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BayouEats | From Tradition to Table

By Nathan Coker
In Bayou Eats
Jan 6th, 2023

Photography by KELLY MOORE CLARK

Jay Pappa’s is a new restaurant specializing in great steaks, seafood and spirits.

When Jonathan Perry first saw an old photograph of his grandfather grilling outdoors, he immediately thought it would make a compelling statement piece for a restaurant. In the picture, Jay Pappa, as he was affectionately called, grins toward the camera—shirt off, drink in hand, straw hat tilted to the side, tending to the grill donning a forest green apron with black and white checkered trim. Little did Perry know that this same image would be his entryway into what has become Jay Pappa’s, a new restaurant specializing in great steaks, seafood, and spirits.

Both of Perry’s grandparents were incredibly influential in his life. On his mother’s side, his grandfather started CenturyLink, so working at the company had always been a goal. After graduating from the University of Louisiana at Monroe with a degree in marketing and business management, he began working in the telecommunications company. After fifteen years of service, he realized that following in his grandfather’s footsteps really meant that he should pave his own path. Around 2020, he opened up his own marketing company, a dizzying two weeks before COVID hit. “Obviously, that didn’t last. So I started looking at other options of what I could possibly do.”

Cooking and entertaining have been a family staple for years, so when he saw the picture of his grandfather grilling, he started looking for restaurants for sale. One of the properties that stood out was curled up between Levee Drive, River Landing, and Bayou Desiard. Not only was the location optimal for a favorable flow of clientele, but its potential was the most alluring. Though he purchased the building, which consisted of Chauvin Market and Levee Grill, his dream of creating a restaurant was still unrealized. When the owner of Levee Grill pursued another career, Perry was able to conceptualize a space that would make his grandparents proud.

One need only glance around Jay Pappa’s to know that family is first. Lining the main walls of the elegant interior are large black and white family photos. Most of the photos are from his father’s parents who are from Perryville, Louisiana. “I grew up there,” he says, pointing to a replica of a painting salvaged by his grandmother. A white, two-story, colonial-style home is shaded by tall trees and lined with flourishing bushes. It was built in 1903, but in 1985 it caught on fire. “It burned to the ground in forty-five minutes, and my grandmother got up, and she grabbed her silverware and she was able to grab this,” says Perry, referring to the painting and adding, “They had it over their fireplace.” Perry takes a moment to look around, closing his gaze on a black and white photo mounted close to the bar saying, “And that is actually all of the grandkids on the steps of the house that Christmas before it burned.” Clearly, Perry’s use of his family history is indicative of an individual who values his rural past and understands how it has informed his present.

Initially, the interior design plans went through a few revisions, but it was clear from the get-go that simplicity was key. “We wanted something that was really clean,” he says, referring to the assistance he received from Michael Jordan, founder of Lore Creative. The pair began with the color, opting to mimic the visual memories on the walls. In the main dining space, matte black and crisp white walls compliment the wood floor, and dark wooden tables and seating. The bar stands out with a warm gray tone and bright lighting. The more the space developed, the more Perry noticed the “New Orleans-style feel,” which is why jazzy rhythms emanate from the restaurant’s speakers come dinner service. “The whole room comes together at night,” enthuses Perry.

Jay Pappa’s menu is the product of a joint effort between Perry and Vada Perry, a chef that has worked in the area for years and last worked at Levee Grill. “She claims she comes with the building, so if you get the building you get Vada,” he laughs. Her vast restaurant experience and training in New Orleans-style dishes helped narrow down the restaurant’s menu. “We wanted really good steaks. We wanted really good seafood,” informs Perry. Of all the items on the menu, the most sumptuous is arguably the 20-ounce ribeye. “That’s the thing, Chauvin, the market side, is known for having the best steaks in town. I’m just gonna name it and claim it,” enthuses Perry, who sources the restaurant’s meat from next door. Top any of Jay Pappa’s steaks with their selection of sauces and toppings like the lump crab and Béarnaise sauce, peppercorn with red wine sauce, or shrimp étouffée. Dinner favorites extend all over the menu. The Seared Duck Pasta is seared duck over bowtie pasta with wine sauce and capers. Another pasta dish comes from Chauvin Market, as indicated in the name. The Chauvin Lasagna Rolls are the famous Chauvin lasagna rolled and baked in a ceramic dish. “We sell tons of the Monterey Grilled Chicken,” says Perry, referring to their grilled chicken breast topped with Monterey Jack cheese, seared vegetables, and veggie rice.

Even the lunch menu has a staunch following, particularly their Wednesday lunch special, Thin Fried Pork Chops. “There’s always a line out the door,” he says. Diners also can’t go wrong giving the Steakhouse Burger a try, as it is made from 75% chuck and 25% steak trimmings. A novel item on both the lunch and dinner menus is the specialty pizzas, which boast delectable ingredients. Take the Chauvin Special (filet mignon, feta cheese crumbles, topped with arugula tossed with Chauvin lemon vinaigrette and parmesan cheese) or the down-south favorite, Gumbeaux (smoked sausage, fire-roasted chicken, and trinity vegetables).

The symbiotic relationship between Jay Pappa’s and Chauvin Market is not only beneficial to both spaces, but also to restaurant diners. If you don’t find a wine selection on Jay Pappa’s wine list, customers are encouraged to walk next door, select a bottle, and return with it to enhance their dining experience. Multiple shelves of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, and more, await wine enthusiasts. Favoring Cabernets, Perry enjoys the 2019 Desire Cabernet Sauvignon from Second Line Wines based in Napa. Even then, he admits that choosing a favorite is impossible: “It’s hard for me to really pick out one because I’m a huge wine guy. So if you see it in here I’ve had it.”

Chauvin Market was built in 1992 and has provided the Northeast Louisiana region with an outstanding selection of wine and spirits, delectable hand-cut steaks, twice-baked potatoes, and homemade casseroles, soups, and their famous lasagna, all ready-made in their grab-and-go freezers. Their use of “age-old” family recipes is not only indicative of the timelessness of comfort food but also their effort in employing some of the best cooks in the area. A quick browse through their organized shelves reveals some intriguing items like Laffitte’s Gourmet Cajun Pickles, Big Curt’s Salsa, and an array of Sugarlands Shine. “Amazing market and jewel in our town,” raves one satisfied customer.

Ultimately, Perry’s vision for Jay Pappa’s was simple. He wanted to create a space with an atmosphere that would inspire guests to unwind with family and friends, just like his grandparents enjoyed so much. He credits his crew with helping realize his vision. He mentions Vada, Chris Lewis (his “phenomenal grill cook”), Lewis’ mother Paulette Lewis who has taught Perry “so much” and treats him like her own son, and his manager, Hayley Hays. “I am blessed with a work family,” he says, adding, “I’m just a guy with an idea.” His strengths have been informed by the “talented, hardworking people” he has gravitated toward. “And I’ve been fortunate to have plenty of them around here,” he says.

Simply elegant and boasting a stunning view, Jay Pappa’s calls to those seeking dining that intersects good food, a plethora of spirits, and a space dedicated to family.