Next month, wintry Bella Vista will get warmed up with a taste of Louisiana.
Acadia will serve food and drink inspired by New Orleans at 824 S. Eighth St., just above Christian near the Italian Market. The space, which has sat vacant for nearly a year, is the former home of Coeur, the Mildred, and before that, Jim Burke’s acclaimed James.
Sean Nevins, a former businessman who learned to cook as a teenager but then chose Wharton over culinary school, is going for a friendly vibe and avoiding ostentatious kitsch.
“It’s not a New Orleans-themed restaurant,” he explained. “You won’t see beads hanging everywhere. Instead, it’s a restaurant you might find in New Orleans.”
Nevins, a first-time restaurateur, looked all over Philly for a location, but in the end was taken with Bella Vista’s diverse demographic.
“People who’ve lived in the same house for three generations, young families with strollers and dogs, Mexicans, Italians, Vietnamese, it’s really a melting pot,” he said. “I want this to be a place for the neighborhood.”
He’ll start out serving dinner at the 100-seat space, which has been livened up with bright blue walls, chairs painted assorted shades of green, wood-topped tables and a custom mural by artist Mary Ann Butterworth, a friend who grew up in Louisiana.
Acadia’s concise menu — around 15 items, still being finalized — will be affordably priced and based around New Orleans classics. Think jambalaya, po’ boys, muffuletta and chargrilled oysters. Gumbo is a specialty, served with a dollop of potato salad on the rim of the bowl. Sweet cornbread muffins will be baked in house.
There will also be some dishes from the northern Acadian tradition, “for people who don’t like spicy food,” including smoked meat sandwiches and Buffalo favorite beef on weck.
(Quick history lesson: Acadians were descendents of French settlers in the Canadian provinces, most of whom were expelled from the region during the French and Indian War. Many then resettled in Louisiana and became known as Cajuns.)
A kids menu being designed by Nevins’ own children will include fun facts and word games, plus an offer of a sample of the Cajun-spiced “cheeseless cheeseburger” to start the night, so little ones can decide at the beginning if they want their food served spicy or not.
Nevins, 43, first fell for NOLA cuisine working in restaurants during high school, when he was given the nickname “Roux” (roux is the fat-flour thickener that’s a base for many French and Cajun sauces). Whomever he hires to run Acadia’s kitchen — “I’m still in talks with a couple of people” — will use his spice blends and follow the recipes he’s honed over the years, he said.
Drinks will include regionally appropriate cocktails like the Sazerac and gin fizz, plus absinthe from a fountain. Four wines will be offered on tap, along with 10 beers, all priced for the neighborhood. Nevins also plans to keep games behind the 14-seat bar, to encourage customer interaction. For the kids: the Southern cherry soda Cheerwine.
Brunch will likely be added soon after launch, and a couple months down the road Nevins is toying with adding grab-and-go breakfast in the nook by the front door. He’ll serve NOLA-style beignets and chicory coffee (and regular coffee) to the workers and parents he’s seen hurrying by.
Acadia is targeting a mid-January launch.