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Almost two years ago, one of the most legendary restaurant families in New Orleans almost closed up shop for good. Since 1947, the Baquet family has owned and operated over 10 restaurants, and Li’l Dizzy’s Cafe was the only one that remained. But between the pandemic and Wayne Baquet Sr.'s retirement, it looked like ownership was going to change hands. That was, at least, until Wayne Baquet Jr. and his wife Arkesha Baquet decided to take up the reins.
"It's a huge deal to be the person to continue this legacy," Arkesha explains. After being closed for almost a year, Wayne Jr. and Arkesha reopened Li’l Dizzy’s on February 15, 2021, and they continue to serve all the delicious Creole soul food dishes that they're known for—including their famous gumbo and fried chicken.
We recently talked with Arkesha about what it means to make the restaurant her own, and what her go-to dish is at Dizzy's.
You've been running Li’l Dizzy's for over a year now—and all during a pandemic. How has everything been going?
This past year year has been somewhat challenging, but very rewarding. There's a lot of loyal, local customers that were excited when we came back. My father-in-law, Wayne Baquet, also laid out the red carpet for us so we were in a good position to take over. But there's also been some struggles because of COVID, and Hurricane Ida closed down the restaurant for a month. So there's been some ups and downs, but there's been more good than bad.
How are you making Li’l Dizzy's your own?
Prior to Wayne Jr. and I taking over Dizzy's, it was open seven days a week. It was also a buffet and they served breakfast. Well, Wayne Jr. and I decided we'd keep the same food—the gumbo, the fried chicken, the po'boys—but we'd serve it in a different format. We're open Monday through Saturday and we only do lunch. So, it's a different set up, but it's the same great tasting food, because of course we wanted to make sure that we carry over the Baquet legacy—but we did it in our way.
What makes Creole soul food so special?
Creole food is good to the soul. It's all about the flavor when you have Creole food, versus Cajun which is more spicy. When you're doing Creole, you're using different seasonings and letting everything marinate together. We put the holy trinity—onions, bell peppers, and green onion—in a lot of dishes. For example, smothered okra, it's red gravy stew type of dish, with shrimp, sausage, ham, hot sausage, and you blend all those flavors together—that's a true soul food meal.
Dizzy's is especially known for its gumbo and fried chicken. What's your secret there?
The gumbo and fried chicken are truly some of the best that you'll ever taste. The gumbo was created by my mother-in-law Janet Baquet, and it's been perfected over and over again. For our chicken, we wash it, clean it, season it up, and then we put it on ice and let it get as cold as possible. When the cold chicken hits the grease, it shocks all the flavor through the chicken and the skin gets crispy, but it stays juicy.
If you could only choose one thing to eat at Dizzy’s what would it be?
My favorite dish here at Dizzy's is probably going to be the Catfish Jourdain. It's a fried piece of catfish with shrimp and crab meat on top with a butter sauce. It's my number one item, and it's my always go-to. For sides, I'm going to go with the potato salad and string beans.
When you’re not at the restaurant, what are you cooking at home?
- Top three spices? Salt, pepper, and paprika.
- Favorite after-work drink? Lemon drop martini, extra sweet, with a sugar rim.
- Best side for your legendary fried chicken? Mac and cheese.
- The three people you’d want to have over for dinner (dead or alive)? My mother, Eddie Baquet, and Martin Luther King Jr.
- #1 food aversion? I don't believe catfish belongs on bread, so Catfish Po'boys.
- The last best thing you ate? A Shrimp Po'boy from Dizzy's.