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Chef bringing Southern comfort food downtown with Toutant

James Roberts named his new restaurant Toutant, after his family’s hunting camp in the marshlands southeast of New Orleans, a two-hour trip into bayou country by car and boat.

But don’t expect a “Cajun” restaurant when the three-story restaurant opens at 437 Ellicott St. The menu will be “accurate renditions of the cuisine of the American South,” Roberts said, upscale comfort food with lashings of fresh seafood. Roberts hopes to open the 90-seat space in mid-March.

Roberts aims to deliver crowd-pleasers like top-notch fried chicken and biscuits, cast-iron cornbread baked to order, and authentic renditions of barbecue that will only start with pork. He’ll smoke beef brisket, lamb, fish, “anything is in bounds,” he said.

Customers will be able to build their own jambalayas, or rice casseroles, with choices including house-made Andouille sausage, Gulf shrimp or lump crab, or a vegetarian version. Shrimp po-boy and muffaletta sandwiches, too.

Bar snacks will include house-made beef jerky, spicy cheddar-dusted pork rinds, and boudin balls, made from a sort of Cajun liver sausage with rice.

He’ll be bringing some Cajun and Creole classics to the menu eventually, Roberts said. But he’s anticipating having to help re-educate Buffalo diners on what Cajun food actually is.

“The problem is that everybody here perceives Cajun as blackened and spicy in a fettuccine cream sauce,” he said, “nothing to do with the actual native, indigenous cuisine that is Acadian and Creole, mixed or separate.”

So far, the only people in Western New York who could enjoy Roberts’ cooking were members of Park Country Club and their guests. Roberts started cooking there in 2007 and was executive chef there until last year.

Last week Roberts announced that his second-in-command will be Joseph Fenush, a Buffalo cook who worked most recently for Bryan Voltaggio’s Volt restaurant group in Washington, D.C. Jessica Railey, a former Vera Pizzeria owner and manager, will be dining manager. Bar manager Jeff Yannuzzi helped set up the beverage operation at Mes Que.

Lease signed: The pods are coming.

A downtown Pizza Plant steps from HarborCenter and the Buffalo waterfront is inching closer to reality, with the signing of a lease on the One Canalside space.

Bob Syracuse, a Pizza Plant owner, said he couldn’t give a precise opening date until interior work starts. “We are aiming for early summer, providing all goes well.”

The 4,000-square-foot restaurant, with about 120 seats, would be Pizza Plant’s first outlet anywhere in Buffalo. The One Canalsidebuilding, owned by Benderson Development, is already home to a Marriott Courtside hotel and the Phillips Lytle law firm.

Pizza Plant has been selling pizza in various forms, including its signature pods, since 1980. Led by Syracuse and his brother Dan, Pizza Plant was a forerunner in bringing craft beer selections to Western New Yorkers, not to mention gluten free vegan pizza. It has one location open currently, at 7770 Transit Road, Amherst.

Sterling successor: A Blue Monk partner whose family owns the former Sterling Tavern building said he’s aiming to redo and reopen the place by May.

“This will be a sister restaurant to Blue Monk,” said Kevin M. Brinkworth. “Same style, same look and feel, craft beer, comfort foods. We’d like to be the Blue Monk of North Buffalo.”

Its name isn’t settled yet, Brinkworth said. Lloyd Taco’s in-the-works restaurant, at 1503 Hertel Ave, is down the block. His family has owned the building for 40 years, he said.

The bar, at 1487 Hertel Ave., closed in June. May 1 is his reopening target.

“There’s a lot happening on this block,” Brinkworth said.

Opened: The Mess Hall, a place from Mulberry Italian Ristorante and Brick Oven Bistro owners, opened last week in Lackawanna. It’s at 717 Ridge Road. The menu includes a Uruguayan chivito sandwich (beef tenderloin, ham, egg, green olives, mayonnaise, $12) and oxtail-stuffed pierogi ($12). On Sunday, it’ll open for brunch.

Renovated: Francesca’s, 2022 Seneca St., has rebranded itself as Casa di Francesca’s, said owner Steven Marchione. The new menu’s prices are lower, he said, and it also includes a Buffalo favorites section now, with souvlaki and fish fry, among other new choices. It also includes a selection of gluten-free dishes. The 150-seat restaurant has been open since 2009. A grand opening is planned for March 21, he said.

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