861 E. Main St.
At first glance, Rabalais’ Bistro and Bakery in Santa Paula seems a bit out of place. Specializing in authentic Southern and Cajun cuisine, its front patio entrance boasts wrought iron work and wicker furniture, a distinct diversion from the ’50s feel of its surrounding neighbors. But make no mistake: one step inside and it’s nothing but bon temps (French for good times).
The layout of Rabalais’ is split into two delicious options: the dining room on the left (serving breakfast, lunch and dinner), and the bakery on the right (offering mind-blowing coffee and pastries). On most days, the first treat for patrons is a bright and welcoming smile from owner and menu mastermind Tracy. A true Louisiana transplant, she fortunately remembered to pack the mélange of flavors from her native state. And from sweet to savory, each of these olfactory characters is on display.
While the standard options are available at breakfast, the menu also discloses very unique offerings. Think classic Parisian meets backyard bayou. Topping the list is a luxury item not easily found in town, beignets. Basically the French version of a doughnut, these delicious square pillows are fried to perfection and coated with confectioners’ sugar. One bite teleports the taster straight to Jackson Square. A creative detour from the standard beignet includes a side order of scrambled eggs and bacon, then cramming it all into a creole version of the Monte Cristo sandwich. (Make sure to omit the confectioners’ sugar when ordering). The “Redneck Breakfast’ has a dubious name but a delectable taste as wilted spinach beds any-style eggs, bacon and fried green tomatoes, all slathered in spicy creole hollandaise. Another standout is the pulled pork eggs Benedict on jalapeño cornbread, and it might be the best guilty pleasure in town. Just make sure to take a lengthy stroll along Main Street after.
The lunch and dinner menu has a solid array of the usual N’awlins suspects: po’ boys, croquettes, jambalaya, gumbo, salads, etc. It’s the more unique dishes, however, that seek to impress. The seafood chowder is so rich and tasty that the only concern is whether there’s enough bread to clean the cup. The Louisiana cochon, a perfectly seasoned ground pork patty, is so tender that a fork is the only utensil needed. A humongous bowl of the shrimp and grits leaves taste buds resonating with both smoky and saccharin essences, pairing the sweet starch and sea-salty shellfish perfectly. Most of the entrees come with a choice of two sides (offering mashed red potatoes, bacon-stewed collard greens with black-eyed peas, seasoned veggies, down-home mac and cheese, and maple/pecan sweet potatoes). It’s really quite hard to go wrong.
Tuesdays morph into a classic family-style fried chicken night. Crispy and battered to absolute perfection, each tender bite of these beauties tastes like Dixieland. Included in the $12.95 price tag are two sides and a chunk of the fluffiest cornbread this side of the Mississippi.
But enough about dinner; let’s get to the good stuff. Taking a short stroll to the bakery side of Rabalais’ is an almost religious experience. Fluffy strawberry cake sits four stories high. Creamy Key lime pie is tart and tantalizing. And these options all go famously with the boutique Intelligensia-brand coffee that’s brewed. Also, for a truly Southern spin, try the chicory coffee, served straight-up or as a latte (known in the Big Easy as café du monde). Pair this revelation with the best chocolate chip cookie in existence and all one can say is hallelujah!
Rabalais’ is as close as it gets to the real thing, and well worth the trip. It’s a $250 flight to New Orleans but just a 20-mile drive to Santa Paula (depending on where you live). So go on out there and say hello because we can all use a little Southern hospitality.