Friday, December 24, 2010

FINDING SERENDIPITY AT ANTIQUE ROSE VILLE

Monday of this week we joined author Morris Raphael, his wife Helen, and daughter Rose Anne at Antique Rose Ville near New Iberia, to celebrate the occasion of Morris completing the first draft of his book containing Civil War vignettes. Publication of the new book will coincide with the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War in April, 2011, but the holidays presented a chance for us to meet with the Raphaels for a book celebration at our annual Christmas get-together.

Antique Rose Ville is one of those unique dining experiences prevalent in Cajun Country, and proprietor, Linda Freyou, is equally unique. The restaurant and tea room, known as the Renoudet Cottage, was a home once owned by the Picard family, and later by William Weeks II (son of David Weeks, who built the famous National Trust property, Shadows-on-the-Teche in New Iberia). The cottage was moved in 1995 from St. Peter Street to Freyou Road and restored by Linda and Simon Freyou.

The restaurant, surrounded by cypress trees, irises, fresh herb plots, and the antique roses for which it is famous, sits alongside "Anastasia," an early 20th century home which the Freyous moved fifty miles by barge down the Intracoastal Canal from Berwick, Louisiana. Antique Rose Ville, and the four acres of carefully groomed gardens are complemented by an open pavilion area behind the Renoudet Cottage and Au Jardin which accommodates large groups for wedding receptions, retreats, and other occasions.

We were greeted by Chef Linda and treated to a five-course meal that included homemade bread, salad, pork roast, beef, “dirty rice,” a shrimp casserole, steamed broccoli, and the piece de resistance, bread pudding, followed by dark roast coffee. After we had eaten from “the groaning board,” Linda appeared and sat down to talk with us. She had taken off her chef hat and put on her raconteuse one, entertaining us with memories of her early family life that included eleven siblings. She also told us about her father’s many occupations, the most notable one being his ownership of The Sunset Game Club where cock fights and Cajun music, complete with accordion and fiddle, took place. Linda grew up with music, and her parents entertained family, friends, even strangers, continually during her childhood. “We traveled in a time when people of our means didn’t take trips, but we were always going to Mexico,” Linda said. “One summer my father brought an entire Mariachi band from Mexico home with us and they stayed a month, entertaining folks at the Game Club. People were always welcome at our home, and maybe that’s why I was inspired to open a place where people are continually coming in and out.”

Linda is devoted to her family and waited until her children were out of the nest before she began working on her college degree in music education at ULL. She excelled in Voice and won a national voice competition held at ULL while studying there. After Linda discovered that Morris’s daughter Rose Anne sings, she asked her to perform for us. Rose Anne studies voice and has often sung a capella for us on Christmas occasions. She stood in front of the fireplace and sang a beautifully-rendered excerpt from a German opera. When she finished, we asked Linda to perform, and she said, “I have a big voice so I’ll  have to go into the next room to sing.” She entered the adjoining room and stood, hands folded, in the far end of the room. We had no notion that we’d hear the gifted and finely-trained operatic voice that suddenly filled two rooms with jubilant sounds. She sang two versions of “Ave Maria” -- one from Bach and another from Schubert, followed by several arias and a rendition of “O Mio Babbino Caro” from Puccini. It was an amazing professional performance from an amazing woman who told us as we left: “if you have a gift, you’d better use it, or one day you’ll have to answer for not using it.” Linda still uses her gift by singing at church functions, in community musicals, and for people like us who ask her to perform.

Life in Teche Country, Louisiana is never dull, nor will you ever eat finer cuisine than the food you’ll find most anywhere in Acadiana… not to mention the serendipity in the form of professional entertainment you may discover “right in the middle of a cane field,” as Linda laughingly describes the locale of her fine dining restaurant, Antique Rose Ville.
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