When Hurricane Katrina forced Greg and Lindsey Kilgore to leave New Orleans, they decided to bring a piece of the city with them back to their home state of Alabama.
The couple was working as line cooks at La Petite restaurant in August 2005, learning the fundamentals of true Creole and Cajun cooking. They were preparing to take a weeklong vacation when the threat of Katrina’s looming landfall became apparent.
“We didn’t know exactly what was going to happen, so we took both our vehicles, our cat, a week’s worth of clothes and a lot of our possessions,” Lindsey said. “We were going to spend the night in Jasper with Greg’s parents, and then go to North Carolina to camp. But when we got to his parents’ place, we just stayed and watched the storm.”
Over the next several days, the couple was stunned by the images they saw from New Orleans, including shots of water standing 10 feet deep on the street where they lived. Even though it turned out that their place was spared significant damage since they were on the second floor of a house, it quickly became obvious they were now on a permanent vacation from their fledgling careers as New Orleans cooks.
Over the next six weeks, the couple lived with Greg’s parents and took any odd jobs they could find to make money, including painting houses and remodeling a bathroom. Still uncertain of their future, they stumbled upon a recently closed restaurant in Jasper that was filled with kitchen equipment. Soon, a wonderfully crazy idea was hatched.
“We had no intentions of opening a restaurant. None,” Lindsey said. “But we were like, ‘Why don’t we just call (the building owner) and see.’ They offered us a great deal, and we were like, ‘Maybe it’s meant to be. Maybe this is what we’re supposed to do.’ ”
And so the Black Rock Bistro was born. The intimate, 75-seat restaurant pays tribute to the city the Kilgores left behind, from the eclectic decor to the Cajun-influenced menu. One of the most popular items is the Catfish Pontchartrain, a blackened filet stuffed with andouille sausage and covered with a cream sauce. In 2012 it was named one of the state’s 100 best dishes by the Alabama Tourism Department. Tomorrow morning, we’ll feature this dish on Alabama NewsCenter.
“To me, Cajun cuisine is as Southern in its roots as any cuisine. We’re taking the farm-to-table idea and adding a Cajun twist to it as an homage to New Orleans,” Greg said. “We want the tables here to be so close that it’s elbow-to-elbow and filled with conversation. Strangers aren’t strangers when they leave here. That’s the way New Orleans is.”
“Black Rock wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Katrina. We got to bring a cool restaurant to this town that has supported us,” he said. “We get to introduce people to dishes they’ve never tried before like crawfish pies. People come in, they try it, they love it. This is what we get to do every day. You can’t beat that.”
As we approach the 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s devastating landfall from the Gulf of Mexico, Alabama NewsCenter is sharing stories of those who came to Alabama to put down new roots and build new lives and businesses.