TAMPA — It’s a tricky prospect for a restaurant to create dishes with flavors reminiscent of New Orleans’ new-guard masters John Besh and Donald Link while honoring the beloved classics from the bayou.
Doing it in Tampa only complicates the matter.
Roger and Suzanne Perry, owners of Datz and Dough restaurants in Tampa, will experiment with authentic Creole and Cajun ingredients when they open Roux at 4205 S. MacDill Ave. this month.
The Perrys, along with executive chef Richard Potts and other staff, have spent months researching and dining in dozens of restaurants in and around New Orleans to draw from their influences. During one trip, they covered 22 restaurants in a three-day span.
“We had big plans to go out one of those nights on Bourbon Street,” Potts said. “I made it as far as the lobby.”
“We were ill for two days after we got back to Tampa,” Suzanne Perry said.
The research resulted in a lunch and dinner restaurant that will feature appetizers such as beer-battered crab beignets with four remoulade sauces, duck confit spring rolls with mirliton slaw and skillet cornbread with diced jalapeño, a sweet streusel crust and a cane syrup compound butter.
Dinner entrees will include barbecued head-on shrimp and root beer-braised duck with sweet potato pecan waffles. They also will serve Bayou Bolognese, a dish made with wild boar, house-made andouille and alligator sausages and Creole tomato sauce and pappardelle noodles.
“It will be a little more upscale service at night,” Roger Perry said. “The service will be a little more polished than at Datz.”
The decor of the 4,600-square-foot space formerly occupied by Wimauma restaurant, which closed this year, borrows visual cues from the Big Easy. Walls of exposed red brick, black wrought iron, gaslight lanterns, a crystal chandelier and a blood-red absinthe room look as though they came from an Anne Rice novel. The Perrys leased adjacent space to expand the restaurant for a bar with lighted shelves, gold gothic picture frames and cranberry leather sofas.
“It’s sexy at night,” Roger Perry said. “Especially with the gaslight lamps.”
The idea for Roux (pronounced “roo” and named for the base used for thickening Cajun sauces) began early last spring when the couple went out for frozen yogurt on their night off from running their restaurants. During the trip, they saw Wimauma had been vacated.
Suzanne Perry suggested doing a Charleston-themed restaurant, and her husband argued for one with New Orleans cuisine. She resisted for two days before giving in to his idea.
“If you pull up a list of Cajun or Creole restaurants for Tampa on Urbanspoon, you get Popeyes fried chicken,” he said. “So I figured there’s a need.”
Unlike the French Quarter’s tradition of white-tablecloth dining, Roux will aim for more of a modern sensibility of upscale dining that borrows from newer restaurants such as August and Domenica. The rabbit and dumplings served by James Beard Award-winning chef Donald Link at Cochon will get the Roux treatment, with his blessing.
That said, there will be obligatory nods to time-honored New Orleans cuisine, such as shipping in Leidenheimer French bread for po’ boys, mirlitons for gratins and turtle meat for soup. Even a version of the iconic fried chicken from Willie Mae’s Scotch House in the Treme neighborhood found its way onto the menu.
“We sat with Willie Mae at her folding table in the kitchen, and she gave us advice on running a restaurant,” Potts said. “Even at 100 years old, nothing went out of there without her seeing it.”
Potts previously was executive chef at Rococo Steak in St. Petersburg. He’s been working on recipes for months with chef Laura Schmalhorst of Dazzle Catering and other consultants and has conducted tastings for two weeks.
This week, two curious Louisiana-born women in their 80s, who heard about the restaurant and wandered in, were treated to samples of gumbo and po’ boys. They left convinced and offered to send their recipes for cooking nutria.
“These flavors are legit,” Potts said.