Healdsburg's Parish Cafe, on a sunny Saturday afternoon

I’ve known for a while that Parish Cafe, chef Rob Lippincott’s New Orleans restaurant, was due to open in Healdsburg any day, but on Saturday, when I was driving towards town after a visit to the Davero Tasting Room, I spotted an open door and people sitting at tables on the broad porch. I hit the brakes, checked the rear view mirror, backed up and slipped into the parking lot. It was a perfect time for lunch. Before long, I was tucking into a warm muffaletta, as authentic a one as I’ve had this side of the Mississippi River.

Parish Cafe's muffaletta, sold whole or half. Half is really enough for two but, yes, I ate both wedges.

Rob opened his restaurant exactly as restaurants should open, quietly, without press or fanfare. Last Friday morning, with all work done, all licenses in place and the pantry and refrigerator stocked, he simply unlocked the door. And the crowds came. When I nestled onto a bar stool around 2 p.m., Rob was so intent on cooking that he didn’t even look up. It was a full ten minutes or so before he had a chance to catch his breath and raise his eyes above the cooking line.

“How did you find out?” he said when he saw me. (We know each other because I am a big fan of the beignets he’s been selling at the Santa Rosa Original Certified Farmers Market on Saturdays. And don’t worry; he’s taken a few weeks off from the market but will return once he and his staff get their sea legs.)

I explained that I hadn’t heard a word, that I was simply driving by, saw the activity and couldn’t resist.

The space itself is lovely and gives off an aroma of freshness, almost like a new car. The art on the walls evokes New Orleans and I particularly enjoyed a painting above the open kitchen of two white alligators, which I assumed sprung fully formed from the artist’s imagination. I was wrong. It seems that white alligators are quite common when they first hatch. Yet they are so easy for predators to spot that few make it to adulthood. But these survived because the man who saw them hatch in the wild took them to the Audubon Nature Institute, where they thrive today, well over 20 years of age and each 14 feet long.

Parish Cafe's Gumbo elicits three words: Yum, yum, yum!

Parish Cafe serves breakfast and lunch, with those delicious beignets available all day. For the full experience, you should have a cafe au lait alongside. There’s also shrimp and grits, grillades and grits, a crawfish and andouille omelet, pain perdue, po-boys, a fried oyster salad, gumbo, shrimp remoulade, jambalaya, fried okra and more, including wine and beer. If I can tear myself away from the muffaletta, on my next visit I’ll try the surf & turf po’boy, which features shrimp with debris gravy.

Parish Cafe doesn’t serve Cajun food and it doesn’t serve Creole cuisine. It serves New Orleans food, which is unique, with elements of both Cajun and Creole and its own signature, as well. Prices are reasonable, from $3 for fried okra to $16 for a seafood platter with fried shrimp, oysters, catfish, French fries and hush puppies. Po-boys range from $7 for a regular ham and cheese to $16 for a king-sized fried oyster po-boy.

The menu explains the inspiration for the name. During French and Spanish rule, when Roman Catholicism dominated the region, Louisiana was divided into parishes, much as other states are divided into counties. The term is still widely used in the area.

Parish Cafe is located at 60A Mill St., on the south edge of downtown Healdsburg. It is open Wednesday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. For more information, call (707) 431-8474 or visit theparishcafe.com.

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