Food is love at The Blue Rose Café & Bakery
Christina Cox is fulfilling her schoolgirl dream of owning a restaurant called The Blue Rose Café & Bakery. The daughter of a retired Baton Rouge Police Department commander and a Sicilian mother, she is loyal to the blue and her favorite flower is the rose. The name stuck long before she finished her studies at Runnels School. A graduate of Louisiana Culinary Institute, Cox initially opened a small space behind the culinary school and in January 2016 expanded her operation into a larger location on Cloverland Avenue off Airline Highway.
Greeted first by twin blue rose wall sculptures that flank the entrance along with the welcoming rockers of a Southern front porch, it’s a little like walking into Cheers where everyone knows everyone. Cox’s aunt Mary Margaret Marino, fondly known by many as Nanny, greets each customer like family. “I am 400% Sicilian, not even 100,” Nanny says. “When I retired from my brother’s Lake House Reception Center and Florist, Christina asked if I could help her out in the restaurant. She said she would need me Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, maybe Tuesdays and Thursdays, too. I said, ‘That’s five days, full time!’ She said, ‘Well, I’ll give you the weekends off, all for a hug and a bowl of pasta.’ So here I am! All Italians are workaholics.”
Nanny, 75 going on 35, credits her youthful complexion to a lot of olive oil, being Sicilian and not being skinny. “Skinny girls get wrinkles. I don’t have wrinkles,” she says in between phone orders. “I’m Christina’s aunt and I raised her mama. I’m the aunt, the godmother. I’m like a nun but I’m not.”
The next phone call is Christina herself, destined for the hospital. She and her husband Anthony Giroir are about to welcome the newest addition to the Blue Rose family, baby Mary Angelina. Christina’s mother, Gina Marino Cox stirs the sauce and paces the kitchen, awaiting the baby update.
Eager for distraction, Christina reminisces over the phone about growing up Italian. “Oh Lord, the traditions! For Sunday dinners at Maw-Maw’s house, we’d all start rolling meatballs, making the Italian green beans,” she recalls. “I love the boiled eggs with sausage and red sauce. I know it sounds weird but it’s the best thing ever. Everybody came to eat! Anybody and everybody. It felt like 100, but was probably more like 20 with everyone talking at once.”
Nanny says a week spent with this family is as good as a trip to Italy, sharing memories as she simultaneously tries to keep everyone fed with an exclamation of “Mangia mangia!” The Blue Rose menu is a Sicily-in-Baton Rouge hybrid of lasagna, spaghetti and meatballs, po’boys and red beans and rice, plus more with influence of whim and the seasons.
“None of my siblings married an Italian,” Nanny says. “We had to indoctrinate them quickly. First rule, if it has tomatoes in it, it’s a family recipe. Food is love. Christina inherited that trait.”
Christina puts her heart into everything she makes, whether in the restaurant or in family members’ home kitchens. “I picked up the tradition of making the fig cookies,” she says. “We call them Maw-Maw cookies. When we make them, we wear a clean pair of underwear as a hairnet. Maw-Maw didn’t have any hairnets so she kept her hair back with a pair of underwear. It was an initiation into the family for boyfriends—they had to pass the underwear test. You don’t want to cross the family. No hair in the kitchen!”
Baby Maggie entered the world on February 3 and will likely follow in the footsteps of her mother, grandmother and great-grandmother, grabbing the baton in a lively kitchen as soon as she can stand. She’ll be stirring the sauce, rolling the meatballs, making fig cookies. It’s in her DNA.