Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Ranking Shreveport's Patios

Did you feel that slight chill in the air a couple weeks ago?  It was short lived, but it was an early indicator that fall and cooler weather is on the way.  And while in most places fall signals the end of patio season, in Shreveport it means that the weather is finally cool enough to enjoy an al fresco dinner.  But where to go?

In Chicago, as soon as the weather turns for the better, restaurants and cafĂ©s begin setting up their outdoor dining spaces, often coming up with imaginative ways to cram a few tables outside.  Even places with no real outdoor space make the best of it, commandeering sidewalks and alleys to make space.  And diners happily choose any outdoor table they can get, because the weather only accommodates this for a short period of time.

Shreveport, however, offers few options for outdoor dining.  This is surprising to me, because our weather is so great.  Even if it is a little hot at times, a good restaurant patio will provide enough fans and shade to make all but the hottest days of the year comfortable.

This is an attempt to identify the best places to go for a lunch or dinner outside.  The ranking may be a bit arbitrary, but here are a few of the criteria that are considered:  quality of food, quality of seating, ambiance, view, and whether or not I like the place.

5)  Buffalo Wild Wings (Boardwalk location)

First things first:  it hurts to put a chain on this list.  It really does.  I wanted it to be all local places.  But when a place does a patio right, I can't deny it.  Unfortunately, as a chain, a spot on the list is all BWW can get, not any higher than fifth.

BWW gets its spot on location.  Being on the boardwalk, with a patio facing the river and the downtown skyline, this is probably one of the best views you can have while dining in Shreveport.  And really, that's one of the main reasons for being on a patio, seeing something other than the inside of a restaurant.  The patio also has good shade, ceiling fans, tvs, live music at times (I think, unconfirmed), and decent food.

Eat local if you can, but if you've gotta go to a chain, the Boardwalk BWW patio is where you should go.

4)  Stir Tapas

When I first heard about Stir, I was really excited.  A good tapas restaurant provides a social experience that almost no other restaurant can match.  Get a group, order lots of different tapas and several pitchers of sangria, and share liberally.  I was really looking forward to my first visit and anticipated giving it at least 4 out of 5 PBR cans.

Unfortunately, Stir missed the mark. It's less a tapas place and more a casual fine dining restaurant with a small selection of overpriced and underflavored tapas.  It's Spanish food that's been adulterated so as not to offend American palates.

Regardless, Stir earns a spot on the merits of a charming patio and excellent cocktail list.  The cocktails seem to have picked up the punch that the food was missing.  My personal favorite is the caipirinha, a Brazilian cocktail most similar to a mojito.  However, rather than a traditional Caribbean rum, the caipirinha uses cachaca, a younger, bolder style of rum.  Compared to whiskey, for example, standard mojito rum would be Makers Mark bourbon, and cachaca would be an unaged rye whiskey.  It's got a lot of punch, with just enough mint and lime to provide a light, crisp finish.  Poured over ice and sipped on a shady patio, it's the kind of drink Hemingway would drink.

Stir's patio is simple, but shady and well lit--not too dark, not too bright--and with its Highland location offers the kind of people watching that only Highland can bring.

Go for the drinks, maybe order a couple of tapas as appetizers, but it's not your best destination for dinner.

3)  Rhino Coffee

If you're a regular reader or follower of my twitter (@hpstrshreveport), you've no doubt realized that I'm a fan of Rhino.  Can't say enough good things about the place.  But I can't put it higher than three on this list, as they don't have dinner and don't serve alcohol (hey, it's a coffee shop).

Enough about what they don't have.  What they do have is a sublime patio space, great breakfast and lunch menu, and excellent coffee.  The backyard/patio area is beautifully landscaped and shaded, and though very centrally located, the patio is secluded enough to offer a bit of a quiet escape from the city.

Make sure you follow Rhino on Twitter and Facebook to stay informed of all their special events.  They recently hosted bluegrass band Foley's Van for an intimate backyard concert, and last weekend hosted their one year birthday party, which featured local artists and crafters and a stacked lineup of local music.

2). Marilynn's Place

You've been to Marilynn's, right?  As far as Shreveport lifestyle bloggers go, I'm way behind on discussing Marilynn's.  The gas station turned snow cone stand turned Cajun restaurant and bar has been making waves for a year or so now.

The food is top notch Cajun/creole, but usually with a twist.  Think catfish curry.  Lots of big, bold flavors that all seem to work.  The patio is shaded and well covered by fans, keeping it cool even on the really hot days (and if you get hot, hey, they've got snow cones).  The location, kind of in between Broadmoor and South Highland, provides the sort of urban neighborhood experience that is hard to find in Shreveport.  Sitting outside, you'll see joggers, cyclists, pedestrians, dog walkers, and even golfers.

If you've never been, go next Wednesday (it doesn't matter when you read this--go on whatever Wednesday comes next).  Wednesdays at Marilynn's feature live local music and a special ($2?) on Louisiana beers.  Sunday brunch is also recommended.

If I had to pick one nit about Marilynn's, it'd be that the music happens inside instead of out on the patio.

1) Abby Singer's Bistro (Robinson Film Center)

It's been two years since I moved back to Shreveport, and I still immediately think of Abby Singer's when I want to go sit outside somewhere.  It checks all the boxes for providing a great al fresco dining experience.  The food is good.  The drinks are good.  The wine is good.  The service is good.  The price isn't steep.  But this is about the patio.

Situated on a balcony lofted above Texas Street, Abby Singer's provides a modern urban dining experience that's one of a kind in Shreveport.  I could say more, but if you've been there, you know, and if you haven't, you should.  Immediately.

What do you think of the list?  Got any that you'd like to have added?  Any that I should replace?  Let me know!  Comments, emails, and tweets are all accepted and welcomed.

P.S.  There are a couple obvious absences from this list, the most notable being Wine Country Bistro.  I haven't been there, so I don't feel right endorsing it.  I'm sure I'll go soon, and when I do I'll revise the list, but for now it stays unranked.

Also, like many of my posts, I'm using a few pictures sourced from Facebook, Flickr, and other places, so if I've used one of your pictures and you don't want me to, let me know.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

[Hipster] Shreveport reviews Bears on Fairfield

Something terrible has recently come to my attention.  In one of the great mistakes of my life, I somehow managed to not yet write a Hipster Shreveport review of Bear's on Fairfield.  I couldn't believe it.  I searched through the blog archives and looked everywhere on my computer--even in the hidden special folders--and yet, it was true.  I missed countless opportunities to review Shreveport's one great hipster bar.  Maybe I didn't review it because, subconsciously, I didn't want it to go mainstream and thus lose its hipster appeal.  Or maybe I just wanted to make a half a hundred visits to make sure it deserved the praise I was going to pile on.  Whatever the reason, it was a mistake.  Please, allow me to correct that egregious oversight.

First things first:  this is not a bar for hairy gay men.  Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Any longtime Shreveport denizen will at least know <i>of</i> Bear's, even if they maybe haven't been for a visit.  Occupying an old, Tudor-style building near the intersection of Fairfield and I-20, it's hard to miss seeing it.  And yet, with very little signage, it's also easy to look right past it, to see it without observing it.  

I don't know how long this space has been occupied by a bar/restaurant called Bear's (it's been a long time), but I do know that the current iteration just recently celebrated their first year of business.  And it has been a great year (for me, at least).

When I walked in for the first time, still feeling pangs of homesickness for Chicago, I immediately knew I would like it there.  The brick walls, high ceilings, and worn industrial aesthetic are immediately evocative of my favorite Wicker Park watering holes.

These are places where you check your pretensions (and Ed Hardy/Affliction) at the door.   Where you go to relax and enjoy a cold drink.  Even if your drink of choice is out of stock; the libations available are a rotating selection of whatever they remembered to order, and it's almost guaranteed that at some point they will be out of what you want.  PBR is about the only guaranteed choice, but even that's been out at times.  The same applies to the kitchen.  The food menu covers all the usual bar foods, with one amazing exception:  fried jambalaya balls.  These little guys are damn near transcendent, but not always available.  If you're lucky enough to be there when they're cooking them, make an order.  Or two.

If drinking in silence isn't your thing, they've got you covered there, too.  Bear's has seemingly made it their mission to put Shreveport on the love music map.  In fact, I recently <a href=""> tweeted </a> that Shreveport was making a strong case for its live music scene.  I wrote that while at Bears.  Every night they're open, there's music.  Jim Reed, the booking coordinator, does a great job of scheduling a wide range of acts, locals and touring bands alike.  (Jim also emcees the best trivia night in town on Thursday nights.  7:30ish, check the Bears Facebook page for details).

(Jim, doing the trivia thing)

If there is any criticism to make of the place, it's the bike parking.  There isn't any, except for a solitary signpost out front.  Which is reserved for me.  Seriously, I'm thinking about having a sign made.  Although I have seen bikes parked inside, so if you ask nicely, they'll probably let you bring the bike inside.

In case the reverential tone of this post wasn't clear enough:  5 out of 5 PBR cans.

* Disclaimer:  I've plagiarized a few pictures from the Bears Facebook page for this post.  If I used yours and you don't like it, let me know, I'll take it down.

** Disclaimer #2:  this is my first post written by iPhone, so it may be full of typos.