Rabalais' Bistro: Santa Paula's Down Home Southern Cooking & More
It's truly hard to believe that in a cute little town like Santa Paula you'd find the best southern cooking, most delicious bakery, and the town's most popular coffee hangout all wrapped up into one. Buzz on the street has even reached New York, sending tourists eager to dine in this one-of-a-kind restaurant founded by southern girl, Tracy Lippert.
photo by Pacific Coast Business Times
Recently, I had the chance to sit with Tracy and hear the beautiful story of her southern roots and what she brings to the table (literally) at her amazing Louisiana style restaurant & bakery, Rabalais' Bistro. Tracy is the epitome of southern hospitality, sweet to the core, and always wearing a beautiful smile.
Incredible Homemade Southern Food and Hand Crafted Baked Goods Coupled with the Best Local and Global Coffees and Teas! Continuing Our Family Tradition of Southern Hospitality. Proudly featuring locally roasted Prospect Coffee.
Everybody knows that New Orleans is world-renowned for its distinct music, Creole cuisine, unique dialect, and its annual celebrations and festivals, most notably Mardi Gras. And as a true native of New Orleans, Tracy brings each one of these into her restaurant. Ok, well, maybe not the dialect, but certainly everything else.
This past Tuesday, Rabalais' was bustling with folks dressed up, eager to celebrate Fat Tuesday and enjoy the special Mardi Gras menu along with special jazz & blues music from the 1920s and 30s by The Barrelhouse Wailers.
Tracy grew up in a military family, and like most military families, hers moved all sorts of different places around the country. Her dad joined the army, (which helped put him through medical school) so this, of course, had her attending different schools almost every year up until the fifth grade, when her dad retired from the military and started a private practice in Chico, California. She never had the opportunity to grow attached to any one "home," so "home" to her was at her grandma's farm in Louisiana. But through her childhood and beyond, there was an obvious thread of hospitality woven throughout all of her experiences, by which she eventually became characterized.
"I grew up in a family where hospitality was always present. With my grandmother, my aunt, my mom, someone was always in the kitchen cooking. And even being in the military, you know, you're new every place you move and you're always greeted with a pie at your front doorstop. The military, in and of itself, is a very hospitable organization. We lived in military housing, on a military base, and people were always welcoming—that's how they welcomed you to the new town was through food."
But the story of Rabalais' really began many years before Tracy was alive. The beautiful tale of the origin of Rabalais' can be found not only on their walls through some amazing black and white prints of her dear family, but it's also in written form and can be found on their wine menu. This is of notable importance to fully understand the background of this unique eatery. Tracy writes...
Rabalais’ is a tribute to my grandmother, Anesia Lois Rabalais, who was a great Southern cook with strength of character and a servant’s heart. She was born November 23, 1912 to Elisabeth Saucier and Peter Edgar Rabalais, a poor sharecropper and fisherman. They lived in a little French Settlement in the bayou country in Southern Louisiana called Bayou Jaune. She was one of eleven children. She left home and moved to New Orleans to work at the age of 14, making $7.50 a week. Later she worked at a Catholic Hospital near Canal Street and met her husband to be, Ted Thedford Walker, and was married in 1931. Living in the projects of New Orleans, they began to raise their six children: Peggy, Ted, Donald, Robert, Matthew, and David.
They moved from New Orleans to the small town of Liddieville, Louisiana where they built their small farmhouse and worked hard tending 40 acres of cotton. Living on very modest means, the resourceful core of her Cajun upbringing was necessary to feed a family of eight. Honest and simple were the comfort foods coming from my grandma’s kitchen. Childhood memories of her handmade buttermilk biscuits, black coffee, Thanksgiving turkey Gumbo, the small kitchen full of women, milking the cow, riding “Billie” the goat, and eating pecans the size of my thumb off her tree in the backyard are sweet memories to me.
Rabalais’ menu is inspired by simple, but very dear, experiences of food prepared and shared with love and care. I am forever grateful for the legacy left by my grandmother who rose early each morning and prayed for her family of six children and 16 grandchildren before heading into the kitchen.
Food and drink have always been a common bond, bringing people and culture together. Our hope is that Rabalais’ will become a gathering place rooted in traditional Southern hospitality that values good food, friends, family, and community. Our time honored French Cajun fare and baked goods will vary seasonally to bring fresh and delicious selections for all to enjoy. Welcome to Rabalais’!
Three in One
There really are three different entities that make up Rabalais'—the delicious specialty coffee, the full scale bakery, and the breakfast, lunch, and dinner southern comfort food. Their to-go catering has become quite popular, as well, as they regularly fulfill large orders of cupcakes, cookies, pies, po'-boys, even wedding and special event cakes. But to truly experience all that Rabalais' has to offer, you must experience at least one item from all three:
• The Coffee
Locals know that Rabalais' is THE place to go for coffee in Santa Paula, and their talented baristas do not disappoint. Each creation is a work of art.
A few years back, Tracy teamed up with the ever popular & local coffee roasting company in Ventura, Prospect, to get their beans roasted fresh every week. It's not only a convenient choice, but a choice of taste and quality.
But if the coffee doesn't pull you in, the southern vibe & ambience of Rabalais' should. Up the back stairs will take you to a balcony that is furnished with a comfy couch, two easy chairs, a long dining table, and a few other tables for two. Here people gather for various meetings, clubs, or just sit and have coffee & beignets. With a view over the balcony of almost the entire restaurant, this has always been my choice to sit and enjoy a latté with a friend, or catch up on some work on my laptop.
• The Bakery
What's not to love? Every single bakery item is made fresh, from scratch, by hand, in house, every day. According to Tracy, their most popular bakery items includes their multi-layered carrot cake, their amazing chocolate chip cookies, and their creamy cheesecakes. During the holidays, they bake lots of pies and cheesecakes for pickup, though they are closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas, so customers run by the day before.
When you walk in, a large glass case of the latest creations greets you—perfectly positioned to tempt you while ordering your coffee. And though not considered a sweet temptation, their amazing quiches with a variety of ingredients are also on display if you care to grab a quick slice.
Rabalais' also serves up their signature beignets all day long, which are New Orlean style—not stuffed with anything, and without dipping sauce. Tracy says their flavor is similar to a funnel cake you'd find at an amusement park. If you ever have the opportunity to visit Rabalais', this is one thing you need to try! People rave about them. They truly are one of the more popular items at Rabalais'.
"A lot of my family is from the mid-west and the south. My mom is from Kansas, originally, so she has a mid-west cooking background, and my dad has a Louisiana cooking background. Here at Rabalais' we offer a lot of southern comfort foods. Definitely Cajun and Creole mixed in there, but also just homemade biscuits and gravy, with homemade jam. Everything is from scratch, which is how my mom and my grandma did things."