Rolling on the River: Morel’s draws overnight guests, boaters, and collectors of antiques
You can’t buy bait or sandwiches-to-go at Morel’s anymore, but you can instead feast on shrimp and eggplant Napoleon, prime filet mignon, grilled mahi mahi, and crawfish bisque while watching the sun go down. The floor-to-ceiling windows provide a lovely view of the False River.
The pilings that jut out into the water sometimes cause Morel’s dining room to sway ever so gently in the wake of the larger boats passing by, which is part of the charm of dining here. Although the place has flooded four times, it keeps on getting bigger and better.
Located in New Roads in Pointe Coupee Parish, Morel’s has expanded from a place to get sandwiches to a fine dining haven. Morel’s also boasts a 12-room inn overlooking the river, and a quaint antique shop across the street; so you can make an overnight trip of dining here. Either take your boat and moor right there, or drive up to New Roads, check into Morel’s Inn, and borrow one of their bikes to ride into town and do some sight-seeing; then return and check out their antique store. After a grand southern dinner, relax back at the charming inn and enjoy the verdant courtyard and view of the river rolling by.
Morel’s is owned by antique dealer Georgia Morel and her husband Buddy, who makes beautiful lamps that are sold at their shop, Georgia Morel Antiques.
“He makes them from old balustrades off of hand railings,” says Georgia. “Buddy also creates ceiling light fixtures from old industrial lighting. We have found lately that industrial items are the big thing right now,” she points out. “He also finds old railroad carts and turns them into coffee tables and kitchen islands, which are very popular these days.”
The Morels’ enterprise all started out with that modest bait shop. In 1983, the couple decided to start selling sandwiches. “We had a small cabin that was over the water,” Georgia says. “It just happened to be right next to this boat ramp, so my husband said that we really ought to bring in sandwiches for the fishermen. Then, they wanted something different for a change, so we started with soup and salads, and we just grew and grew.” The Morels eventually opened a restaurant, which offers some of the best food in these parts and beyond.
“The restaurant came first and all the rest followed,” explains Georgia. “The antiques started when I was invited to go to Europe and I brought home a few antiques to sell at the restaurant. It all just took off from there. We have added four times to the restaurant since we opened.” Morel’s has been the setting for movies set in south Louisiana, including various scenes in the Twilight series.
Boats still pull right up to the restaurant, and the wrap-around deck remains popular for catching a breeze and feeding the ducks waddling nearby. But the menu has become increasingly upscale in recent years. “Miss Bettie” Nelson is still in the kitchen making her famous gumbos and seafood creations; she has been cooking with Georgia for 40 years. The Morels’ son, Major, helps run the restaurant. “We also have a new young lady in the kitchen who went to culinary school, and she cooks with Miss Bettie,” adds Georgia.
Some of the appetizer specials for lunch last week included buffalo oysters, fried and topped with a spicy sauce that moistened the accompanying fried grit cake. Jumbo lump crabmeat beignets, perfectly seasoned, came with a smooth red bell pepper sauce. A very generously apportioned grilled chicken breast salad was served with honey crisp apples, walnuts, and blue cheese crumbles. “We must make around 15 salad dressings,” Georgia says. “We sell our bottled dressings in the restaurant. Right now, we are working to hopefully distribute them in grocery stores.”
Some of the best bets on the extensive menu include the USDA prime filet mignon crowned with plump fried oysters and luscious béarnaise sauce; jumbo lump crab cakes finished with fresh crawfish tails and mushrooms in a cream sauce with a spicy kick; and chicken and crabmeat ravigote made with colossal lump crabmeat in an aioli, Dijon mustard, and caper cream sauce over an eight-ounce tender chicken breast.
Of course, you cannot dine here without sampling the fabulous crawfish bisque, chicken andouille gumbo, or anything else Miss Bettie is cooking up in her soup pot. The po-boys are huge and overstuffed. Order the peppery mile-high onion rings to go with your sandwich for lunch, or enjoy some of the tangy marinated crab fingers for starters. Be sure to get the bread pudding for dessert.
Forever expanding their enterprise, the Morels have just acquired an old fire station. “It’s in downtown New Roads,” says Georgia. “It is 110 years old. We are still deciding what to do with it.” Throughout the year, Georgia and her husband participate in antique shows around the country. Through April 7, they will be at the High Point Antique and Design Center Antiques Show in High Point, North Carolina. “Our son runs the restaurant when we’re on the road,” Georgia says. “He’s a great cook, too.” For reservations, call 225-638-4057; Morel’s restaurant is located at 210 Morrison Parkway in New Roads behind Morel’s Inn on West Main Street. ✦