Grand Lake restaurant: Southern cooking straight from her mother’s Mississsippi kitchen
May 23, 2008
The new Boardwalk Cafe in Grand Lake has been open only a few weeks and already locals are raving about its distinctive cuisine.
New cafe owners Hillary and Andrew Hoffman are originally from Mississippi, where Andrew was an E4 with the U.S. Air Force and Hillary attended college.
The couple moved to Grand County in August when Andrew got a job as a technician for Qwest. He helps out at the cafe when needed and is great with customers, Hillary said, but she is the one who can be found in the kitchen.
Mississippi is known as a gourmet’s paradise and Hillary, who opened the new cafe on May 2, brought the area’s authentic Cajun flair to the Grand Lake boardwalk.
“Every recipe is one I grew up with, so I learned all the good stuff,” she said, noting that a friend brought her an old cookbook from Brennan’s in New Orleans whose recipes almost matched her family’s perfectly.
At first, she wanted to call the place Nana’s Grand Lake Boardwalk Cafe, in honor of her mother, Anabelle.
“I learned everything from her,” she said. Instead, Hillary decided on a simpler name, but her menu includes one of her mom’s favorite dishes as a tribute.
“Nana’s Favorite” has thick slices of scored and seared all-beef bologna layered between toasted sourdough with mustard, red onion and tomato.
Hillary is excited because her oldest daughter, who is pregnant, is due “any time,” making her a soon-to-be Nana as well (the new granddaughter will be named Annabella). She also has another daughter, 13, and a 9-year-old son (who also has a tribute dish on the children’s menu ” The Preston, with a slice of pepperoni pizza in a grilled cheese).
She said she’s always loved to cook.
“If nothing else, I can check (opening a restaurant) off my list,” she said, “a way to fulfill one of my dreams.”
Most everything from the cafe she makes from scratch. Those things that aren’t are most likely because there is no oven in the cafe space, something Hillary said she’ll add if the restaurant takes off. She’s also very environmentally conscious and is proud to serve only farm-raised shrimp to aid in the conservation of sea turtles who oft times get caught in the nets.
One of her specialties at the Boardwalk Cafe is a muffelata sandwich with an olive salad. Her friends from New Orleans and Mississippi “just loved ’em and said ‘You should sell these’.” She said that the rest “just kind of happened … and if it’s that easy, it might be meant to be.”
Most popular items have been the grits and eggs breakfast, the crawfish and jalepeno po’boy, the red beans and rice and dirty rice plates, and Hillary said she goes through “pots and pots” of her fresh gumbo.
“If we become known for something, it’ll be the po’boys or gumbo,” she said, adding that what most people “really like is the price.”
The Boardwalk Cafe also offers picnic box lunches for individuals or parties of four. Hillary requests at least an hour to prepare it, longer for larger groups. Box lunches include the necessary place settings and dinnerware, homemade cookies, chips, a tomato and mozzarella salad, and bottled water.
Other in-house items to note include homemade granola and Nana’s spiced pretzels,
Growing up in a low-income family, Hillary has incorporated memories of infrequent meals in the “humble household” into her fair pricing and down-home offerings at the cafe.
“Sometimes our best gifts are from doing without. When we ate, we appreciated it,” she said. “My goal is to feed people, not to make a billion dollars.”