article by VANELIS RIVERA / photography by KELLY MOORE CLARK
Wade Wyatt, owner of North Louisiana’s New Orleans-inspired restaurant Char 19, offers a dining experience that balances comfort and design, and where the food and drink is prioritized over everything else.
There are a few local restaurants that exude elegance, inspiring us to adorn ourselves in sophistication and style, grab our glass slippers from the back of the closet, and galavant for the evening until the clock turns twelve. Perhaps we do this every once in a while—mom’s 50th birthday party, peepaw and meemaw’s anniversary, or a best friend’s rehearsal dinner—never to return again until we receive another monogrammed invitation in the mail. But, what if elegance could meet casual? Char 19 may seem like a place that welcomes only the ritzy and pristinely ironed guest, but owner Wade Wyatt wants the community of North Louisiana to know that his New Orleans-inspired restaurant is a delightful balance of comfort and design, where the enjoyment of food and drink is prioritized for all regardless of whether you’re grabbing a post-workout bite, satisfying a lunch craving, or stopping by for a pre-shopping snack.
Char 19 is the brainchild of Wyatt and executive Chef John E. Peters III. Both foodies attended River Oaks School in Monroe (Peters being a few grades ahead of Wyatt) and were in the food industry at some point in their careers. Wyatt’s father had the first Wendy’s established in Louisiana way back in 1978 (right on 18th Street in Monroe). “So I grew up kinda in the restaurant industry,” said Wyatt. Inspired by his early childhood experience, Wyatt opened up his first bar, The Duck Blind Lounge, when he was only eighteen years old. “I was a big hunter and puns are pretty big around here,” he humored. That was the start of many bars for Wyatt, who currently owns and operates TBJ’s on Roselawn Avenue. For a few years, he and Peters had been talking about opening up a dining establishment together and had just been waiting for the right location. When the 19th Street property became available, they were encouraged by the area’s bustling traffic and centralized location. Peters had a more intimate reason for jumping on the location. Back when it used to be the Monroe Steakhouse, he was employed as a dishwasher. It was his first job ever. Now, he’s back in the same kitchen as the executive chef. “It’s kind of surreal for me,” he revealed.
Once they started construction, the versatility of the building made them improvise their initial plans. “Everything changes a little bit when you finally step into place and live with what the bones are and how you want to adapt and go home. That’s kind of where we’ve been in this transition stage,” said Wyatt. Five standalone spaces—outdoor patio, bar area, main dining seating, lounge nook, and private conference room—pushed them to further develop a more open and multifaceted dining experience. Easy-going folks can take advantage of the cafe-style seating of the patio, lightly decorated with vintage bulb string lighting. A mix of banquette and cafe-style seating frames a stone fireplace at the bar, accented with butcher block-style wall mounts. Feeling fancy? The main dining room promises the “best of both worlds,” by combining comfort and ease with ornamental lighting and wall accents. Want to enjoy a cocktail and conversation? Char 19’s lounge (which is available for reservation) is separated from the main dining room by tasteful red velvet curtains. Comfy lounge chairs and a sofa invite guests to enjoy their company in a more intimate setting, lightly lit by string lights cascading down a wine display. Large groups will be happy to know that a private room is available for private meetings or parties. Thus far, patrons have used it for work presentations and rehearsal dinners. “Now we kind of really know what we are, more so,” explained Wyatt, “And, trying to fine-tune what we’ve learned and how to market ourselves the way we want to.”
“Everybody always assumes that because I’m a chef that I want to do it my way and it’s got to be all this frou-frou and all this fanciness,” said Peters. With a background from Commander’s Palace in New Orleans, a notable spot for refined Creole dining since 1880, it’s an easy estimation to make when it comes to Peters; however, at Char 19 his focus is guided by the dining experience. So, whether he is serving a sandwich, piece of sea bass, or a steak, all dishes get his full attention. “I’ve been in fine dining my whole career, and I still love it. But, Monroe needed a place that you could go and have great food, and not have to go home and change, get your nice clothes on,” he added. With that attitude in mind, the pair set out to curate a menu with eloquent food, using simple ingredients. A lot of their menu items are variations of what Peters had created in the restaurants he had during the early 2000s. The Char 19 menu items cover the “heartbeat of Monroe.” In other words, Wyatt and Peters understand the pulse of the Twin Cities and have echoed it in carefully constructed lunch and dinner menus.
For your appetizer try their NOLA Debris Fries, which are steak fries covered with roast beef debris and topped with ravigote sauce and green onions. Or the Maple Leaf Duck Legs, which is three fried duck legs over a bed of fresh greens and served with Char 19 sweet chili sauce. The lunch menu is known for its burger and sandwich items. A bit hangry? Dive into the Char 19 Burger, 8oz char-grilled Angus patty, lettuce, tomato, red onion, pickle, mustard, and mayo. If you’re sticking to leaner proteins, go with the Hot Turkey Sandwich, Club Sandwich, or one of their two selections of Po-boys. Dinner entrées are hard to resist, particularly the pasta section. The Char 19 Grilled Chicken Pasta is Wyatt’s own specialty, marinated grilled chicken breast served atop angel hair pasta sautéed with roasted red pepper, garlic, green onions in a white wine butter sauce. The Char 19 Shrimp Pasta is another big hit, jumbo Gulf shrimp sautéed with artichoke hearts, mushrooms, garlic, and green onions in a light cream sauce tossed in linguini pasta and topped with Grana Padano parmesan cheese.
Though their Premium Black Angus steaks have really taken off recently, the mainstay on the meat menu has been their ten to twelve ounce, grilled bone-in pork chop, served with a side of fried Brussels sprouts topped with a honey glaze (another hit with customers). Peters may be proud of all his dishes, but as a lover of seafood, he is a bit partial to the fresh fish dishes. “We don’t like to cover up our fish with heavy sauces or whatever you know; let the fish speak for itself,” said Wyatt. Lately, they had fresh halibut and sea bass for their catch-of-the-day. Though they use a lot of Gulf fish, the sea bass has made the most waves, so much so that customers have gotten upset if it has been sold out. Some desserts have also followed suit, like their signature Candy Bar Cheesecake. Here, childhood favorites like Reeses and Snickers are combined with a classic cheesecake recipe, and the result has created a fan following. And with the help of their new executive pastry chef, more delights will be added to their menus, including Sunday brunch.
“So, Sunday brunch, you need to come by,” pressed Wyatt. On Sundays, Char 19 has aimed to bring a taste of New Orleans flair to brunch dishes, inspired by Peters’ experiences in the Big Easy. “It’s as close to an authentic brunch as you’ll get in town, and it’s really taken off,” said Wyatt. Peters wanted to make sure the brunch menu was geared toward keeping a spirit of enjoyment and celebration of people and food. That’s why you’ll see items like French toast topped with a cream cheese spread and fresh fruit, debris eggs benedict, and a breakfast burger. Brunch can be as intimate as dinner, believes Wyatt, and so brunch at Char 19 speaks to taking a pause, choosing a meal for enjoyment as much as nourishment, and creating a memory that will last you the workweek.
It’s not just food being expedited from the Char 19 kitchen. Peters has a spice line called Tigers Eye Spice, which is used in a number of the restaurant’s dishes and will soon be available for purchase. With six blends thus far—Creole, Asian, Jamaican, Creole Citrus, XXX Hot, and Smoked Pepper—Char 19 may quickly become a one-stop-shop for adventurous home chefs. Additionally, Wyatt’s grilled chicken marinade is in the process of getting bottled and sold at places like Brookshires and different local boutiques. All products will be under the Char 19 brand and are planned for retail release soon.
It’s not easy to break a stigma, and Char 19 is still thought of as more upscale and only for special occasions. Though they fall somewhere in between fine dining and American grill, Wyatt and Peters hope to get the message across that “this is for everybody.” Ultimately, Char 19 is the kind of restaurant you can attend two or three times a week, feel comfortable, and not have to dress up to attend (unless, of course, you want to), and both active owners can be found about one hundred percent of the time at the locale. “We try to take care of people and we want people to forget about everything,” asserted Wyatt. “Come in and escape. Escape for a little while.”
Char 19 is located at 1302 N. 19th Street, Monroe, LA, and is open Wednesday through Thursday between 11 AM to 2 PM and 5 PM to 9 PM, Friday 11 AM to 2 PM and 5 PM to 10 PM, Saturday 5 PM to 10 PM and Sunday (brunch) 11 AM to 3 PM. Follow them on Facebook and Instagram to follow-up with weekly food and cocktail specials. Call them at 318-807-2427 if you are interested in booking their lounge or private dining area.