Historic Downtown Hammond, Part 2: Tope Là

Outside view

Outside view

Hi, everyone! In my last blog, I talked about historic downtown Hammond, focusing mostly on its Saturday morning farmer’s market. After my family, best friend, and I finished picking out fresh produce, we explored West Thomas Street, a major street in the area with boutiques, restaurants, and nightclubs. But soon we worked up an appetite, so we went to Tope Là, a restaurant right next door to the farmer’s market.

Tope_La_Close

Close-up of outdoor sign

 

Bar area

Bar area

Tope Là (that’s with a long “o” and silent “e”) is French for “a handshake, or a clasping of hands.” The restaurant resides in an old-style brick building, but all “oldness” ends there. Inside, the lights are kept dim, lit mostly with modern spotlights and wall lights. For anyone who’s been to Houston’s in Metairie, the two atmospheres are a lot alike, although Tope Là is smaller. There’s also a bar area with specials happening every day.

 

Drink specials

Drink specials

The five of us sat at an extra-long booth in the middle of the room. For a Saturday at lunchtime, business was slow—only two or three other tables were filled. I can’t say for sure, but between the bar and live music shows hosted on Friday and Saturday nights, dinner is probably when crowds are drawn in. But enough of that—let’s look at the menu! (To see it in full, go to http://www.topela.com/HOME.aspx.)

Main seating area

Main seating area

We decided to splurge and ordered three appetizers. I had the soup du jour, a recipe with crawfish, sweet potato, and corn. The soup was good, but not exactly what I imagined. I barely tasted the sweet potato. Instead, it reminded me of a cross between crawfish étouffée and corn bisque. Don’t get me wrong, those are two of my favorite dishes. It was just unexpected.

The other two appetizers were better. My parents and friend split a plate of onion rings, which were thin and crispy with little grease. The order also came with a horseradish sauce. But the hands-down best was my aunt’s crabmeat and artichoke soup. *Internal sigh.* Thick, creamy, crabby goodness that, in my opinion, beats out crab and corn bisque. YOU MUST TRY IT.

 

My plate: Pecan-crusted tilapia, garlic mashed potatoes, and green beans

My plate: pecan-crusted tilapia, garlic mashed potatoes, and green beans

Ahem. Now, onto the main course. The pecan-crusted tilapia came my way, along with garlic mash potatoes and steamed green beans for sides. Overall, I enjoyed the meal. The batter was thick with a generous amount of pecans mixed in, and the sweet sauce was the best part of the dish. However, I did find the fish a little muddy, which took away from it. On the other hand, my aunt’s fried catfish was not muddy and quite good, so perhaps it was just the filet I had.

My dad ordered the Pasta Bake with crabmeat, a penne pasta dish smothered in cream sauce and mozzarella cheese. Talk about rich! I thought it had too much cheese, but my dad couldn’t stop raving about it. So that means you’ll have to try it for yourself!

My mom and friend, both veggie lovers, got the Grilled Vegetable Salad—warm zucchini, squash, mushroom, asparagus, eggplant, and red onion with lettuce, tomatoes, Romano cheese, and balsamic vinaigrette. Even me, a picky veggie eater, found it delicious. But a word of warning, the serving was huge. Neither of them could finish, which was sad for both—it was so good!

By the time the check came, we were all slouched in the booth, grateful the walk to the car was a short one. Dessert? Oh, yes, check out the picture below. Hats off to anyone who can put away a three-course meal at Tope Là. Like any good southern restaurant, they feed you so much at the entrée that the only “sweet” in your near future is sweet dreams!

Here are the desserts!

Here are the desserts!

 

 

Historic Downtown Hammond, Part 1: The Farmer’s Market

Train tracks lined with crape myrtles.

Train tracks lined with crape myrtles

Historic downtown Hammond—a living reminder of the small town that existed before Hammond sprung up as a thriving bedroom community between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. It’s a place where half the buildings model old brick and trains pass through a tunnel of crape myrtles.

I drove up there with my family and an old friend to spend a Saturday morning on West Thomas Street, which houses several small shops and restaurants. Our main goal for the day was to check out the farmer’s market, which had both fresh produce and local arts & crafts. After a good ten minutes of wrong turns and failures to follow directions from Google Maps (only because we’re directionally challenged), we finally stumbled across West Thomas Street. And as a bonus, it had a good-sized and FREE parking lot waiting for us. (I get excited about free parking lots in downtown areas—something I’m not used to in New Orleans.)Farmers_Market_Sign

 

Entrance to the market

Entrance to the market

Anyway, the farmer’s market was set up right across from the parking lot. It was much smaller than I expected, as it only took five minutes to see all the stands. There were also more art & crafts than produce, which I found surprising. But the market is currently searching for more farmers, so that may change in the future. For more information about contributing, registration forms are available at http://dddhammond.com/Retail/HammondArtsCraftsMarket/tabid/99/Default.aspx.

 

Eggplant and squash from the Poche family.

Eggplant and squash from the Poche family

Despite its size, the market still had things to offer. The Poche Family Farm had a table laden with eggplant, squash, bell pepper, peas, okra, and parsley and basil sprigs. Another table, hosted by Arcola Nursery and Sandra’s All Thumbs Nursery, overflowed with young plants like crape myrtles and moss roses. I only wish I’d seen their table before plant shopping at Home Depot the other week. As for the crafts, Creations by Dianne Kaye sold flip-flops with crocheted straps. There were also several stands selling yard art and jewelry.

Flip-flops from Creations by Dianne Kaye. Look at all the colors!

Flip-flops from Creations by Dianne Kaye. Look at all the colors!

But for me, a farmer’s market isn’t just about the products. It’s about the people and the personal interaction you don’t get in a normal grocery store. I talked to Amy and Katie Guilbeau, the mother-daughter team at the Henderson’s Hearth table. They had a variety of things to offer, such as jams, dried herbs (rosemary, spearmint, basil, etc.), and custom recipe mixes (soups, scones, bread etc.) They may have been there to sell, but chatting with customers seemed important to them. They gave out free samples and made suggestions to personalize their recipe mixes. Once they even disagreed in a typical mother-daughter fashion over whether jalapenos and chilies would be good additions to their scone recipe. In the end, we bought a split pea and lentil soup mix, called Henderson soup, after enjoying a friendly chat.

Amy and Katie Guilbeau of Henderson’s Hearth

Amy and Katie Guilbeau of Henderson’s Hearth

For anyone who would like to visit, the market is open every Saturday morning from 8:00-12:00. The vendors attending vary from weekend to weekend, but the market’s Facebook page tells you who will be showing up each week. You can check it out at https://www.facebook.com/HammondFarmersMarket.

After you’ve finished browsing the farmer’s market, there are many antique shops, boutiques, and restaurants to check out in historic downtown Hammond. For more, check out my next blog coming soon!