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A Lovely Taste of New Orleans at Parish in Healdsburg

The Parish Cafe - Healdsburg

Sonoma County chef Rob Lippincott had a challenge on his hands when he opened his New Orleans-theme café in October. The Parish Café in Healdsburg immediately had too many customers.

Open for breakfast and lunch, the place is tiny, with just two dozen seats in the dining room and a half dozen at the kitchen counter, plus a dozen on the porch. No reservations are accepted, and there was often a wait, with customers lining up (some not so patiently) outside the small, yellow 1860s’ cottage that is subdivided with Twirl beauty salon.

So Lippincott did what he had to do. This spring he expanded, building a patio off the porch, adding another dozen seats.

Happily, the change has only added to the intimate, fun-filled mood, where the chef often visits among his customers and the patio grooves with periodic live music performances.

Lippincott is a local character, as a Louisiana transplant who first came on the scene in 2009, when he set up booths at the Santa Rosa and Windsor farmers markets. Two years later, he set up a pop-up inside Healdsburg’s Costeaux French Bakery, offering shrimp and grits breakfasts plus seafood gumbo, crawfish etouffee, and shrimp remoulade lunches.

Today, this is one of the hottest spots in town for breakfast, a real discovery considering that it can be a challenge to find interesting early morning eats in a town better known for its wine tasting and cocktail culture.

Oh, the eggs Nouvelle Orleans. That’s what I’m often craving. It’s a rich, Sonoma County-style spin on eggs Benedict, with buttery poached eggs, generous amounts of sweet lump blue crab meat, silky house-made hollandaise and a scattering of shallots ($18).

Beignets ($5) are served all day, and they’re a must for early morning, paired with an extraordinary, robust but smooth chicory café au lait ($3.50). They’re terrific, too, for a lunch appetizer or dessert. Three puffy light pastries are rolled out by hand before being quick fried and smothered in powdered sugar, and within seconds of their arrival on my table, the only tell-tale trace is sugar dusted on my fingers and lips because, yes, it’s fine to lick the plate.

Omelets are another fine wake-you-up option, such as the crawfish and andouille model sprinkled in Creole sauce and optional Honkey Donkey hot sauce ($13), or po’ boys are fun too, the roll stuffed with eggs over medium, sweet Black Forest ham, provolone, spinach and tomato ($11).

And while eggs Tchoupitoulas are hard to pronounce, they’re wonderful to eat, in another twist on eggs Benedict layered with fried shrimp ($15). Even better than classic French toast, meanwhile, is the custardy pain perdu smothered in blackberries, mint and maple bourbon sauce ($10).

The name Parish came because, as Lippincott notes, Louisiana was split into parishes instead of counties under the region’s original French and Spanish rule. Surely some customers will be split over what’s better here — breakfast or lunch — but I choose to play both sides.

A blackened catfish po’ boy is the real deal, and the eight-inch small ($11) is large enough for any normal appetite, while the 12-inch large ($18) invites sharing. Based on Costeaux bread with its famous crunchy exterior and fluffy interior, the sandwiches also come stuffed with shrimp and fried oyster ($12/$16), crunchy-moist fried green tomato ($10/$12), or an all-out terrific surf ’n’ turf ($12/$16), mounded with thin roast beef and grilled shrimp ladled in “debris” (gravy of beef bits slow simmered in jus).

I also love the muffaletta, piled high with ham, salami, mortadella, provolone, mozzarella and tart olive salad on focaccia ($12/$20). It’s a perfect salute to the Big Easy, paired with a big bowl of gumbo ($9), a vibrant, spicy broth studded with chicken, andouille, okra and rice, and perhaps an Abita Amber beer ($5).

Chef Lippincott still has to do a bit of juggling to keep the crowds balanced in his colorful space decorated in hardwood floors, polished wood plank tables, and a bar/dine-in counter area that overlooks the kitchen.

To which I simply say, for food this good, it’s worth any wait. Laissez les bons temps rouler.

Details: The Parish Café, 60-A Mill Street, Healdsburg, 707-431-8474.

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