that night! The prices weren't really high with most Po-boys going for around $10 and they are huge and include a side.
The verdict: Joe Tullos, a musician, said he created this restaurant because he couldn't find the stuff that he used to enjoy back home. He has definitely captured the cuisine he sought to bring to Hillsborough. Tullos has done the impossible, brought LaPlace to North Carolina and I couldn't be more thankful to have a chance to "visit" home again at his restaurant.