Mike’s in the Village, a mere mile off 281 on Farm-to-market Road 1863 (aka Bulverde Road), is far too good to remain a local secret. Mike Romano, a Louisiana native trained in culinary arts in New Orleans, relocated with his wife and four children to Bulverde and converted a one-time bowling alley into an attractive, low-key restaurant tucked behind an Exxon station, abutting an antique store, and a stone’s throw from the local post office. (Tracy, our waitress, related tales of her young brother setting pins for the lanes.)
Romano has taken Mike’s from a modest catering business to a restaurant with about a hundred seats, a welcoming patio, and an inviting bar. In this rustic setting, Mike serves some of the best New Orleans food this side of the French Quarter, augmented by some variations on Texas features like chicken-fried oysters and chili relleno wrapped in phyllo. The tasteful décor includes regional paintings by Buzz Heye, who recently opened an art gallery across the parking lot (open Friday through Sunday).
We set out for lunch the day before Thanksgiving. Not surprisingly, there were only a few tables occupied. The staff was preparing for a Thanksgiving feast for 50 built around a turkey breast roulade with wild mushroom and pancetta stuffing.
As a starter, my dining companion and I split the portobello mushroom fries. A huge mushroom was quartered lengthwise in fours, gently breaded and fried, and served alongside a big bowl of ancho chili mayonnaise with a sweet smoky taste. It was delicious, but next time I want to try the panko (Japanese breadcrumbs) coated shrimp with remoulade. The portobello also reappears in a sandwich on a ciabatta roll with a honey balsamic glaze, generously topped by sprouts and avocado.
A test at any restaurant claiming New Orleans roots has to be the gumbo, and the bowl of sausage and pulled chicken with white rice exceeded expectations. The success lies in Chef Mike’s roux, the traditional thickener used in French and Cajun cuisine. His had a nice bite and a welcoming aftertaste.
My companion ordered the house salad as her first course, a generous plate of field greens, goat cheese, roasted and slivered almonds, cranberries, and a tasty, raspberry champagne vinaigrette, sprinkled without drenching the greens. It was almost a comfortable meal in itself.
We decided we were rapidly getting full and chose to split the pulled pork sandwich. Like the other sandwiches on the menu (grilled chicken, ground prime rib burger, shrimp and catfish po-boys), it came accompanied by a choice of fries and onion rings and a cabbage slaw flavored with cilantro. The pork was great, lean and tender and packed together like a burger patty, but the fries were pedestrian and a bit dry. We clearly should have tried the onion rings.
If the following day were not Thanksgiving, we would have forced ourselves to try the desserts, all made on premises except the key lime pie. I’m definitely going back for the white chocolate bread pudding with rum sauce.
We demurred on the wine, but took time to appraise the list. Mike’s has about 30 selections, most available by the glass for $5 or $6; bottles range from $19 to $33, with an outlier, the ’05 syrah from Austin Hope Winery in Paso Robles, Calif., for $70 (not really a big markup over wine store prices). Not a wine lover? Try the Abita Purple Haze, a Louisiana wheat and raspberry beer, instead.
At dinner, Mike’s skips the sandwiches and offers a range of entrees, with a few New Orleans treats like barbecued shrimp over pasta, crawfish etouffee, a selection of steaks, and larger portions of the chili relleno and chicken Alfredo served at lunch.
In good weather on Saturday evenings from 6 to 9 p.m., Mike’s features local musicians on the patio, and on first Thursdays of the month he presents wine tastings. •
Mike’s in the Village
2355 Bulverde Road
First-rate New Orleans food served in big, flavorful portions.
Fried portobello mushroom, gumbo, po-boys.
Lunch 11am-2pm Wed-Fri; Brunch 11am-2pm Sun;
Dinner 5pm-9pm Wed-Sat
$6-$7 lunch; $13-$28 dinner