we’ve taken all the best of the gulf coast and cut it down to eight things for the
second annual southern breeze hot list!
1 - Top Chef
Chef Justin Ferguson is, in a word, unique. It’s not that he attained executive chef status at the tender age of 26. It’s not that he looks more like a Men’s Fitness model than a gourmand. It’s not that he won the Southern Breeze Wine & Culinary Festival’s Chef Challenge in Baton Rouge last spring. No, Chef Justin is most likely the only chef in the country—if not the world—who has ripped off a guy’s ear.
Relax, it wasn’t a patron who complained about the veal; the incident occurred while Justin was serving in the US Army some years ago and after a night of carousing in Frankfurt, Justin and his comrades were approached by a group of unruly Europeans who were not exactly pro-American. The ruffians came after the soldiers and an ear was the first thing Justin could get a grip on and, as he says, “that’s how it went.” Bet Paula Deen never did that.
Justin is currently the executive chef at Stroube’s Chop House in downtown Baton Rouge, which opened in February. Owned and operated by the same team behind Capital City Grille—where Justin first became executive chef two years ago—Stroube’s is a higher end style of dining. Diners hankering for gumbo will be out of luck when they come into Stroube’s, according to Justin, who hopes that foie gras, lamb, duck, lobster, and steaks will be a hit with Baton Rouge diners. “People are starting to explore and enjoy food more and not just fried fish and shrimp or the basic Southern food,” he explains. “You can get etouffe and gumbo at any restaurant in Louisiana. We’re gonna do it differently and bring a new style of dining to the area.”
A former soldier with a 6'2" frame of lean muscle, much of it covered with
tattoos, Justin’s path to executive chef has been byzantine, albeit relatively brief. Right out of high school, Justin did a tour of duty in Iraq for 16 months. Upon his return stateside, he worked construction and even though he was making good money, he hated it. He went to the Louisiana Culinary Institute while working at Capital City Grille as a dishwasher.
As his studies progressed so did his career, finally attaining the executive chef title at Cap City three years ago. Despite graduating from culinary school, Justin maintains he is still honing his skills as he immerses himself in cookbooks when he’s not on the line. “I’m constantly learning and that’s what I love about this industry—I can never learn it all,” he says, his manic energy contagious. “I don’t like being labeled an executive chef because to me I’m still a cook and still learning and that’s why I love it.”.—Mark A. Newman
Photo: Chef Justin Ferguson (shown at the top of the page) presents hiss Chilean sea bass with lobster and caper sauce. Images by C. Ross
2 - Hottest Spot to Rock & Roll All Night
Soul Kitchen Music Hall, Mobile, Alabama
It may have taken a while, but at age 44 I finally Rocked Out! Trust me, nobody is more surprised than I am and all it took was my favorite band performing in a former Woolworth’s. The Soul Kitchen Music Hall, in historic downtown Mobile, was the scene where I had the most unbridled fun on the Gulf Coast since becoming the editor of Southern Breeze because I finally got to see Hoobastank perform live.
There is nothing remotely fancy about Soul Kitchen—it’s in a former dime store, for crying out loud. As I waited in line, I passed by store windows that once displayed Russell Stover candies side-by-side women’s shoes, men’s clip-on ties, and tricycles. Now they were blacked out and plastered with posters advertising upcoming shows.
Inside, the décor is simple: It’s a dive. I don’t mean that in a bad way; tapestries and chandeliers would be pointless. There are three bars and a stage. What else do you need? You don’t come to Soul Kitchen to impress a date or propose; you come to Soul Kitchen for the music. The front room has a bar and a couple of pool tables and serves as a lobby to the main hall which has two more bars and can hold almost 1,000 fans in a general admission configuration. If you’ve never been to such a venue, you don’t have a seat and you’ll be standing all night, so wear comfortable shoes.
After the two opening bands brought the night to the 10 p.m. mark, Hoobastank’s Doug Robb, Dan Estrin, Chris Hesse, and touring bass player Jesse Charland finally took the stage, as the crowd erupted. The fever pitch remained throughout the night as I found myself immersed among other Hooba-loving fans, most of whom were young enough to be my offspring, but I didn’t care. The night saw the band play their biggest hits—The Reason, Crawling in the Dark, Running Away—tunes off their latest album, “For(n)ever”—So Close, So Far, My Turn—and even the less popular The First of Me, which also happens to be my ring tone (I’m not kidding about being a big fan).
As a devout, almost fanatic, music lover, nothing compares to seeing your favorite musicians perform live. Seeing Neil Diamond in a coliseum is one thing but to be four feet from your favorite band in Soul Kitchen makes for one unforgettable, rockin’ night!—Mark A. Newman
Images courtesy of Marc Ramey, Don't Fade Away Photography
Published in the Spring 2009 issue
Picked by Mark A. Newman
I think one of the things I like most about life along the Gulf Coast is it’s always full of surprises. You never know who you’ll run into, what you’ll get to taste, where you’ll go that will be your new favorite restaurant, bar, hotel, B&B, store, or even city or town!
I discovered a new favorite place to see live music this year at the Soul Kitchen in downtown Mobile, Alabama. Created out of the remnants of a long-closed Woolworth’s department store, this is the premier spot to see live bands. What drew me to the Soul Kitchen recently was an appearance by my favorite band, the Grammy-nominated group Hoobastank, who was out promoting its latest CD, “For(n)ever.”
When you go to Soul Kitchen, you better be sure you’re dressed for comfort because you won’t be sitting down. To maximize audience participation, the venue has a “general admission” policy with a stage at one end of the former dime store with plenty of room for almost 1,000 fans to rock out to their collective hearts’ content!
Local Mobile rockers, Top of the Orange, opened for Hoobastank and they were fantastic in their own right. Yet another surprise. Who could’ve imagined such a talented group right here in your own backyard? As good as the opening act was, it’s hard to compare to the headliner because when Hoobastank took the stage the hundreds of fans in the house went nuts.
And nobody was more surprised than me that I was among those going as nuts as anyone. Also I am glad to report that Hoobastank puts on an amazing live show. They played a mix of songs from their biggest hits (the 2004 Grammy-nominated single The Reason, Crawling in the Dark, Same Direction), songs from the new CD “For(n)ever” (My Turn, So Close, So Far, I Don’t Think I Love You), as well as lesser known—but still awesome—tunes (Out of Control and First of Me, which also happens to be my ring tone…I’m not kidding when I say I’m a huge fan!).
A few short month later, after Soul Kitchen and Hoobastank were featured in our Spring 2009 Hot List issue, I saw the band again when they performed at the Bottling Company in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. After the show, I presented them with a few issues featuring their Soul Kitchen performance and the guys were truly stoked (I think I was more stoked to meet them, but hey). And that’s when the above photo was taken with Hoobastank’s lead singer Doug Robb holding a Southern Breeze.
It just goes to show you that you never know who you’ll run into as you travel up and down the glorious Gulf Coast!