On the 20th of May, my family and I were in West Monroe for my daughter's high school graduation. The ceremony was held at Fant-Ewing Coliseum on the campus of The University of Louisiana at Monroe. On the way to the campus, traffic was already backed up in the left and center turn lanes on Desiard Street. In an attempt to bypass the madness, I stayed in the right hand lane and continued on down Desiard, past the point where all other cars were turning left to enter the campus. As I was looking ahead to find a spot to turn around, my eyes were drawn to the cutest little restaurant overlooking what I thought at the time to be a lake. I turned around in the parking lot while at the same time admiring the unexpected beautiful scenery. I headed on back down Desiard and took a right onto Stadium Drive and parked the vehicle at Malone Stadium. The family and I unloaded and proceeded to follow the crowd, while stepping over (and at times right in the middle of) water puddles, across parking lots and down sidewalks in route to the coliseum.
After the graduation, we all gathered outside for pictures. My family has always been the fly by the seat of your pants type. While other families make reservations months in advance and map out daily itineraries to the second, my family is still trying to decide where to dine on such an historic occasion, in less than five minutes. I mentioned to them that I had turned around in a restaurant parking lot just up the road. I reached for my iPhone and pulled up Google Maps. I zoomed in on the area where we were located and instantly found the information for Waterfront Grill. The phone number appeared on the screen and with a simple tap, I soon was greeted by a friendly voice on the other end. After asking how long the wait would be for a table, the nice gentleman apologized and said that they were all booked up for the rest of the night. Disappointed, I hung up and informed the others. Back to square one! Where to eat? Once again, everyone began suggesting restaurants (all the typical trademark names anyone would expect to find in a city of this size). We decided on one such restaurant just across the Ouachita River in West Monroe. As my wife and kids began to make our way back to our vehicle, my phone rang. The number 318-345-0064 displayed on the caller ID. The only person I know with that area code is my daughter and she was walking next to me. Perhaps it was the hotel trying to get in touch with me? Or could it be my ex-wife wanting to complain about how I had just purposely ignored her moments before? Normally, I wouldn't answer a call from a phone number I'm not familiar with, but out of curiosity...I did. Luckily for me, it wasn't my ex-wife. It was that friendly man from the restaurant down the road. He was calling back to let me know that there had just been a cancellation and that he could now seat our party of thirteen. Hoping that the others had not made it back to their cars before me, I began calling my family on their cellphones. With the traffic so bad from everyone leaving the graduation, I was able to get in touch with my family with time to spare. When we arrived at the restaurant, our table was ready. We walked straight through the door and sat right down. The place was packed! Usually a sign that the food is good. However, there have been times in the past when I have sat in a crowded restaurant and realized that no one around me had food on their table. That's usually a sign for something else... poor management. This was not the case at the Waterfront Grill.
Every table was being served and food was in abundance. Trays of food kept passing my table... one right after another. Everything I saw looked and smelled absolutely delicious. The place was so adorable! Instantly, I felt right at home. It felt like a place I had been coming to all my life. The waitress did a wonderful job with our table. I know waiting on a large group must be a nightmare. Even though the place was packed, none of the staff seemed to be stressed by it. I noticed they seemed to pitch in and help each other out. I found the atmosphere there to be phenomenal. The decor simple and warm. My only regret was that the sun was down. The pictures on the menu show the beautiful view that lay just outside the window. It turns out what I thought to be a lake is actually a bayou. Bayou DeSiard to be exact. I could imagine myself sitting out on the deck on a warm summer evening enjoying an ice cold drink and watching the sun sink below the majestic cypress trees, draped in spanish moss. What a wonderful piece of real estate!
The slogan at the Waterfront Grill is "Always fresh, nothing fried...with the best view on the bayou". One mistake many (if not most) seafood restaurants make is they want to fry everything on their menu. However, if you aren't buying fresh food and everything comes frozen... then maybe frying it is the best way to cover it up. Don't get me wrong, I love fried food just as much as the next guy, but I found it very refreshing to look at a menu and not see the word FRIED being used as an adjective to describe every single dish that we humans love to pull up from the depths of the ocean. The BBQ Shrimp Po'boy knocked my socks off! The aroma coming from the bowl of dipping sauce that accompanied the Po'boy was one of the best smells I have encountered while dining out. The flavor was even more incredible. Speaking of incredible, I almost forgot to mention the salad. The salad alone was fantastic, but the thousand island dressing I had on it is by far THE BEST thousand island dressing I have ever had! I'm pretty sure it was homemade, but I will have to verify that. My father had a bowl of gumbo as an appetizer that was advertised on the menu as the finest on the bayou, and by all accounts that appeared to be correct. For dessert, I had Jane's Homemade Bread Pudding. Oh My Gosh! It was beyond delicious. I cannot begin to describe. I am somewhat of a bread puddin' guru. Not the kind of guru who can make bread pudding, but rather a guru who knows good bread pudding when he sees it. The rum sauce atop was immaculate. If not prepared properly, a rum sauce can be too overpowering. This Jane lady seems to have perfected it beautifully.
It's not often that I leave a restaurant feeling as I did the night I left the Waterfront Grill. It was such a memorable dining experience for me and my family. We ended up at a place we knew nothing about. No one suggested us going there. We just happened upon it. It was totally unexpected. I would have settled for ordinary but was lucky enough to experience the extraordinary. Had it not been for the friendly gentleman taking the time out of his already busy night to call me back, I would not have the same memory of Monroe as I do at this moment. My family and I would have ended up at some national chain and I feel most certain I would not be sitting here sharing that experience with others to read about. A very big THANK YOU to everyone at the Waterfront Grill for making what was already a special night an exceptional night. Don't change a thing!