By Ben Apperson
The Rum House has arrived in Baton Rouge like a ship from a distant port, offering up a cornucopia of Caribbean sights, sounds, and flavors.
Proprietor Kelly Ponder has transplanted the New Orleans-based restaurant to our fair city. The Rum House philosophy is cosmopolitan and gives us a true glimpse of what colonial cuisine may have been like. After all, New Orleans is considered to be a Caribbean city by many geographers who cite the city’s shared colonial heritage and cultural connection to various trade ports like Havana, Veracruz, Port of Spain, or Port-au-Prince.
Rum House celebrates the diversity of our state’s heritage by highlighting the kinds of foods that were eaten by some of its earliest inhabitants. I consulted with LSU Geographer Kent Mathewson who revealed, that “in the late 1700s – around 3,000 each – whites, slaves, and the gens de couleur libres or free people of color emigrated to New Orleans from Saint-Domingue (Haiti) fleeing a revolution on their island. This effectively doubled New Orleans’ population and changed the city for all time.”
This migration brought a real influx of Caribbean culture and most importantly for us, their foodways. “The World That Made New Orleans” by Ned Sublette is a great book to check out for further information on this subject.
In addition to Haiti, New Orleans had a connection to Honduras due to the banana trade. The plantains and mole on the Rum House menu perhaps owe their spot to this economic configuration.
The Rum House can seat over 100 patrons. The interior bar seats have a nautical motif. The seats are comfortable white leather captain’s chairs. The exterior bar is backed by a great Bob Marley mural, and its bar seats are two person swings. The seats are made of stained wood that is suspended from the ceiling by two white ropes.
Let’s not forget the food. For starters, the Damn Good Nachos and fried calamari were my picks. The Nachos are loaded with fresh jalapenos, melt-in-your-mouth slow roasted pork, black beans, pico de gallo, and topped with a delicious queso guac and sour cream. The Rum House fried calamari was a sea-changing event for me. The delectable fried squid bits are served with a remarkably good cilantro lime coconut sauce. The sauce was so good I never want to eat marinara with calamari again.
For the main course my crew and I opted for the vast array of tacos. Rum House serves around 15 varieties of tacos. The paramount taco I tried was the ceviche taco. Made with tuna, this taco knocked me out. It was the best I’ve ever had, anywhere. The other tacos we tried were pork mole, the rasta (vegetarian), calypso beef, crispy fish, jerk chicken, and lamb vindaloo. The fish taco was particularly delicious and made of battered and fried mahi mahi topped with jalapeno coleslaw.
For dessert we had the lil chocolate molten fritters. The fritters are fried balls of panko filled with rummy, chocolaty, gooey goodness. The fritters are served over a bed of vanilla ice cream and topped with freshly sliced strawberries.
Last but not least to make mention here are the Rum House’s eponymous cocktails. The Rum House Punch is as refreshing as it sounds. With summer creeping upon us, this fruity, juicy, cocktail will cool of the hottest of temperaments. My favorite drink and incidentally the coolest at Rum House is the strawberry margarita. The strawberry mix is noticeably fresh, and it should be, because like all Rum House’s fare, it’s homemade. I could have consumed a gallon of this slushy concoction. The margarita also comes in the traditional house flavor.
Finally, the mojito made of muddled mint, rum, and simple syrup suspends ice cubes in an ethereal dance of inebriation. This drink tastes as fresh as it sounds, an unsurprising product of a fresh restaurant.