Until very recently, I had not come across the color-changing effects of butterfly pea flower tea, a Southeast Asian staple known for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Common in Thailand and Malaysia, it's used to color desserts — and dye fabrics — and its color changes depending on the pH of items with which it is mixed.
Add water to the powdered tea and the mix turns bright blue. Squeeze in lemon and the liquid quickly transforms to a deep violet. Is it gimmicky? Yes. But it's fun nonetheless.
The tea has become a bit of an internet sensation, but I was surprised to find it advertised at a petite new restaurant on Barataria Boulevard. Finding the quaint Cafe Bella in Marrero was somewhat of a surprise in itself. Tucked near a residential stretch with several strip malls and fast food restaurants, the cottagelike building surrounded by flowers stands apart from its surroundings.
A pastry case and coffee operation anchor the front of the room, and there is a full-service restaurant and bar. Daily breakfast offerings include comfort fare such as a brisket Benedict combining a large biscuit, poached eggs and hollandaise and shrimp and grits with tasso and white wine cream sauce.
For lunch, there's a satisfying burger, in which a charred 8-ounce patty had juicy beef inside and a deeply smoky flavor. A simple pairing includes beefsteak tomatoes, lettuce, pickles and mayonnaise on a thick and crusty white bun.
Overall, the menu isn't very creative, but dishes deliver despite their familiarity. There are many gussied-up BLTs around town, but I'm of the opinion that if it ain't broke, don't fix it. The version here takes a club sandwich approach, with four double-decker triangles composed of white bread slathered with mayonnaise and skewered on toothpicks. There's no skimping on juicy tomato slices, romaine lettuce and heaps of crispy applewood-smoked bacon.
Crab cakes are breaded and fried to a golden brown and have bits of celery in their dense, moist insides. As an appetizer, the golf ball-shaped orbs surround a tangy and briny remoulade dipping sauce. As an entree, they are served with a creamy spinach and crawfish sauce.
The restaurant serves plenty of New Orleans seafood standbys, including fried seafood platters, Gulf fish amandine and crawfish etouffee. Sake-glazed salmon was grilled medium rare and had a slightly sweet finish. It was served with sauteed vegetables including onions, bell peppers, mushrooms, zucchini and summer squash. Sweet potato fries were crunchy with a caramelized exterior and pleasingly sweet and salty, but the hand-cut regular fries needed salt.
Cafe Bella also has a serious commitment to vegetables. The restaurant sits on a large lot that includes ample space for gardening, and our server informed us that many vegetables and herbs grown on site appear on the menu.
The restaurant calls the color- changing tea "Bella's butterfly tea." I didn't find much of a distinguishing taste to it, but the novelty was enough to draw a smile and sense of surprise from my dining companion and myself. It's an odd addition at an otherwise classic New Orleans cafe, but it reflects what's lighthearted and charming about the restaurant.