RIVER TERRACE RESTAURANT
It has been my experience that Cajun and Creole restaurants located outside of South Louisiana generally fall short of the mark. I felt this apprehension as we entered the River Terrace Restaurant in Columbia, Tennessee. My local friends, who are well traveled and have a refined appreciation of food, recommended the River Terrace without building any unreasonable expectations. Thus, I expected a pleasant evening, but nothing special from the kitchen. Boy was I surprised.
The River Terrace occupies a picturesque location on the banks of scenic Duck River and had been the site of the Lamplighter Inn, a local favorite, for over forty years. There was no attempt to cutesy up the décor with some faux New Orleans junk like Mardi Gras masks or shinny beads, just the warmth of native woods and tasteful fixtures. No pretensions or artifice, which I always take as a positive sign. Good food doesn’t need clever ambience.
We were greeted by a very attractive and pleasant lady, who later we learned was the distaff part of the husband and wife team that owned and managed the establishment. Randy and Elizabeth Landry came to Columbia and liked the area so much that they bought what they thought would be their retirement home in 2006. In addition to his New Orleans based welding supply business, Randy had satisfied his lifelong interest in cooking by opening Landry’s New Orleans Café in Fort Smith, Arkansas. His daughter-in-law now owns and operates it today
When Randy and Elizabeth began looking for a business to relocate to middle Tennessee, a local realtor suggested that they take a look at the old Lamplighter Inn location that had been vacant since 2005. The beautiful setting of the site along with the absence of any fine dining in the Columbia area convinced the Landry’s to open what is now the River Terrace.
We were seated with a river view and a very extensive menu and wine list was produced. My host has a very good nose for wine and I could tell that he was pleased by the large selection of high quality and reasonably priced offerings. He chose a Woodbridge Cabernet and a Lonely Cow Sauvignon Blanc both of which were available by the glass.
Hot French bread was passed around while we considered the menu and Randy came out of the kitchen to discuss our selections and offer and answer any questions. We all ordered different hors d‘oeuvres and pledged to share a bite around the table. Soon we were passing around fried green tomatoes with honey and red pepper jelly, fried eggplant, topped with remoulade sauce, crab cakes topped with Creole sauce and blackened andouille sausage. Every dish was well prepared and presented and the flavors were crisp and clean.
I chose to try a cup of the lobster bisque. Lobster bisque is one of the more difficult soups to prepare correctly and I thought it would be a good yardstick of Randy’s culinary skills. One of the other members of our dining party ordered the crawfish etouffee and both preparations were tasty and well executed. This person is blessed with a super sensitive palate, something akin to a mass spectrometer, and can isolate every ingredient of every dish. Pronouncing etouffee correctly was a bonus. Praise from Caesar indeed.
We ventured a little further afield when we ordered our entrees. Between the four of us, we ordered the Shrimp Elizabeth (sautéed shrimp on a crab cake with mango chutney sauce), broiled stuffed flounder, eggplant parmesan and grilled scallops with a Creole topping. We finished the evening with selections from the fairly extensive dessert menu and steaming cups of good New Orleans coffee, a perfect ending to a meal that would have been a hit in Ponchatoula or Beaux Bridge, but was a culinary miracle in middle Tennessee. It is well worth a short detour off I-65 or a 45 mile trip from Nashville to enjoy the River Terrace. You will not be disappointed.