Thursday, May 30, 2024

Cajun meets smokey: The father-and-son team of Shady Grove Foods to take over Restauration space

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David Robicheau—happily husky, full-bearded, aged with grace and an affability that is as contagious as it is charming—sits in the empty, genuinely great backdoor patio space of what was once Restauration that will soon become the family’s first brick-and-mortar food operation. 

And sitting there, amicable as can be, he talks of Louisiana with a deep sense of reverence: Part of the roots of his family, it is far removed from his own Long Beach roots but has instilled in him a spirit that loves all food, but especially Cajun food and barbecue, both birthed in the South.

It’s gumbo and jambalaya with smoked pork shoulders and some of the city’s best bacon. It’s galette des rois and beignets with bacon biscuits. It’s tasso cream grits and Cajun meatloaf with barbacoa-style brisket and pickled eggs. It’s what they call “Long Beach barbecue.”

He talks of the beautiful fusing of Louisiana’s vast Vietnamese population and its food, birthing what is now known as Viet-Cajun, a thoroughly Southern invention if there ever was one in the States. He talks of the famed Commander’s Palace in NOLA, where the epitome of classic Creole food comes out in dishes that, at least as of this day and age, can’t be found elsewhere.

“Maybe we’ll have turtle soup on the menu though I don’t know if Long Beach is ready for that,” David said, chuckling. “Maybe call it snapper soup instead of actually putting ‘turtle’ in the title—fool people into thinking it’s red snapper when it’s snapper turtle. I think it would catch on because I absolutely love turtle soup. My friend said if alligator is to the chicken, then turtle is to the duck.”

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David [left] and Dennis [right] stand in the space that will soon become Shady Grove Foods. Photo by Brian Addison.

He’s right: Turtle is a wonderfully beefy type of meat, rich in flavor with layers of savory fat. And, despite having been so common in American culture at one point—Campbell’s used to can turtle soup—it is a dish that remains almost solely in Louisiana.

For both David and his son, Dennis, Cajun food is a food complex in origins, a mashing of multiple cultures, peoples, and tastes—and is the perfect companion to what some would call traditional, smokey barbecue, also a child of the South.

It’s gumbo and jambalaya with smoked pork shoulders and some of the city’s best bacon. It’s galette des rois and beignets with bacon biscuits. It’s tasso cream grits and Cajun meatloaf with barbacoa-style brisket and pickled eggs.

It’s what they call “Long Beach barbecue”—and thoroughly Long Beach it truly is.

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An array of pork belly slabs, smoked to become Shady Grove’s bacon, cooks on a Santa Maria smoker. Photo by Dennis Robicheau. 

“We love Texan barbecue but we’re not Texas,” David said. “Sometimes, I wish Long Beach understood what it really has: Its own unique ecosystem with its own distinct characteristics. What we create is for and through Long Beach.”

And this proudly and aptly named Long Beach barbecue will be served under the title of Shady Grove Foods, a name you might already recognize. you might have caught them weekly at Ten Mile up in Signal Hill or Brouwerij West in San Pedro or, if you were lucky enough, been invited to one of David’s spectacular backyard dinners that are the things of legend in the Long Beach food scene—one can expect the intersection of smokey goodness with their heritage in Cajun grub. Because with a full kitchen, the pair can now create things that were simply impossible to do with pop-ups alone.

“I am not fond of the term ‘high-end’ but we want to mix up what we call Long Beach barbecue with a few elevated offerings—high-quality steaks and fish and what not,” Dennis said. “It’s definitely not going to be your typical barbecue.”

“Maybe we’ll have turtle soup on the menu though I don’t know if Long Beach is ready for that. Maybe call it snapper soup instead of actually putting ‘turtle’ in the title—fool people into thinking it’s red snapper when it’s snapper turtle. I think it would catch on because I absolutely love turtle soup. My friend said if alligator is to the chicken, then turtle is to the duck.”

“Dennis makes a great seafood gumbo with a hint of green curry,” David chimes in. “It’s not a curry; it’s a bonafide, straight-forward gumbo but it has inspiration from our roots here, like our connection with the Cambodian community. Dennis grew up with that community so we’ve long been inspired by that cultural diversity. That’s why we’re calling it Long Beach barbecue.”

Both David and Dennis not only give nods to their peers for “paving the way” to make it easier to barbecue in Long Beach, noting specifically Robert Earl’s BBQ and The Corner 10th, but also recognize that the pathway to barbecue isn’t necessarily easy.

For those wondering why the barbecue in California just isn’t quite like the legendary smoked meats that come out of Texas, the answer is two-fold: For one, California is its own geographical space and that space affects how food tastes and how it is prepared. Even more dire, however, are California’s strict emissions laws; they basically have prevented Austin staples like La Barbecue from coming to California because the legalizing of offset smokers is so complex that it has just been achieved for the first time in California with Heritage in San Juan Capistrano

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David Robicheau exercising his pit skills on his Santa Maria smoker. Photo by Dennis Robicheau. 

“Our main goal is to not blow smoke into the faces of Arturo [Enciso, owner of Gusto]’s line while they wait,” Dennis said with a genuine sense of humility—a characteristic that the father-and-son team constantly exude and I would be remiss not to highlight. Be it the origins of their food—the Thai and Cambodian inspiration behind Dennis’s curry gumbo, for example—or the need for communal support, the Robicheau’s understand and even highlight the fact that their endeavor has not been created in a silo. 

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And speaking of Gusto, expect a partnership of one sort or another: Shady Grove and Gusto have already collaborated—using a torta bread from Gusto and a brisket barbacoa, the sandwich was so popular that David said they were unable to keep up with demand—and they expect to do more with what will soon be their new neighbor. 

And when, precisely, will this Cajun-meets-smoke, next-door-to-some-of-Long-Beach’s-best-bread bit of gastronomy open?

“March 1,” David said happily. “We feel that isn’t being too bold—we’re not going to say next month—but reasonable enough to really give us the time to finish the permitting and get the space open. Plus, it’s Mardi Gras.”

Well, hot damn, boys, you best be givin’ Long Beach some beignets and King cake. Until then, I’ll be somewhat patiently salivating at the thought of meandering to what will soon be legendary itself: Long Beach barbecue.

Shady Groves Foods is expected to open March 1, 2022, and will be located at 2708 E. 4th St.

Brian Addison
Brian Addison
Brian Addison has been a writer, editor, and photographer for more than a decade, covering everything from food and culture to transportation and housing. In 2015, he was named Journalist of the Year by the Los Angeles Press Club and has since garnered 25 nominations and three additional wins. In 2019, he was awarded the Food/Culture Critic of the Year across any platform at the National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards.

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