The menu will evolve to include fresh ingredients available as the seasons change. An early February lineup featured this dish made with Gulf oysters, okra and blistered greens drizzled with a “gumbo gravy.” Photos by Collin Richie.

Straight from the hearth: The Myrtles’ new Restaurant 1796

Savory grilled meats cooked over hardwood, fresh Southern vegetables prepared with a light hand, and decadent sides and desserts that use familiar ingredients in a contemporary manner—that and more is what diners can expect at the new Restaurant 1796 on the site of The Myrtles in St. Francisville.

Opened in early February, the eatery is an open-hearth concept modeled after others like it nationwide. It specializes in south Louisiana cuisine cooked in a 10-foot-wide wood-fired hearth.

The Myrtles General Manager Morgan Moss was eager to develop a restaurant for the plantation that reflected its history and rural charm. Focusing on wood-fired cuisine was the perfect fit for a site built around the turn of the 18th century, says Moss, who wanted to provide a more complete visitors’ experience with a farm-to-table restaurant.   

“I visited a lot of wood-fired restaurants around the country and really studied what this concept was all about,” says Moss. “We wanted our guests to have the opportunity to enjoy different aspects of the property, including eating great food.”

Sunlight spills into the Restaurant 1796 dining room, where Morgan Moss stands under the watchful eye of Louisiana artist Hunt Slonem’s portrait of Abraham Lincoln. Slonem’s whimsical work is incorporated throughout the restaurant’s interior.

In the past, The Myrtles featured an onsite restaurant called the Carriage House, which was managed by an outside group. When it unexpectedly burned in early 2017, it prompted Moss and his parents and co-owners, John and Teeta Moss, to reevaluate what role a restaurant would play at The Myrtles, one of St. Francisville’s most visited attractions. Each year, more than 60,000 guests tour the plantation, which is known for its large veranda, pre-war antiques, ornamental iron work and grounds studded with crape myrtles and live oak trees. It’s also known for being haunted. Tourists from all over the country arrive in hopes of seeing the resident child ghost, Chloe, and other spooky phenomena.

With that kind of visitor volume, says Moss, it made sense for the attraction to have a memorable restaurant with a clear theme. In late 2017, The Myrtles broke ground on the Carriage House site with an A. Hays Town-inspired design. It is situated a stone’s throw from the main plantation house. The recently completed new building includes the restaurant, six new guest rooms, and a large brick patio. While the restaurant can be a separate experience for visitors who just want to come for lunch or dinner, its kitchen also serves a full breakfast to overnight guests.

Moss and his team have also been working on a walking trail that winds from the restaurant through The Myrtles’ grounds. Ultimately, Moss hopes to partner with a local farmer or agriculture expert to install a working kitchen garden on a plot already prepared and graded. He wants to supply Restaurant 1796 with fresh produce and herbs grown on site.

Drawing from common cooking practices when The Myrtles was built more than two centuries ago, Restaurant 1796 features a wood-fired hearth concept that also happens to be currently trending in restaurants around the country.

Named for the year The Myrtles was believed to have been built, Restaurant 1796 is all about modern but approachable Southern cuisine, says Moss. Many items are prepared in the open hearth, a massive oven powered by wood from felled hardwood trees on the property. Racks holding cut wood adorn the interior walls of the restaurant. A centerpiece of the eatery, the hearth is visible to most diners.

At the helm in the kitchen is Executive Chef Ben Lewis, a Woodville, Mississippi, native who recently returned to the area after working for several years in restaurants in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Hurricanes Irma and Maria, which hit the islands in 2017, forced Lewis back home, but he’s excited about combining a lifelong love of downhome Southern ingredients with some of the Caribbean culinary techniques he used in the Virgin Islands.

Lewis and Moss created a changing menu for Restaurant 1796 that features grilled and smoked game, seafood, beef, chicken and pork. They also serve seasonal vegetables and creative sides, like cornbread prepared several different ways. The dining room seats about 90 and includes a full bar.

“The Myrtles itself is already so great, and we’re just excited to finally offer this new culinary spin on visiting,” says Moss. “We think it’s a great fit.”