Photo by Kim Ashford
The beautifully renovated 1830s planters cottage that houses Bernadette’s Restaurant is an open invitation to linger long over multiple courses and excellent wines. Proprietor Joel Robert’s approach encourages guests to do exactly that.
When considering making the drive out to Burnside for an evening at Bernadette’s, the thing to ask yourself is what, exactly, you want out of a dining experience. If you’re after a quick bite before moving on to another activity this restaurant might not be for you. If you’re in the mood for heaping portions of classic Cajun comfort food you could be better off joining the cheerful throngs in Burnside landmark The Cabin restaurant, which stands next door.
However, if your idea of a memorable meal begins at sunset with champagne and amuse bouche in the parlor; and ends, half a dozen courses and as many hours later, in a rocking chair on the porch for port and digestifs, then this little restaurant in an exquisitely renovated cottage at the corner of highways 22 and 44 might be just the place. In Bernadette’s, owner Joel Robert and executive chef Gerard Hemery have indulged themselves in the creation of something rare in our part of the world—a restaurant that forgoes high service volume in favor of intimate surroundings, carefully considered flavors, exceptional service, and a decorous pace that hearkens back to an era when a meal was an occasion for social, as well as physical, sustenance.
That Joel Robert is a perfectionist becomes obvious before you get anywhere near a table. You can tell it in the white-coated member of the wait staff standing attentively at the doorway, waiting to welcome you into the restaurant’s parlor with a glass of champagne. You can see it in the meticulously restored architectural flourishes of this historic building that Robert and his father moved to the site five years ago. You can see it in the exposed brick and period antiques, the impeccable table linens, formal tableware, fresh flowers and hand-folded napkins—and by the way that the whole experience feels more like being welcomed to someone’s elegantly appointed home for a dinner party than it does like arriving at a restaurant.
That is all by design. Bernadette’s occupies a circa 1830 planter’s cottage that went by the name Homeplace Plantation before Joel’s father, the ardent preservationist, historic building collector and founder of Sorrento’s Cajun Village and Burnside’s The Cabin restaurant, Al Robert, moved it to its present site five years ago.
And who was Bernadette? “My father’s godfather’s mother,” explained Joel, “and the host of many dinners of fine dining caliber. Meals would always begin in her parlor; the adults would have aperitifs (and the kids would try to sneak them), there would be multiple courses over many hours. It was as much about the experience as it was about the meal. And it just felt like home.” Bernadette Troxclair hosted her dinner parties at Donaldson Track Plantation in Donaldsonville, and in the restaurant that now bears her name, Joel Robert has set out to capture the same elegant welcome, luxuriant pace and attention to detail that she brought to the art of entertaining.
Conviviality is an infectious thing, and upon arriving in Bernadette’s parlor our party of six contracted it in short order. A couple of other groups already availing themselves of the champagne and hors d’oeuvres seemed pleased to share their enthusiasm for Bernadette’s with some new arrivals. One party had driven up from Metairie; another couple were returning guests from Baton Rouge, keen to re-acquaint themselves with Chef Gerard Hemery’s Beef Wellington. A native of Brittany, France, Chef Hemery has built Bernadette’s brunch, dinner, and five- or seven-course chef’s menus around a marriage of Louisiana Creole and French haute cuisines.
“I like playing between the two,” said Hemery, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of Switzerland, who came to the United States to play professional soccer in 1968 and has manned restaurants from New York to Louisiana in the years since. “The French [cuisine] don’t have no spice. Flavors … sauces, are based more on port, sherry, which is what makes the French. In Louisiana, the food is more spicy, so I like playing between the two.”
In a kitchen with no microwave, no freezer and no bain marie, Hemery cooks every dish to order, an approach that contributes to the leisurely arc of a meal here, and gives guests time to revel in the lovely surroundings, one another’s company, and the carefully considered wine list, which matches the menu offerings nicely and extends to such rare gems as Cristal Champagne and a 1976 Warres vintage port.
Though they change with the seasons, Chef Hemery’s menus stand with one foot in Louisiana and the other firmly in the old country. Appetizer choices range from a recognizably Creole Eggplant Vermillion—deep fried eggplant topped with crabmeat, crawfish, hollandaise and brown Meuniere sauce; to a classic beef carpaccio served with asparagus, or escargot flambéed with brandy and Bordelaise sauce. Crab and corn or turtle soups celebrate their Louisiana heritage, while a cassoulet is the slow cooked bean stew originating in France’s southwest. Amongst the entrées are European classics like the aforementioned Beef Wellington (among the restaurant’s most popular dishes according to Robert), a rack of lamb roasted with Dijon mustard, garlic and mint jelly, and Steak au Poivre. But the Pelican flag flies above dishes like the Baby Veal Vermillion—white veal topped with crabmeat, crawfish, and finished with Hollandaise sauce. Desserts include cheesecakes, profiteroles, and a chocolate sin cake with raspberry coulis.
As it happened, our party elected to leave the choosing to Chef Hemery, who led a six-course tour of the restaurant’s dinner/wine pairing menus. There were grilled scallops served with demi-glace and an asparagus ragout. There was panko-encrusted Eggplant Lyon with crabmeat and Hollandaise sauce. A spinach salad arrived glossy with a hot bourbon pecan dressing. Filet of beef was followed by stuffed Duck Normandie. For dessert, crepes drenched in fruit-infused syrup were a heady reminder of the restaurant’s French connection. Each course’s wine pairing was elegantly approached: a refreshing French muscadet with the scallops; a juicy 333 Cabernet Sauvignon to transport us through the lusciously sweet spinach salad and introduce the beef. A French merlot for the duck. An impressive assortment of ports, liqueurs and other digestif delights lubricated our passage to the rocking chairs on the front porch, suggesting that the Robert family’s on-site bed and breakfast accommodations might have been a better idea than driving home to St. Francisville was.
Presentations were clean and unfussy, portions sensibly, rather than heroically, sized. Throughout the meal Chef Hemery’s predilection for robust flavors was in evidence. Some in our party felt that the delicate scallops got lost a bit in the sturdy demi-glace that dressed them, and that a sauce redolent with tomato and barbecue flavors overwhelmed the filet of beef. But we all adored the duck, and were universally bereft by the time we’d scraped our crepes plates clean. This is assertive cuisine, but Hemery’s bold hand, individualistic approach and willingness to present hard-to-find luxuries like rack of lamb, carpaccio or white veal will delight many diners, and keep them coming back for more.
Throughout our almost five-hour evening, the service at Bernadette’s was attentive, unobtrusive and efficient. Robert’s attention to detail shows in his waiters’ rigorous adherence to serving ladies before gentlemen, in stemware replaced for the arrival of each new wine, in napkins refolded each time a guest leaves the table, and a score of other small details that, when considered collectively, make a large impression. All this doesn’t come cheap but at this point in the article, that probably doesn’t need to be said.
Something about the phrase “old-fashioned” seems to imply inefficiency, so that is not the right way to describe the dining experience at Bernadette’s. Rather, there is a measured decorousness in play here that seems somehow to belong to a bygone era, when there was more time for talk, drinks, multiple dishes, and appreciation for fine food in lovely surroundings. Says Joel Robert, “I want people to come here and forget where they are.” Surrounded by his family’s historic buildings and carefully considered hospitality, it’s easy, and enjoyable, to do exactly that.
Related recipes: Cannelloni Gerard; Filet Brock; Sidney's Red Onion Soup
5405 Highway 44, Burnside, LA
5 pm–9 pm Thursday—Saturday
10 am–2 pm Sunday brunch
By reservation only.
Appetizers $12–$16; Entrées $28–$48
Five- and seven-course chef’s dinners with wine pairings are $100 and $150 per person, respectively.
(225) 473-9000 or