French flair, minus airfare, is reason enough to seek out Anjou Restaurant. Seek out, yes, since it’s easy to miss, tucked behind the Township shops flanking Ridgeland’s Highland Colony Parkway.
There, the father-daughter team of executive chef Christian Amelot and proprietor Anne Amelot-Holmes navigate a path between Old World and New South, between classic bistro fare and finer dining options.
“We are not a bistro and we are not a formal dining room either. We are between the two of them,” Amelot said.
The expansive dining room looks out on a patio and small lake — a prime spot in spring, fall and — weather willing — some days in winter.
“We’re just unique,” Amelot-Holmes said.
Casual dining is the profile they settle on. But in the gray space in-between casual and dining, there’s a world of room for gourmet to play.
Crisp black-and-white photographs of France, taken by Amelot-Holmes and a best friend, Michael Stowers (also Anjou’s first assistant manager), line the walls. A few postcard scenes, distinguishable only by their place names, fit right in.
She introduces views like old friends — her hometown La Ferté-Bernard, its cafe and hangout, Notre-Dame-des Marais (where she wed her husband, Warren), Loire Valley chateaux, a look at Paris’ Champs-Élysées from atop the Arc De Triomphe.
Anjou takes its name from the Loire Valley region they once called home. The restaurant marked its five-year anniversary April 25. It’s part of a group that also includes Sombra, Char, Amerigo and Saltine.
Daily lunch specials ring a familiar Southern note. Squash beignets, escargots, mussels, quiche, crepes and signatures, such as Croque Monsieur, cordon bleu and French onion soup, bring a bistro to mind. At dinner, bistro selections continue, while main course options expand with dishes, such as duck breast Apicius, Angus filet topped with béarnaise and scallops with mini ratatouille and pecan pesto.
Southern ingredients wade in the French waters: sweet potato mash with the duck; crawfish, andouille and creole cream sauce in a crepe; fried Gulf oysters on spinach with Brie cheese and horseradish aioli. More salads with fresh local vegetables, a hit last year, are expected in summer.
Sometimes, it’s a toss-up. How much French inspiration will fly? Amelot grew up on beef tartare. His daughter had her doubts how it’d fare.
“I wasn’t sure,” she said. “I was like, ‘Ugh, Dad, people are not going to order raw beef! That freaks people out!’… and, actually, people are ordering it and they’re loving it.”
With notice, they try to honor special requests for true French items, such as foie gras or Grand Marnier souffle, Amelot-Holmes said. Bouillabaisse and cotriade cycle through as specials.
“The menu is really fitting for everyone,” Amelot said. Those who imagine a dress up/no kids profile? “That’s just not the case.”
First-timers who come in for their anniversary become converts.
“I think it takes people a while to come out and see us, because they save us for that special occasion, and when they’re here? Then, we’ve got ‘em,” Amelot-Holmes said.
Amelot’s culinary background spans 40 years, from Savoie Léman culinary school and work as personal chef to the French foreign minister, to posts in fancy restaurants in La Baule and Marseille. After he followed a former boss to Houston, Texas, the partners behind Amerigo, seeking a European-trained chef, enticed him to Mississippi.
“They flew me into Jackson and the deal was done.”
That was 1984, for the job as chef de cuisine at The Sundancer, then a fine dining restaurant in Highland Village. When Sundancer closed and nothing was comparable on the restaurant scene, he became corporate chef for Valley Food Services, followed by the corporate executive chef with US Food Service.
Amelot had a hand in Anjou from the start, with menu development and staff training for its from-scratch approach. He’d even pop in a couple of times a week to make sure they were on top of it, Amelot-Holmes said. He joined Anjou as executive chef staff in 2015.
Anne, 9 when the family moved to Jackson, was already a restaurant veteran.
“Even in Marsaille … I remember going over and helping seat guests. I always had a foot in it,” she said.
Hostess and server jobs kept her in the industry, always at the front of the house, with stints at Amerigo and Nick’s.
Widowed since 2010, Amelot wed again this year, with a reception at Anjou in March. He and his new wife, Sally, are bound for France in May to celebrate the nuptials and meet family there. Amelot-Holmes heads to France with her husband and daughter, Gabrielle, in October.
“We usually try to go every other year,” she said.
Meantime, this side of the Atlantic, she relishes Anjou’s classic flavors of home.
“Escargots … that’s a must.
“And I love our filet with the real béarnaise. Like, real béarnaise. Not packaged béarnaise. Not pretend béarnaise. Just the real deal béarnaise.”