|After arson, enduring eatery returns with new look, brunch menu and more|
Thirty-seven years ago, former LSU All-American football player Mike Anderson opened a casual seafood restaurant and market on Highland Road, naming it Mike Anderson's College Town Seafood and Oyster Bar. The small eatery served mostly poboys and sold fresh and boiled seafood, but it marked the start of an enduring and influential restaurant legacy in Baton Rouge.
Anderson understood what Baton Rouge palates craved, and his café's popularity soon necessitated a move to a larger location on West Lee Drive. There, he created a stalwart seafood menu that gets to the heart of the Capital City's culinary desires. Despite a succession of fires throughout its history—accidents in 1997 and 2000 and a third fire caused by arson in December 2011—Mike Anderson's bounced back each time, drawing passionate fans with its clear identity and brimming plates.
The most recent fire took place two weeks before Christmas, smack in the middle of the restaurant's lively banquet and party season, says Anderson's son, Mike Anderson Jr., now at the helm.
“When I heard about it, I was like 'Not again,'” says Anderson. “It just takes the wind out of you.”
It took three months to rebuild and renovate the dining room and bar, during which Mike Jr., his father, and General Manager Dustin Loveless were on pins and needles about reopening.
“You're down for a few months, and you can't assume anything,” says the younger Anderson. “You just hope and pray it's going to come back.”
The restaurant held a soft opening March 22, followed by an official launch that weekend.
“It was unbelievable,” says Loveless about the crowds. “The regulars here are so loyal.”
The dining room has been expanded, opening up space between tables so that diners aren't as tightly packed as they once were. The décor now features brick and natural wood with lots of natural light. Anderson and Loveless say the Baton Rouge restaurant was slated for renovation anyway, but the fire accelerated those plans.
Mike Anderson's fuses two emblematic aspects of Baton Rouge's identity: sports and seafood. LSU football, basketball and baseball history unfolds in framed articles and on new large-screen TVs that draw diners looking for a family-friendly place to watch games. The menu reflects the local passion for Gulf seafood served in whopping portions, often with assertive toppings. Decades-long favorites include the Norman, deep fried shrimp or fish topped with crabmeat étouffée, and the Guitreau, grilled fish topped with sautéed crawfish tails, shrimp, mushrooms and onions in white wine, margarine and spices. A few years ago, the elder Anderson added the Sid Gautreaux, a fish fillet breaded in Italian breadcrumbs, seared in olive oil and topped with lump crabmeat, sliced mushrooms and Scampi sauce. It's been wildly popular.
The rest of the seafood-centric menu is replete with fried platters, creamy sauces and classic fry house sides. It's remained the same for more than 30 years. Several current restaurateurs cut their culinary teeth in the kitchen here, including Roberto Sandoval of Roberto's and Tim Hood of The Chimes.
“We have tried to change the menu, but people will not have it,” says Anderson. It hasn't stopped him from adding occasional items. A recent newcomer is fresh salmon in Steen's Cane Syrup sauce. Moreover, a weekend brunch menu is poised to be released this month. Anderson says it won't be ordinary eggs and bacon—look for dishes like shrimp and grits and crabmeat au gratin omelets.
A much-anticipated location in Central on Greenwell Springs Road is underway, joining existing satellites in Gonzales and New Orleans. Anderson expects it to be completed in eight to 10 months. mikeandersons.com
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