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Lou’s: My Kinda Roadhouse

September 2, 2011 | Frank Bonanno

During my first visit to Germany, we pulled off the autobahn into what I can best describe as “all-white 1960’s mall structure” to eat what, according to Jacqueline’s cousin, was the best schnitzel in the country. That raststätte menu had everything from intricate French pastries to German staples like spätzle—and, in truth, the schnitzel was amazing.

Later, when we were researching roadside places to eat in France, an article in The Guardian claimed that the “most revered” chicken in the country was not found in a lauded bistro or village eatery—but in a rest station, Le Poulet de Bresse. Damn good chicken.

Italian rest stops: pastas rolled by hand and gardens out back. Czech: local beers and goulash. Spanish: bins of fresh oranges and freshly muddled sangria.

All along the roadways these places exist, no table cloths or elaborate decor—but smiling service, great cooking, and menus that cover an oddly wide geographic and culinary range.

Before the fast food revolution of the 1950’s, it was that way in America as well—and you can still see evidence of the old roadside culture in diners like Pete’s Kitchen, where pies rest in a countertop case; the specialties range from smothered burritos to meatloaf to gyros, and breakfast is served all day. I love those diners in Europe; I love them here—a testament to cultural diversity and the foods in which we find solace.

In conceptualizing Lou’s FoodBar, I aimed for it to be a casual, family-oriented version of Mizuna. . While Mizuna technique is distinctly French, the menu has no such affiliation, and the dishes range from sashimi to knudi to pan fried trout. The only casual approach I could consider to Mizuna would have to be equally culturally diverse, and just as seated in technique. Something akin to those European roadhouses– a place where all the food is comfort food, but, say, enchiladas or pork chops or escargot might share the menu.

Something like the American diners used to be when farms were still small and everyone had an apple cellar. A place where, if you came in on several occasions, you would be remembered and warmly greeted—attended to and smiled upon.

When people ask me, I call Lou’s a “French-American Roadhouse;” the handbook describes the menu as “French and American comfort food.” Lou’s was a converted biker bar, but it could have been a converted factory or a converted service station— because the goal was to let it be a place where folks spent time being themselves

Apple pie or tarte tatin, tuna salad or salade niçoise; sausages from scratch, cheese from a monger—comfortable fare made and served lovingly and attentively.

I wanted to be able to walk into Lou’s on a given night and see young couples at the bar enjoying ingredient driven cocktails, a book club at in the corner sharing six distinctly different entrees and simple wine service, families at tables using all and none of their utensils–their children enjoying drinks designed for kids along with real food and nothing even remotely “fingers” or “sticks” (except the Wiki kind).

When I worked there Saturday night, I got the distinct impression I achieved that.

What do you think?

(update: I was unkind to a 5280 reporter who didn’t care for Lou’s. I suck. I say so here: https://www.bonannoconcepts.com/industry/why-5280-is-great-and-i-sometimes-suck/ )