Local Food Review | J.Fires’ Market Bistro

Crab cakes with Remoulade sauce

by Natalie Schweiger

It is a wonderful thing to witness how food and culture can bring people together. Every society has an array of cuisine and cooking methods special to their community. When a chef understands this and learns from these communities, they can bring worldly flavors back to any restaurant, so family, friends and guests alike can share in well-crafted traditions.

One such chef, Jennifer Pensoneau Kennedy, gives a great example at her restaurant, J.Fires’ Market Bistro, where she used her knowledge and experience to provide customers with excellent French and Creole inspired dishes. This past weekend I was excited to try some for myself.

To start, we were served crab cakes with a house made Remoulade Sauce. Each cake was made using lump crab meat, green bell peppers, green onions, Worcestershire sauce and a dash of spice. They were beautifully fried in a thin, crispy coating that crackled open to reveal a hot, meaty center. Their flavor was deliciously complimented by the Remoulade (a mayonnaise-based condiment mixed with garlic, spices, hard-boiled egg and Creole mustard). If I weren’t out in public I would have licked my plate clean.

Baked grouper with crab and tarragon sauce

After the appetizer my expectations were even higher for the entrees, and I wasn’t disappointed. Being treated to two, our first selection was breaded grouper with crab and tarragon sauce atop a bed of sautéed Brussel sprouts and roasted garlic potatoes. Seafood lovers (like myself) know grouper doesn’t appear on many local menus. This tender, white fish is typically found on the Atlantic coast, making its appearance at J.Fires’  even more desirable. Simply dusted with salt and pepper, the grouper is fried to a perfect consistency. The golden brown breading cuts easily with a fork into a fillet of excellent flakiness. But the headliner of this dish is the tarragon sauce, which is an original mix of reduced white wine paired with fresh tarragon, crab and other French seasonings. Its savory flavor brings out the crispness of the veggies while highlighting the tenderness of the fish. Creating a trio tres magnifique.

Coconut shrimp

Secondly, we were introduced to coconut shrimp accompanied by sautéed zucchini squash and hand smashed potatoes. A popular dish in many places, this entrée stays famous for its sweet and salty taste brought on by a blend of bold coconut flakes and sea shore seasonings. Here, though, Jennifer gives it her own twist with an original dipping sauce. One commonly finds shrimp with a cocktail or creamy pineapple sauce, however this evening my palate was treated to an unexpected zest of caramelized onion and coconut milk, sprinkled with cinnamon, cumin, cardamom and sautéed garlic. This unique concoction emphasized the shrimp’s natural buttery flavor with an additional kick.

Every good thing must come to an end, but why not have it be equally satisfying? Our dessert, another Bistro Specialty, was a tantalizing slice of Barenjager honey liquor cheesecake. A rich bite, infused with sweet honey liquor, hinted at flavors of mocha and cream. Nestled in a graham cracker crust and drizzled with an aromatic chickaree reduction glaze, this indulgence must be consumed slowly, to thoroughly enjoy every morsel.

Barenjager honey liquor cheesecake

Every element of our meal held reminders of oceanside dining, and took me back to soft sand and salty air. J.Fires’ Market Bistro has truly harnessed the signature styles of Creole and French cuisine. Fresh from New Orleans you won’t find better seafood.

Jennifer and her staff bring life to the table, constantly reeling in new entrees and appetizers. She gathered her seasoned inspirations from across the globe. But you only need to drive across town to develop a taste of a well cultured traveler.

J.Fires’ is located at 725 N. Market Street in Waterloo. Call 939-7233 for more information.

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