When a fire in March 2017 destroyed the Carriage House Restaurant on the grounds of The Myrtles Plantation, a historic building and a long-running St. Francisville restaurant was lost. But Morgan Moss, The Myrtles' young proprietor, saw an opportunity.
The Carriage House had been tenant-operated, without much say from The Myrtles' owner. Moss wanted the new restaurant to be a part of his business.
"It didn't matter how good we made the rest of the property, if the restaurant is tenant-operated, the property would never be complete," Moss said. "The restaurant is just such an integral part of it all."
Last week, Restaurant 1796 opened. Currently, it's serving only dinner, 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday, with a limited amount of seating each night. Plans are to add lunch service in the near future.
Restaurant 1796, named for the year the plantation's main house was built, is a contemporary nod to The Myrtles' past.
The interior has a stylish farmhouse feel with exposed beams and brick, along with several works by contemporary artist Hunt Slonem.
"We want to pay tribute to the history, but The Myrtles is moving forward," Moss said. "The Myrtles is a property that wants to entertain people. We want people to come on to the property and engage with it, whether it's for food, whether it's for history, whether it's for the paranormal side of things." (The Myrtles has become nationally known for its haunted history.)
A draw for Restaurant 1796 is its 10-foot-wide, wood-fired hearth, used to cook the restaurant's rustic Southern fare. The dishes pay tribute to the game and produce found in Louisiana, and the firewood used in the hearth is cut on the property.
The menu — physical copies feature crisped, burnt corners — includes several styles of cast-iron cornbread ($7-$12) and a "Shareables and Small Plates" section with dishes like hearth-roasted carrots ($9) and lightly fried cauliflower mixed with hearth-grilled bacon and chimichurri ($9). The "Fresh Pickins and Leafy Greens" section includes a chicken breast and melon dish ($13) over mixed greens and a C'zar salad ($11) with mixed greens, Parmesan, red onion and black chili garlic.
The menu's larger, heartier plates include seafood, like redfish ($34), smoked salmon ($22) and fried Gulf oysters ($19), and a selection of duck ($16), chicken ($13) and beef ($19-$38). Another dish features pork belly that has been sumac-cured and hearth-finished ($18).
Restaurant 1796's executive chef is Ben Lewis, a Mississippi native who spent time at Longboard Coastal Cantina in St. John, Virgin Islands. Chef Sean Rivera also worked with the restaurant for some time in 2018 and helped develop the menu.
Recently a piece of The Myrtles' property was cleared where plans are to grow vegetables and fruits. The business is looking for a partner to work with on the project.
Moss said he wants Restaurant 1796 to be part of what draws visitors to The Myrtles.
"I feel like we are well on our way in developing a really unique, impressive product in the restaurant, but we want it to start outside," Moss said. "We want our guests to come onto the property, tour the main home, explore the property. And when you explore the grounds, realize the culinary influence and what's going on around you."
At the Myrtles Plantation, 7747 U.S. 61, St. Francisville
5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday
(225) 635-6277; myrtlesplantation.com