I'm a bigger fan of Big Daddy's (112 E. Missouri Avenue) than the bluntly candid reader -- "I have been consistently disappointed here," he wrote. On a recent follow-up visit, I found the joint to be appealing, despite overwhelming odds: a crying toddler at a nearby table, an inexperienced waitress who had just joined the staff and a hungry, grumpy dining companion. But happily, the screaming brat left. The fledgling waitress rose to the occasion. And my friend Louise, after two Blackened Voodoo beers and a cigarette, was transformed into a regular bayou belle, especially after polishing off half a plate of barbecued shrimp, the Jammin' Dinner Combo Plate and a couple of warm corn muffins.
The huge dining room boasts a wall-sized mural of New Orleans' French Quarter ("with lots of women showing cleavage," as Louise noted), exposed brick walls and the word "Daddy's" created out of a swath of feather boas. There's live music on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and, for added sensuality, bottles of Love Potion Hot Sauce are handy on every table. The Cajuns, remember, trace their roots back to France, where l'amour was the real spice of life.
One doesn't need a special sauce to get into the romantic spirit at Cafe des Amis, the French bistro with two tree-shaded outdoor decks in beautiful downtown Parkville. The restaurant has triumphantly survived the defection of two of its cofounders -- Emmanuel Langlade and Megan Sparks Langlade -- and is now overseen by Didier Combe, the handsome young restaurateur who, over the past year, has become the Alain Delon of Parkville.
In fact, the usually unflappable Louise spent as much time swooning over Didier's Gallic good looks as she did tasting the extraordinary plate of house-made pâté (served with tart onion jam and crusty bread). Luckily for her, I was there to finish off the appetizer and, later, her dinner of veal tenderloin floating in a pool of Cabernet reduction.
From our little vinyl-covered table, we had an intimate view into the window of the tiny kitchen, where we could see Combe's talented young chef, Liberty Olson, whirl around creating his own innovations, such as a casserole of organic vegetables baked with goat cheese and fresh herbs. Louise noticed that Olson had a tattoo of shooting flames etched onto his ankle. "It represents the pace of my life," he told us later, noting that we had been spying on him like a couple of voyeurs. Olson and Combe have given the new Cafe des Amis menu a more rustic sensibility, which suits the summery setting.
And at 55th and Oak, the runaways Emmanuel and Megan Langlade are celebrating the April 2 birth of their son, Olivier, and the planned July opening of their own bistro, Aixois. They've been working furiously on the space in back of Bloomsday Books for months and planning a menu focused on the traditional fare of Provence. "Emmanuel cooks very simply," says Megan. "We'll let the food speak for itself."
Why not? Food, like l'amour, has a language all its own.