By Jennifer Jacob Brown

jbrown@themeridianstar.com

 

It's only been around for a couple of months, but Dobi's Ragin' Cajun is already rated the number two restaurant in Meridian by restaurant review Web site Urban Spoon. 

91 percent of Urban Spoon users who rated the restaurant gave Dobi's a thumbs up, and many of them had similar reasons for liking the restaurant: "This is the most authentic Cajun restaurant outside of Louisiana that I have ever been to," one reviewer said. "This food is just like eating at Mama's house!!" said another. "The food is authentic Cajun." 

Dobi Melancont, the restaurant's owner and chef, said the secret to his success is simple: He has a genuine passion for Cajun cuisine. 

A native of Opelousas, La., Melancont learned to cook Cajun cuisine from his parents, whom he described as "100 percent Cajun French-speakers." Many of his menu items, he said, are variations of his mother's recipes. 

Melancont said many customers are surprised to find that his menu items aren't always what they expect. He attributes this to a common confusion between Cajun and Creole cuisine. 

Though similar in many ways, Melancont said Cajun and Creole cooking differ in style, technique, and items. For example, he said, in Cajun cuisine a roux is more often as a thickening agent, while Okra is used more heavily in Creole cuisine. 

"I believe that New Orleans style cooking is more Creole influenced than what is considered Arcadiana," he said. "Cajun is to me more of a technique and a style and a cooking process than the seasoning." 

"My mother could tell where (in Southwestern Louisiana) french-speakers were from by the phrases they used," he added. "With cooking styles it's a similar thing."  

To keep his Cajun cooking authentic, Melancont said he uses only Louisiana-based products wherever possible. Some items - like Community Coffee and Luzianne Tea - he is able to find here in Meridian, but he has many other ingredients imported from Louisiana.

The menu at Dobi's is simple, including the most popular staples of Louisiana cooking, but Melancont said he plans to gradually add to it. He said he hopes to soon offer fried alligator, soft shell crab, and crab cakes. 

But items that he adds to the menu won't stay there forever. Just to keep things interesting, Melancont said he plans to continually add and remove special items. "Kind of like the (McDonald's) McRib," he said. "People love it, but you can only get it sometimes." 

Melancont has dreamed of opening a Cajun restaurant for 20 years - but when he first got the idea, he quickly realized that he didn't yet have the experience to successfully run a restaurant. 

He went out and learned the ropes by working as a manager at a chain in Louisiana. After settling down in Meridian, he said, "I was still looking for something that was fun to do and decided to do this through prompting from friends and family." 

Melancont and his wife, Marie, spent three and a half months in building renovations, and opened the doors to Dobi's Ragin' Cajun on April 10.            

Melancont chose not to use any advertising for the restaurant at first. "I wanted to see what kind of reception I would get just by word of mouth," he said. "It's been, I would say, overwhelming." 

Melancont is just as experimental when it comes to cooking. He said one of his favorite things to do is whip up a new recipe with whatever ingredients are available, and then give out samples at the restaurant to help him decide if the recipe is a keeper. 

Once his first restaurant is well-established, Melancont said he hopes to open a second one, and then eventually begin to manufacture Cajun food products and market them nationwide. 

Opening his first restaurant, Melancont said, was a good decision, and one that certainly didn't come too soon. "I figured if I didn't do it now it might not ever be realized. Life is too short not to do the things that you love." 

Dobi's Ragin' Cajun is located in Broadmoor Shopping Center on North Hills Street in the former Hunan Chinese Restaurant location. It features a full menu as well as a full bar and is open Monday through Saturday.

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