Stopping by the new eatery in downtown New Iberia entices the casual patron to try — something. Between the visually and appetite pleasing combinations of fresh ingredients on the menu items, there is a wall of loose tea, and counter of exotic cheeses — true treats. Try the St. Martinville-made goat cheese with figs. Soon to be added to the offerings already available is a selection of wines — the perfect compliment for the cabinet of locally made and unique cheeses. In fact, Dana Romero, the food specialist, was in retail, the manager at Winn Dixie in New Iberia and Franklin and manager of Fresh Market in Lafayette — plus a few side jobs. Usually a restaurant needs to be open to invite a story, but the story is that they have opened something that can’t be found anywhere nearby, unless you often trek to New Orleans. The whole appealing combination is truly a contribution to the Teche Area. With customers keeping the owners hopping, as well as finalizing new business logistics with staff and consultants, the interview happened in several parts. Returning for more sampling is definitely a probability. First, a visit with former stay-at-home-mom of two boys, Kelli Romero.
What made you decide to do this?
It’s not here. We were thinking there was a market here and we took a chance. My husband is a native of New Iberia. I’m from Texas and Missouri, but we’ve lived here 14 years. We opened the 14th, officially. We’ve been open seven days.
How many days a week are you open?
Seven. It’s good so far. My plan is to see how it goes, see what days are the dead days and which are the busy days. We’re new so we’re still trying to figure it all out. Sunday was a good day for us, but Saturday was not, probably because of graduation, but no one knows about us yet. All the other days have been wonderful so far. We serve lunch, afternoon tea and we’re open for dinner. Monday through Thursday we’re open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. and on Sunday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Long hours, but we’re going to see what works best and adjust. We’re trying to get a feel about the hours.
What part do you hang your hat on?
More the teas, that’s more me. I don’t drink coffee at all, but we have coffee if someone orders it. We can do any of the loose teas cold or hot. We had some teas in mind, and those we couldn’t taste, we read up on. My favorite is the American Red Roobios, or the Masala Chai. Some are caffeinated, some are not. The fruit teas are mostly without caffeine.
Will you narrow down the number offered?
We’re going to try to keep the number high. If we see something is not selling, we might replace it with something else. There are a lot more teas out there to choose from. If you’re with a party that doesn’t drink wine or beer, we have teas and also sodas.
What about the beers?
That was my husband. He wanted to go as unique as possible, try to get something no one else around here has, so we don’t compete. We’re not about competing. We tried to get beers that compliment the cheeses. I will take tea over wine or beer any day. He came up with the menu, too. He’s the brains behind the whole thing.
Dana, tell me about the cheese.
The fig and goat cheese you tried is by Wanda Barras in St. Martinville. We’ve known her for over a decade. We even helped her out selling her cheeses at the farmers market in Baton Rouge, when she needed someone. We’re great friends. It’s the Trés Belle Chévre farms. Those are edible flowers on top of some, she grows them right there on her farm. The Tuscan and jalapeño won the American Cheese Society awards a couple of years ago. She has a goat farm and miniature horses. She has her own cave to age cheese.
Have you always had a love for cheese and how did you come to feature them?
I always felt Acadiana was known for its food, like all the big food towns, New York, Paris — they all have a cheese store. But not Acadiana. So why not have a cheese store. Now we do. We have a partnership with a cheese company in New Orleans. They’re aged differently. We have a peppercorn Gouda from Ms. Wanda that she aged three years in her cave.
How do you know if something has gone bad or when it’s just aged and molded?
I’ve got some stuff in there that I wouldn’t think would be good by the way it looks. Even the blue cheese was white until I cut into it, then it turns blue when the air hits it. This one will actually ooze out, with vegetable ash, it’s like fresh cream from a cow. We’ll have a cheese course at some point. We will do cheese cakes as dessert but we will also have a wedding cake that is layered cheeses. You can Google wedding cheese cakes and see about them. You have to be careful how you layer the cheeses, the hard or stinky cheese at the bottom, if you do a soft cheese first, a heavier cheese can sink into it. They have to be in a certain order. We also have the wine cheese that is like the blue cheese, wine pierced into the cheese. When I actually get the display right, there will be an identification card on each cheese as to the kind of milk, if raw or processed and priced by the half pound. Typically it is by the pound. Like that one that’s $40 a pound. I recommend a quarter pound shaved or grated over pasta and it is really quite phenomenal.
When do you anticipate having the wines?
They’re coming Wednesday to sample and I actually already gave him samples of cheeses so they can match the cheese with the wine to insure a perfect pairing. I’ve asked for wines in three price ranges.
How would you describe your menu?
For our downtown lunch crowd, homemade soups, salads and sandwiches. We’re getting faster and faster with them so you can come in for a quick bite of lunch. Then we have afternoon tea from 2 to 6 p.m. so you can linger, have a business meeting, linger longer. You don’t have to do the full tea, it is really designed for a group of four or two really hungry people. Everything can be a la carte, individually. Now, the scones are made to order, by the way. We’re not going to prepare them. We did that the first day, and kept them a couple of days. They are best fresh, but it takes about 18 minutes after ordering. Hot and fresh.
What else can customers expect?
Starting Thursday at 7 p.m. we’re going to have live jazz and blues, later at other times. Starting in June for the summer, we’re going to reserve Wednesdays for Teen Night —
I have a teenager. They need a place to hang out. My son is 14 and really after me about that.