It’s been two years since the area from Sarasota to Cape Haze has seen anything like a New Orleans-style restaurant.
El Jobean recently bid adieu to Ragin’ Cajun, now replaced by Big Bamboo. Well before that, Cape Haze lost Zydeco Grill, supplanted by the now-shuttered Placida Grill.
Goodbye, filé gumbo.
That’s why hundreds of people from Boca Grande to Rotonda have driven by or popped their curious heads in the door at 8501 Placida Road.
Frank and Kate Giordano of Cape Haze, who live close enough to walk, have had their eyes on the place from the get-go.
Everyone knew that a Cajun eatery called Tjs Market Grill was coming, and they wanted in.
Rumor had it that Tjs would open June 1, but executive chef/owner Tim Kierstead swore he and his wife, Joy, wouldn’t open the place until everything was absolutely perfect.
By the time the doors burst open a week later, for the Englewood Chamber of Commerce ribbon-cutting and grand opening, it was.
From stringlight-wrapped palms and French Quarter shutters to floating swaths of jewel-tone linen and Joy’s own beaded chandeliers and masks, Tjs Market Grill has set the stage for a real New Orleans love affair.
Divided into the schmoozy Bourbon Street Bar, the glittering Mardi Gras Room, and the Jazz & Blues Room, the restaurant seats about 100 inside and out. A top-end music system plays jazz and blues if a live musician doesn’t happen to be there. Even the kitchen pipes in music to keep the cooks dancing.
Chef Tim Kierstead has been around the block and, along the way, fell in love with the culinary melting pot that is New Orleans.
Today, Tjs menu is rich with creative sauces, goodie-packed salads, two gumbos, four rices and a killer muffaletta with fresh olive tapenade.
No mention of anything so pedestrian as remoulade.
Where else can you get dishes like Stuffed Bacon-Wrapped Jumbo Shrimp, a blend of crawfish, shrimp, andouille sausage and boudin laced with creamy crawfish étouffée sauce?
Here be grouper, shrimp, crawfish, étouffées, pastas and jambalaya enough to soothe any NOLA soul.
The shrimp and grits alone will send you straight to Rampart Street heaven on a cloud of buttery jalapeño white cheddar grits topped with zesty Creole marinara, andouille and smoky bacon.
Carnivores have Chicken Fried Chicken in creamy pepper sauce, sirloin, boudin-stuffed pork tenderloin and an eye-popping Oscar Étoufée filet, blackened or Cajun butter grilled, served with a crawfish cake and Creole hollandaise plus two sides.
After moving to Florida, the Kiersteads didn’t even plan to open this kind of dinner house right away.
Their Q (for “Quality”) Hospitality Group has a portfolio of six different concepts — from a zany 1950s/60s/70s burger-and-shakes joint called Sandra D’s Retro Grill to the original Market Grill, a 50,000-square-foot marketplace dotted with cafés, delis and a smokehouse.
But when they spotted the Placida Grill location, even before learning it was once Zydeco Grill, they knew it was perfect for the New Orleans restaurant they now call “Your Local Casual Steak & Seafood Eatery.”
Their other concepts will follow.
Tim said, “We plan to give every guest a special New Orleans experience, exceptional service and that little bonus — what Louisianans call ‘lagniappe,’ that special extra, whether a cocktail or a taste.”
Tjs Market Grill ($$-$$$), 8501 Placida Road, Englewood (Cape Haze Plaza), 941-214-5545, is, to begin with, open Wednesday to Sunday 4 to 10 p.m.