When Michelle Carpenter was nine years old, and for many years after, she lived in the lush climes of Louisiana. During those formative years, she plucked muscadines off vines in the garden and crawled for crawfish in nearby waters. Cookouts on the porch meant adults sat around and talked and fried hushpuppes, while kids like Carpenter ran around the yard of peach, pear, and pecan trees.
Terance Jenkins was born in New Orleans, and he was raised there and in Mississippi, too, where he’d run from playing basketball down the street to his grandmother’s house when it was time to help her fix dinner. It wasn’t a chore, though. Jenkins, even as boy who had to cut a pick-up game short to cook in the kitchen, loved it. “It was something I looked forward to everyday,” he says. “Those moments with my grandmother …that’s something that no one can take away from me.”
Together, executive chef and owner Michelle Carpenter and executive chef Terance Jenkins will open Restaurant Beatrice. The two chefs have melded their Louisiana histories and put together a menu that is as much a story of family as it is a list of dishes. Their forthcoming restaurant, which is named for Carpenter’s grandmother, opens in March. (Exact date is still to be determined.) Restaurant Beatrice dwells at 1111 N. Beckley Avenue, which formerly housed Jonathon’s Oak Cliff. The casual brunch spot has been transformed into a bright space that nods to New Orleans–style bistros: Southern comfort and warmth, a beautiful marble bar top where you’ll find classic cocktails and oysters on the half shell, a cookout-ready porch with handmade stained glass accents in the fence.
Carpenter opened Zen Sushi in Bishop Arts to honor her mother and her Japanese heritage. Restaurant Beatrice is for her mammaw. The same goes for Jenkins. “When I cook, I feel the presence of my grandmother,” he says. “And I have felt her doing some stuff here.”
That kind of multigenerational passing of knowledge—not only cookery know-how, but how to treat people, how to feed them well, and how to make someone feel welcomed—drives Restaurant Beatrice. “Cajun food, to me, it’s all about family and how you feel when you’re around family,” says Carpenter, whose upbringing at mammaw Beatrice’s Lousiana home meant tending to a garden brimming with tomatoes, wild strawberries and blueberries, corn, black eyed peas, spring onions, and a watermelon patch. “My grandmother had a smoke shack behind the house.” They would cut down hickory in the yard for smoking. There was a catawba worm farm for catfish bait. Carpenter watched them trade turnips for, say, purple hull peas.
It all comes back to community. That’s what Restaurant Beatrice strives to express across its menu. There is not a crawfish boil or fish fry on the menu (though patio boils are forthcoming), but you’ll see the spirit of New Orleans in every bite. “When people say, ‘Oh, well, it’s not real Cajun food if you don’t use the particular spice or whatever. That’s not really true. There are so many different versions of every single dish,’” says Carpenter.
“Louisiana’s a big flavor tree. And you take little pieces off the tree and make magic,” says Jenkins.
Jenkins is particularly excited for the vegan gumbo, which is an ode to the late culinary icon Leah Chase’s recipe. “I did not think I would make a meatless gumbo,” says Jenkins. But he thinks back to everything that grew in his uncle’s garden across the street—the abundance he remembers is represented in this dish. It’s a nice reminder, too, that Cajun and Creole doesn’t equate to only crawfish boils and deep-fried fish. It’s as seasonal and as veg-abundant as anywhere else.
Carpenter sees the vegan movement growing and wants to offer something more than just a vegetable plate. “We’re putting a lot of thought process and technique in this gumbo and so, they deserve to have something special.”
And, let’s be real, you carnivores out there will adore it too. (There’s even plans for a veggie andouille sausage in the works that might pop up in pasta dishes.)
Louisiana’s a big flavor tree. And you take little pieces off the tree and make magic.Terance Jenkins
The eggplant pirogue is a dish that’s near and dear to Carpenter, who watched her father whip up breaded eggplant smothered in shrimp sauce and served over pasta. “That’s something my dad made for me when I was younger,” she says. Her father, Mackie Carpenter, passed away in November. This French-ish dish will most likely be a staple on the menu, though it’ll be created with Japanese eggplants as a wink to her Japanese background.
Brined, spiced, and fried chicken with pepper jelly gastrique (“sweet, salty, vinegary-pepper, crunchy,” as Jenkins describes it) and a slate of both freshly shucked and freshly fried oysters will make appearances, too. Like the seasons, the menu will shift and adapt. The forever-ingredient has to be taste memories: “Things that your grandma made, things that my grandma made—that’s what we’re trying to recreate, that nostalgia in food,” says Carpenter.
Mammaw put up preserves and never let things go to waste. At Restaurant Beatrice, there will be pantry goods available to take home. Pickling, little to zero waste, sustainably sourced ingredients—this ethos isn’t merely because it’s the right, smart thing to do, but it extends to what was instilled in Carpenter growing up. That you care for the land and respect the seasons and use everything you have to the last scrap. They’ll also smoke their own bacon. And make boudin from scratch. Mayonnaise, sauces, spice blends, you name it, it’s house-made.
Lastly, but not least of all, Restaurant Beatrice’s sense of hospitality doesn’t stop at the guest. In fact, it has expectations on how diners should respect its staff, and how staff will be treated fairly. The ways in which that will be clear are not in stone or outlined in specifics just yet. (They’re currently pursuing B Corp certification.) But it is clear that Jenkins and Carpenter both want to ensure everyone in the ecosystem of a restaurant feels heard and is held accountable.
“It’s about time for people, human beings, business owners, corporations, and governments to become accountable and start caring about how people are treated … and how we can move forward and progress in a positive way,” extols Carpenter. To which Jenkins adds, “The vision that we have set forth is very inclusive and encompasses the feel of Louisiana.”
After all, the North Star for Restaurant Beatrice is community.