Gastronomic amis gathered at La Petite Grocery on a recent Monday for the Friends of the James Beard Benefit Dinner; students off to Southern Methodist University in Dallas departed in style at a party in the home of alumnus Jeff and Kathryn Scurlock; and for movable merriment, the first Lakefront History Trolley Tour and Social served up late-afternoon fun on a Friday, thanks to organization by the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation. As the 150 participants savored the social salute, a magnificent sunset added charm and color.

Mealtime Munificence

Acting as a co-host along with spouse Mia, chef Justin Devillier greeted guests at their La Petite Grocery. Justin, a finalist for Best Chef South, was one of the participating chefs in the benefit dinner. Slated as additional top toques were Adam Evans, of The Optimist in Atlanta; JBF Award Winner Chris Shepherd, of Underbelly in Houston; and Orleanians Aaron Burgau, of Patois and Michael Stoltzfus, of Coquette. They huddled to plan a regionally and seasonally five-course menu with La Petite Grocery’s Bronwen Wyatt creating the dessert. It was a Basque cake with toasted almonds, roasted peaches and coriander ice cream.

Proceeds from the taste treats abet the coffers of the James Beard Foundation’s local scholarships and culinary programs.

Among the 50 or so participants — several from away — were Liz Williams and Philip M. Dobard, of SoFAB, which will have a grand opening on Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard on Sept. 29; Suzanne Humphreys, guest of chef Evans; Ronnie and Gwen Briggs; Good Shepherd Parish Pastor Monsignor Christopher Nalty — the parish’s St. Stephen Church is paces away from La Petite Grocery; Jane Nalty, mother of Monsignor Nalty; Charlotte Strode; Bobbie and Courtney Margot; Chris Villar; Charles Smith; Casey Adams and dozens more. All relished this tine time.

Send-Off Socializing

Red and blue balloons announced initial buoyancy as guests arrived at the Metairie home of the Scurlocks for the Southern Methodist University send-off. Further SMU statements included a banner, Mustang “pony” cookies from JCB Creations, and talks about the new Residential Commons: five new buildings have been built.

In between steps to the table for Highlights Catering, the SMU locals welcomed school representative James Gambulos, regional director of development. Parents with their incoming freshmen were Suzanne Brown with daughter Mary Nolan, Sheldon Lykes with son Joseph Eustis, Ed and Marilyn Pointer with daughter Shelby, John and Jennifer Steck with William, Megan and Willy Nelson with Callie, Melissa and Alfred Rufty with Olivia, Tom and Suzanne Lavin with Sean, and Rhonda and John Barrett with Hailee.

They mingled with hosts Jeff and Kathryn Scurlock; Cindy and Robert Weinmann, whose daughter Nicole is a junior; Carol and Conrad Appel with son Conner; another Conner, surnamed Kirkpatrick, with parents Tim and Jamie; Kenny and Lesley Rubenstein; Carol and David Pointer; and Kathy and Robert Zetzmann.

Conversation touched on the founding of the university in 1911, the colors (often called Harvard red and Yale blue) and the University Park location. Of course, all present, in some fashion or another, answered to the SMU nickname of Mustangs.

Trolley Trek

A motorized trolley given by Guy Williams, president and CEO of Gulf Coast Bank, transported the participants for the Lakefront History Trolley Tour and Social. A “first,” the tour plans to be annual.

Tours started at the New Canal Lighthouse on Lakeshore Drive. From there, visual delights were many as the trolley visited such landmarks of the area as Mardi Gras Fountain, Bayou St. John, Pontchartrain Beach and the Milneburg Lighthouse. Thanks targeted Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation education coordinator JoAnn Burke for the historical facts.

In addition to touring, more than 150 guests ate, drank and savored the sunset. Of course there was music, and the Moonlighters with Steve Burtchaell on keyboard and Charles Elam on saxophone provided the scintillating fare, which was enjoyed by Peter and Debbie Farr, Frank and Sylvia Giovingo, Gwen and Terry Bolotte, Reginald and Bootsie Smith, Anne Brennan, and from the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, executive director John Lopez and Sharon, the above JoAnn Burke and Ricky, and Lighthouse and development director Angela Dorvin and Chuck.

Around and About

One of the eight caterers for the Trolley Tour was Messina’s, which just had its own lakefront excitement. Billed “Time to Take Off!,” the invitation continued with “The Messina’s Flight Crew would like you to join them for a First Class evening of bubbly and bites at the Terminal Grand Opening Gala.” It unfolded in the Lakefront Airport’s Walnut Room and Bar, Art Deco Atrium and Runway Café. The title for the new eatery is Messina’s at the (Lakefront Airport) Terminal.

Among those who were all eyes (taking in the historic venue’s renovations), all ears (the jazzy excitement of the John Rankin Trio) and all appetite (the abundant and delicious food spearheaded by event chef Leon West) were Lakefront Airport director of aviation Fred Pruitt, Kenner Mayor Mike Yenni, Kenner Councilman Dominick Impastato, New Orleans Councilman James Gray, Louis Capo, of the Orleans Levee District, Lakefront Airport Committee Chairwoman Wilma Heaton, Judge Steve Windhorst, Judge Mark Shea, Constable Lambert Boissiere, Van Robichaux, New Orleans Convention Center President Bob Johnson, and the hosts, George and Stacey Messina, owners of Messina’s Inc. (Messina’s Catering and Events + Messina’s at the Terminal.)

Still others within the 200-person mix of city officials, Messina family and friends, industry professionals, and potential brides were Liz Ackal (last year seen admiring the Vince Lombardi Trophy at Le Petit Theatre’s opening play, “Lombardi”); Lillie and George Gallagher; Kathleen Turner; fairly newlywed Evie Howard Hunnicutt; Allison Ellzey; Dr. Erin O’Sullivan Fleming and her Opera Pals, and Barbara and Mark Kaplinsky with their chums. In the next number of months, a plethora of fundraisers will enjoy the Lakefront Airport for their levity and much of the guests’ conversation tapped into that theme.

View all Nell Nolan: 'Sound Bites' photos here.