By Celine Alis
Customers were trickling in as we made our way past the antique tiger oak bar and red walls to the dining room of Clementine on Main, the newest restaurant to open on historic Main Street New Iberia.
A few locals were sipping on signature cocktails including the Old Fashioned: Makers Mark, Muddled Bourbon infused fruit, and unrefined sugar, finished off with a sweet sugar stick. According to one of our French guests, it was very strong!
We also tasted the Lemon Drop Martini: Absolute Citron Vodka, fresh lemon, and simple syrup with a splash of sour and a lemon twist. Other drink options included mint juleps, margaritas, mules, wine and local brews like Abita and Parish.
The dining room in the back was dimly lit as candles and fresh purple flowers in tiny vases on white tablecloths, and smooth jazz playing in the background, set an intimate ambiance for friendship and conversation.
Colorful paintings by local artists, including previous owner Wayne Peltier, adorned the walls. Wayne named his restaurant after his favorite artist, Clementine Hunter, a primitive or folk artist, born in 1887 in the Cane River country of Louisiana.
While in her fifties and working at Melrose Plantation, Clementine found tubes of paint lying around, beginning her life as an artist. Clementine would paint on whatever she could find. Her first painting was rendered on a window shade. Her paintings came from daily life on Melrose Plantation – baptisms, funerals, wash-days, and the harvesting of sugar cane are a few events that she documented. She died in 1988 at the age of 101.
New Owners, Kent Dold, Jennifer Dold and Michael Parich have incorporated Clementine’s famous backwards-C & H insignia into their logo and the placement of their silverware. As the story goes, Clementine thought the normal C was rude, with its back to you, so she signed her C backwards with its arms reaching out to hug you.
A self portrait of Clementine is prominently displayed near the famous 1890 tiger oak bar, which was purchased from a pre-prohibition establishment in Loreauville, and moved by barge down the bayou Teche to its present location.
Originally part of the 1777 Spanish land grant, the property was purchased by Richard Provost who opened Provost’s Café and Bar in the 1930s. The café sold in 1994 to become Armand’s restaurant – the art deco sign still hangs over the door – before Peltier purchased it in 1999 and renamed it Clementine Dining & Spirits. A popular downtown spot, it briefly became a Thai restaurant, Bali, before being purchased by the current owners.
It seems that Kent, Jennifer and Michael, who opened in April 2018, intend to honor Clementine’s tradition of hospitality and culinary excellence while making it a prime spot for live entertainment.
Salvaged doors split the dining room to create a private space for small parties and events, or a dance floor on weekends. The owners are very involved in the community, sponsoring events like Cycle Zydeco and the Books along the Teche Literary Festival, and hosting functions like the Spanish Festival’s poster unveiling.
Our table was close to the window so we could watch the sun set on downtown New Iberia. It was a slow Wednesday evening and I imagine this would be the best vantage point to people-watch on a busy weekend night.
The friendly and attentive waiters brought us the Fried Green Tomatoes with sauteed shrimp, bay scallops and crab served over roasted red pepper sauce, as well as Avocado Tartar, which consists of steamed gulf shrimp on a bed of creamy avocado with fresh chimichurri served with tortilla chips. The mix of creamy texture and spicy flavor was outstanding.
We tried the Fresh Fish Special, a fillet of king clip; Seared Salmon, a fresh salmon filet from Oregon seared to your specifications (the medium well is perfect if you like your food cooked but not overdone; ask for rare if you like sushi and sashimi.)
Our French guests were delighted by the Hen Confit, topped with the house creolaise sauce, and the Butcher’s Block Special, a 6 oz. grilled steak. Each entrée came with two sides and we sampled the wilted spinach, sauteed parmesan potatoes, French fries and smoked zucchinis and squash. All were equally delicious.
Kent said executive chefs Matthew Indest and Brad Berwick make everything fresh and inhouse – they even make their own bacon! They keep the menu short and simple to offer dishes crafted from fresh seasonal ingredients.
As we were finishing up, Jennifer came out of the kitchen holding a tray covered with tempting desserts she had just baked that day. The bread pudding in bourbon sauce was a hit, as well as the lemon ice box cake, which was light, airy and not too sweet - the perfect ending to this feast!
The verdict: Clementine is a great place to celebrate a special event, see local art, have drinks with friends and catch live entertainment. It will also please foodies in the mood for something new and more sophisticated than the traditional Cajun and Creole offerings. It surely is “A southern casual fine dining experience.”