Echoes of the past brought into the present

Restaurant takes over historical New Sarpy store

March 26, 2008 at 9:17 am  | Mobile Reader | Pring this storyPrint 

Echoes of the past brought into the present
Chef Ed Rhinehart keeps a diary loaded with the tidbits and food recipes that have helped him become a local star in the Louisiana culinary scene. Little did he know that journal marks he made seven years ago would in fact turn into a prophecy of sorts.

They read "the Migliore’s Food Store would be an ideal location for a restaurant."

Though he could not have seriously imagined it at the time, those words are ringing true today. Rhinehart bought the store, which had been sitting vacant since Hurricane Katrina, last spring, named it ChefEds and went ahead with a grand redesign of the New Sarpy building. The inside dining room is now a modern sitting area, with remnants of Migliore's Food Store still evident in the longwood pine walls that adorn the back of the room and a brick structure that guides patrons to the bathrooms.

In fact, that longwood pine wall just might be the most expensive wall in St. Charles Parish.

"Everyone used to joke that there was money in the walls here, but the walls ended up being the money," Rhinehart said with a chuckle. "You haven't been able to cut down a longwood pine tree since 1962."

While the building's history has made it New Sarpy's biggest icon, it was having a place of his own that has truly made the building special to Rhinehart. Previously, the chef was in the catering business where he would serve food to NFL stars and singing legends such as Irma Thomas. Though he was extremely successful, he knew there was something missing.

"Even though I had four certifications, people would always ask me where I cooked," Rhinehart said. "Until you have a place that people can walk into, a place where they can tell a lot about you by coming in, that's kind of when you get the most important certification."

Plus, this restaurant lets Rhinehart's creativity thrive. While turning Migliores into ChefEds, the chef decided to go green with the project. This involved recycling wood nails and using artifacts found in the building for decoration. Central air only runs to rooms that guests frequent and the walls are insulated and sealed off from exterior conditions. 

When the restaurant opened, Rhinehart decided to stay with that theme by using a wood burning grill where wood is recycled daily and often donated by the community. Food waste is also saved with other biodegradable waste to feed the restaurant's compost pile, while the grease waste is picked up by a local man who converts the oil for bio diesel.

On the preparation side, Rhinehart uses a lot of organic food and never uses anything that comes out of a can. His vegetables and meat are supplied by local farmers and butchers. Most of the time, Rhinehart says his patrons are eating food that was picked or purchased that very day.

"I was just reading different things about products in canned food and I started analyzing what was in them," Rhinehart said. "When we started experimenting with the flavors and the taste, we realized how much better it could be with a higher quality product.

"It has probably been two years since I've used a can opener," Rhinehart said.

Rhinehart says that one of his customers didn't believe that statement and he offered her $100 if she found a can and $200 if she found a can opener. The customer walked away with a full stomach but without any extra cash.

"We only buy from within an 80-mile radius and if it's available here, then we get it here," Rhinehart said. "If someone comes in for oysters on the half shell, we shuck them at that time because we only keep enough supply on hand for us to deal with."

Besides being much healthier, the choice not to use canned food has paid off for Rhinehart in other ways.

"I would have already lost interest if I didn't have to make our own sauces and experiment with the flavors," Rhinehart said. "It almost had to be like that for me because I get to constantly experiment with the food to make it better."

ChefEds has daily lunch and dinner specials, but right now Rhinehart has a few best sellers. One is the Shrimp Marta, which is a shrimp appetizer with a mix of both tangy and spicy sauces.

"It hits all five flavors of the pallet," Rhinehart said. Another favorite is the gumbo, which is actually created by “Doc” Matthews.

"We probably go through two gallons a day, if not more," Rhinehart said. "It's made fresh three nights a week and very rarely do we have to freeze it because it takes care of itself."

Matthews is probably the best representation of ChefEds’ link with the past. Matthews lives near the restaurant and his daughter, Sierra, had always wanted to work at the location when it was Migliore's Food Store. She finally got the chance when Rhinehart hired her as a server.

When Rhinehart threw a party for his co-workers, Sierra convinced her father to bring gumbo. After Rhinehart tasted it, he immediately asked Matthews to make it for the restaurant.

Another specialty is Rhinehart's Zapped Catfish. Rhinehart came up with the recipe when he was in culinary school. For one of his projects, a fellow student dared Rhinehart to use potato chips with his creation. Now, his mix of Zapp taters, creole cream sauce and catfish is one of his customers' favorites.

Zapps has been trying to get the recipe from Rhinehart, but so far, they've had no luck.

While the food is the main thing driving traffic to ChefEds, a lot of people still come because of their past relationship with Migliores.

"People come in and they like the changes we've made," Rhinehart said. "We've had people just stand here in tears or go up and touch the wall. I think the people here are glad that it's a good local business doing good things."

ChefEds is open Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

View other articles written Jonathan Menard

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