There is a distant roll of thunder and a thick and humid breeze through the trees that form a canopy over the patio at Patrick’s Bistreaux. Real Louisiana music floats through the air from the speakers mounted under the eaves of the building – artists like James Booker, Dr. John and Clifton Chenier are in heavy rotation. The smell is unmistakable. Aromas of crawfish, spices, flavor-packed sauces and maybe a hint of malt from the "damn cold" Abita Amber sitting in front of you -- you could almost forget you’re on Bransford Avenue in Berry Hill. It feels like Southeastern Louisiana here, and that’s exactly what Patrick Barber, the proprietor of the joint wants it to feel like.
Kicked back in shorts and flip-flops on the patio, Patrick makes it clear what he expects from his signature bistreaux experience.
"When you walk in that door," he says. "Whether you’re here for 10 minutes or an hour or two, I want you to forget the world and feel like you’re in Southeast Louisiana. It’s about good food, happiness and good times. It’s about having fun."
It’s in in the blood.
Patrick was born in New Orleans and raised in Baton Rouge. At age five he got two gifts that helped to shape the direction of his life – a cookbook and a drum kit. Patrick came to Nashville 20 years ago with his band, Supplication. It was a jam band that played with the likes of Dave Matthews and Widespread Panic on tour. Patrick bought a house in the city and converted the basement into a recording studio, but eventually the band dissolved and the music business didn’t seem so inviting. The birth of his child made living on the road seem less desirable and he decided it was time to pursue his other passion – cooking.
"I’ve always loved to cook," he said. "And I wanted to own a restaurant all my life. Being from Louisiana I grew up in the kitchen watching my mother and Julia (a lady who worked for his mother) cook gumbo and fried chicken. That’s how I learned it." The original Patrick’s was housed in the building that is now home to The Patterson House in midtown. Patrick made an appointment to look at the property one day and upon seeing the fleur de lis painted on the entry way floor and purple and gold walls in the main room – those are LSU colors where his mother was once a football cheerleader – he decided it was meant to be.
"It was like a sign," he said. "I signed the lease right there and then I said we’ve got to figure out what to do. I wanted to do food from where I’m from, Southeast Louisiana, Cajun-Creole-French. That was the idea and we just started and it morphed into what it was."
A landlord dispute ended the run in midtown and Patrick got out of the business for a couple of years until he found the spot on Bransford where he re-invented Patrick’s Bistreaux as what you see today. It’s a fast-casual po boy and gumbo shop with a bunch of nice extras at lunch, including some of the best Creole jambalaya you’ll find anywhere, including the Crescent City itself. His po boys, by the way, are made on bread from New Orleans' Leidenheimer Bakery. So it’s the real deal. "A lot of people just think a po boy is a sandwich," he said. "But it’s about the bread. It has nothing to do with what you put inside, it’s the bread that makes it a true po boy, and that bread is made in New Orleans. I believe the difference is the water and the way it proofs below sea level. Crunchy on the outside and soft in the middle. At night there is all of that and more, featuring a full service menu with selections ranging from BBQ shrimp and Catfish Almondine to Chicken Breaux Bridge, meat pies and even mini muffuletta sandwiches.
It’s the kind of food people crave, and Patrick is familiar with the feeling. While his place makes the best po boy sandwiches you’ll find in Nashville, he still gets a hankering for certain things from "back home."
"I love pizza and I love a good cheeseburger," he says, "But when I think about it, a Domilise’s po boy is probably my favorite."
Domilise’s is an Annunciation Street institution in New Orleans ranked at or near the top of most native’s best po boy shop lists.
"When I get to thinking about those, I just want to immediately fly to New Orleans and get one."
And perhaps it is that true love of the taste of home that eventually led Patrick to open the doors to his restaurant not once, but twice. Lucky for us Nashvillians, even though we do find ourselves with an abundance of dining options of late, we can get a taste of authentic Creole cooking just down the road without resorting to airfare or 8-hour road trips.
Patrick’s Bistreaux is open Monday through Saturday for lunch and Tuesday through Saturday for dinner at 2821 Bransford Avenue in Berry Hill.