Monday, August 31, 2015

Month of Salads: MJ's Cafe

I started the month of salads in 2013 as a way to trick myself into eating more greens. I also wanted to feature salads that are worthy of consumption as a meal. Believe or not, they do exist. I found this fresh caprese inspired salad at MJ's Cafe on Jefferson Hwy. in Baton Rouge, and it definitely proved worthy of writing about.

The gorgeous plate of veggies featured fresh basil along with organic baby greens, ripe creole tomatoes, cucumber, fresh mozzarella, and a balsamic vinaigrette. Playing on the tomato-basil-mozzarella caprese salad, this version had even more to offer in the way of flavor. MJ's is always a go-to for me when I need a nice comfort meal that's fresh and local. Their salads, soups, sandwiches, and quiches are always top notch, second only to Maureen's warm smile. It is a true gem in Baton Rouge.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Halston McMullan: Hustler of Houston Hops

by Blair "B-Rex" Loup

Halston McMullan, Louisiana Sales rep for St. Arnold Brewing Co.
Halston McMullan, Louisiana Sales rep for St. Arnold Brewing Co.

It all started with what sounds like a very Texas 21st birthday. Not deep in the heart of Texas (clap, clap, clap, clap), but somewhere in the shoulder in Lubbock, Halston McMullan chose Triple J Chophouse and Brewery for her birthday celebration.

It was there at Triple J that she had her first micro brewed IPA, and the next day, she applied for a job there.

"I had a palate for it,” Halston said, recalling how her passion for beer began.

Throughout her years at Texas Tech, the International Business major’s love for craft beer grew. Her curiosity intensified after she attended her first beer fest in Dallas.

She learned that people talked about beer for a living, groundbreaking news to Halston, and she made contacts to start a career in craft beer.

“It was never the end game to be in the game,” she said.

After graduating with her business degree, she applied for jobs at marketing firms and corporations while her mom took her shopping for pantsuits, but Halston didn’t see pant suits in her future. It turns out she was right.
The contacts she made at the beer festival resulted in a job doing tastings in grocery stores.

“It felt very natural to me,” Halston said. A month into that gig, she began seeking out sales positions.

She went to St. Arnold (Patron Saint of Craft Beer) for answers and spied a position open for Louisiana Sales based in New Orleans. Halston had never stepped foot in Louisiana, but applied for the job ready to take on a challenge.

“I like proving adaptability to myself.”

While she knew she would be selling beer in a state that loves to drink, she recognized she needed to learn beer from a sales perspective.

“Two years later, I feel like I’ve got it down!”

Being a rep for a brand that isn’t technically local has proven challenging. St. Arnold’s isn’t produced in Louisiana and isn’t distributed nationally, so there’s no Scrooge McDuck pool of money labeled “Marketing Budget” to help push product.

“It comes down to the relationships I’ve built,” she explained, “staying relevant in this market is tough.”

Despite Louisiana’s loyalty to products made in-state, last year St. Arnold had only a two and a half states in their distribution, but were still making Top 50 lists by volume.

“The more I learn about this company and the more I have to fight for it, the more it becomes a part of me. I didn’t know I’d be so proud.”

This post is part of monthly series spotlighting Louisiana women in the business of booze. Previous features include:

Natalie Parbhoo: Duchess of Distribution
Lindsay Nations: Baroness of Beer
Dori Murvin: Sorceress of Service
Nora McGunnigle: Headmistress of Hops
Myrna Arroyo: Vino Valedictorian
Brandi Lauck: Warden of Whiskey
Cari Caramonta: Mother of Malts
Erin White: Priestess of Pairing
Beth Donner: Dame of Distilling

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Things I Learned from Bourbon Curious: Whisk(e)y Wednesday presented by Lock & Key

by Sydney "Brown Nose" Blanchard

In Fred Minnick's "Bourbon Curious" there's something for everyone. Whether you're a seasoned bourbon drinker or a whiskey novice, there's a lot to be discovered in this "simple tasting guide for the savvy drinker."

I definitely fall into the whiskey novice category. Just scanning this book, I learned new things about the history and legends surrounding whiskey. For this Whiskey Wednesday, I've compiled a list of facts from the book that stuck out to me.

This post is best read with a whiskey in hand. Enjoy, and happy drinking!

1. There's a misconception that bourbon must be two years old. Bourbon itself has no age requirement, but to be labeled straight bourbon it must be two years old. 

Flappers drinking bootleg alcohol. Photo from

2. Bourbon can be made anywhere in the United States, not just Kentucky.

Bourbons can be made anywhere on this map. Map from

3. The spelling of whisk(e)y is a matter of preference. American and Irish whiskeys use the "e," and Scotch, Canadian, and Japanese whiskies usually don't.

There are more differences than just one letter. Graphic by

4. Secret bourbon societies exist on the web, on Facebook, and in the dusty basements of bars. The members of these societies happily refer to themselves as whiskey geeks.

A secret drinking cub at Oxford University in the 19th century. Photo from

5. Early Americans made what would qualify as bourbon and called it "corn brandy."

Early Americans harvesting corn. Photo from

6. There are two competing theories as to the name of "bourbon." We'll never definitively know the truth, but some claim it is named after Bourbon County in Kentucky, while others claim it's namesake is Bourbon Street in New Orleans.

Bourbon Street in New Orleans. Photo from

7. The Bottle-in-Bond Act of 1897 gave women career opportunities. Women became chief bottle operators because they were known to break fewer bottles.

Vintage postcard. Photo from

8. U.S. brothels were major whiskey retailers in the 1800s.

The Brothel Scene from A Rake's Progress by William Hogarth, 1735. Photo from Wikipedia.

9. In order for whiskey to be called bourbon, it must be stored in new charred oak containers.

Different levels of char produce different effects in the aging process. Photo from

10. Tabasco is one of the largest companies purchasing used bourbon barrels. Tabasco ages its product in Kentucky bourbon barrels for at least three years.

Peppers growing on Avery Island in Louisiana. Photo from

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Month of Salads: Nino's Italian

by Blair "B-Rex" Loup

Unlike my two counterparts, I embrace the Month of Salads with open arms. I am a long-time lover of vegetables, and I can go to town on a salad.

The Grilled Heart salad at Nino's Italian in Baton Rouge, LA
The Grilled Heart salad at Nino's Italian in Baton Rouge, LA

Maybe I just haven't lived enough life, but this is the only time someone's brought a steak knife to the table for my salad.

Nino's Italian is known for its fresh, in-house pastas and Chef/Owner Elton Hyndman's dedication to the local slow food movement, but when I think of Nino's, their Grilled Heart salad is the first thing on my mind.

Grilling the heart of Romaine gives it that grill taste: not charred, but charred-esque. Drizzled with a local honey and goat cheese dressing, salted with the hearty Pancetta, and topped with sharp Parmesan cheese, the warm Grilled Heart salad is worthy of love, even for the salad skeptic who considers greens to be rabbit food (looking at you Jay Ducote).

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Nightingale Room's Old-Fashioned: Whisk(e)y Wednesday presented by Lock & Key

by Blair "B-Rex" Loup

There are some that believe in drinking only pure Old-Fashioneds. I'll admit, these days it can be hard to find a straight up Angostura bitter soaked sugar cube engulfed in rye whiskey Old Fashioned, but I grew up with a crotchety grandpa and don't intend to be the same.

The Old-Fashioned at The Nightingale Room in Houston, TX
The Old-Fashioned at The Nightingale Room in Houston, TX
Sometimes it's nice to shake things up and be creative while giving a tip of the cap to the classics and while I love Baton Rouge, I often find myself thirsty for a different kind of bar serving libations that inspire me.

About a month ago, Jay and I took to the streets of downtown Houston to check out some of their cocktail bars. You know, just another day in the office.

I stepped into The Nightingale room, eyes adjusting from the blazing surface of the sun to the dimly lit, cozy spot. Once I climbed onto my bar stool (I'm short) I found myself looking at a wall covered in vinyl and saw that the new Alabama Shakes album, Sound and Color, would be spinning next. 

At this point, you've got to understand that I am in the happiest of places: a cool bar, rad records coming my way, and a uniquely delicious Old-Fashioned in my hand with champagne drinks to follow.

Did I mention we were there for Happy Hour? Half off all cocktails, which means I was sipping on a $4.50 harmonious blend of bourbon, cognac, turbinado, and bitters.

This version of the classic cocktail called for a similar make-up, but subbed the white sugar cube for a lesser-refined sugar-in-the-raw that looks like brown sugar, but a little lighter in color and has tasting notes of molasses. It's not outlandish to use bourbon instead of rye whiskey, but that makes the cocktail feel warmer. 

I don't know why, but for me, bourbon is like a warm fire a couple of weeks before Christmas.

With the added cognac, this Old-Fashioned tasted warm, velvety, with the occasional crunch of turbinado sugar. The Nightingale Room is a win.

For more takes on the Old Fashioned, make sure to check out Lock & Key in Baton Rouge!

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Between Two Shells: Chargrilled Oysters with Gnarly Barley's Catahoula Common

by Blair "B-Rex" Loup

There are few things in this world better than things cooked in butter. We’ve all blasted Paula Deen about her obsession with the stuff, but in our heart of hearts we know she knows what’s up.

While the list of tasty things cooked in butter goes on and on, I’d like to narrow the discussion to chargrilled oysters. Envision this: plump, juicy Gulf oysters sizzling in a small pool of buttery, garlic-y goodness at Jolie Pearl Oyster Bar.

A pint of Gnarly Barley Brewing's Catahoula Common with a chargrilled oyster at Jolie Pearl Oyster Bar in Baton Rouge
A pint of Gnarly Barley Brewing's Catahoula Common with a chargrilled oyster at Jolie Pearl Oyster Bar in Baton Rouge

All of the flavor gods assemble to make this dreamy, classic bite happen. The flavor profile is super simple and allows for another element to really set things off.

Enter Gnarly Barley’s Catahoula Common. My obsession with Gnarly Barley Brewing is no secret. They are my craft beer spirit animal, but that’s beside the point.

The creaminess of the chargrilled oyster pairs perfectly with the crispy brew. The beer kind of lifts all of those strong flavors off of the tongue and is light and refreshing making it perfect for this warm Louisiana weather.

A match made in heaven, I’d say. Trust me, I’m a professional.

Below are some of the other pairings we suggest at Jolie Pearl:

Raw Gulf Oysters with Fresh Margaritas
Oysters Rockefellar and the Louisiana Mule
Raw Gulf Oysters topped with Cucumber Mignonette and Fresh Grapefruit Margaritas
Asian Style Chargrilled Oysters with Tin Roof Turnrow Harvest Ale

Friday, August 14, 2015

Month of Salads: Barefoot's at the Hilton Sandestin

Blackened Grouper Salad at Barefoot's
Blackened Grouper Salad at Barefoot's
by Jay D. Ducote

Sometimes I just need to eat a salad, and thus, two years ago I created the Month of Salads on Bite and Booze. The idea is two-fold: first, I need to eat more salads and this seemed like a good way to trick myself into feasting like a rabbit. Secondly, salads CAN be good, and we here at Bite and Booze need to focus a little more on them. So now every August on the blog that's what we do.

Recently on a trip to Destin for the Beer Industry League of Louisiana's annual convention, I enjoyed several meals with beach views at Barefoot's, a poolside bar and grill at the Hilton Sandestin. For one of those meals, as the Month of Salads is designed to encourage me to do, I ordered a salad.

I went with a blackened grouper salad, served with an adequately spiced fish over a bed of organic mixed greens with spiced pecans, roma tomatoes, carrot strings, and a citrus vinaigrette. The tartness from the lemon added a nice balance to the blackening spices on the fish. The rest of the salad did its job as the pecans added a delightful textural balance. And the other good news: I felt pretty light and chipper for the rest of my day at the beach!

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Blood and Sand: Whisk(e)y Wednesday presented by Lock & Key

by Sydney "Brown Nose" Blanchard

Blood and Sand at Lock & Key
Fruity, sweet, and dark are words that can safely be used to describe the Blood and Sand at Lock & Key Whiskey Bar. 
For anyone venturing into the world of whiskey cocktails, this combination of Monkey Shoulder scotch, orange juice, and cherry brandy blend together perfectly, making for a smooth taste well-suited for the novice whiskey drinker. 

It's almost like a more refined version of a screwdriver, except it's made with scotch and has a distinct cherry flavor to it, but it's not so sweet that it could be a drink featured on Sex & the City.

To me, that's a perfect balance. 

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Indie Plate, Uprooted

by Sydney "Brown Nose" Blanchard
Peru Sharma is one half of the dynamic duo behind Indie Plate

Each month, our Uprooted series will highlight local chefs, restaurants, organizations, and farmers who are spearheading the farm-to-table and local foodways movements in South Louisiana. 

When working on his dissertation in agriculture supply chain management at LSU, Peru Sharma spotted a gap in the market that he became determined to fill.

“My thought was," Sharma said, "the Internet economy has hit sort of every single aspect of our life except food, except agriculture.”

While at LSU, Sharma met Ben Bartage at a house party. After discussing the business of basketball, the law student was impressed, and the two agreed to work together in some capacity after they graduated. 

Shreveport native Ben Bartage co-founded Indie Plate in 2013
“I’m the foodie in the partnership," Sharma said. "Ben is more the legal guide, the businessperson. We have very different mind sets.”

And those very different mindsets led them to conceptualize Indie Plate in 2013, a grocery delivery service that brings farm fresh foods to local consumers.

Sharma had been working at the Red Stick Farmer's Market in Baton Rouge each weekend, and he began to think there had to be an easier way for millennials to access fresh, locally grown produce without having to wake up early on Saturday mornings. 

Thus, Indie Plate was born. 

What began as a form emailed out to a few customers became a website launched in December 2013 where customers can virtually add locally produced proteins, fruits, veggies, and baked goods to their shopping carts and have them delivered to their homes (as of now, they deliver to Baton Rouge, Prairieville, Denham Springs, Port Allen, Central, Brusly, Addis, Gonzales, Zachary, Maurepas, and St. Amant). Indie Plate even offers customizable farm baskets, meal kits, and pantry items from local producers.

Farm-to-table is but a click away. 

Sharma and Bartage have spent the last few years cultivating relationships with local farmers, which hasn't always been easy. Sharma said when Indie Plate first started, farmers didn't understand the concept of what they were trying to do. 

Sharma said it wasn't easy to earn the farmers' respect. It took showing up to the Red Stick Farmer's Market each weekend at 6 a.m., showing face, and enduring a joke or two aimed at his ethnicity (he's originally from India). 

“Farmers appreciate hustle," Sharma said.

What they do is give farmers larger markets. The 80 to 90 farms they work with now span from central Louisiana to Alabama, so Mississippi farmers can now sell produce fairly easily to Louisianans. 

Asian Glazed Black Drum using local ingredients from Indie Plate
Asian Glazed Black Drum using local ingredients from Indie Plate
"Most farms we work with have increased their business 10 to 20 percent," Sharma said. "Some farms have doubled their business through exposure they’ve gotten through Indie Plate.”

According to Sharma, 90 percent of Indie Plate's business is consumer business. But beyond supplying groceries to consumers, Indie Plate works with a select number of local restaurants to provide them with the freshest, highest quality local ingredients. But not every restaurant is on board.

“Baton Rouge restaurants, they’re more price-conscious, not very quality conscious," Sharma said. "But there are some restaurants like Magpie, Nino’s, City Pork, that really care about the quality of the food.”

Their plan is to continue to expand their business by employing drivers in order to shorten delivery times for consumers as well as work with more restaurants to get them on the farm-to-table train.

“The whole thing feels very organic," Sharma said. "It’s not corporate, it’s not big or large.”

Right now, the Indie Plate CEOs make all the deliveries themselves. 

“We went from a farmer’s market to a grocery store, and we’re continuing to expand.”