Built in 1898, the building that houses Restaurant Cotton and the newly opened Planters’ Gastropub was one of only two buildings to withstand the great fire of the time. Gaining its name from the cotton exchange that the structure started out as, Planters’ also gained its name from the past as well. Wherein Cotton is in the location of the grand cotton exchange, Planters’ was originally the upstairs portion of the exchange, wherein farmers would come to gather their seeds for their planting prior to the growing season, and later the harvest.
Fast forward a century, plus almost two decades, and this beautiful building is home to not one but two of Ouachita Parish’s premiere restaurants, both cultivated by Executive Chef, Jack Melson and overseen by Jeffrey Scott Poland.
Raised in South Carolina, Melson began his career in his grandmother’s kitchen at a tender age and later went on to work in such esteemed restaurants as the Biltmore Steakhouse, various locations around Charleston, numerous large hotels, as well as for Disney. Melson later moved to Los Angeles where he worked at the Beverly Hilton, and later moved to the Sunset Strip sharpening his knives and wit at the House of Blues. Melson holds at least 20 companies and over 40 kitchens under his culinary belt, so there is no surprise why owner, Jay Howell would have selected Melson to be at the helm of his culinary staff for both of his restaurants.
“Where there are restaurants who cater to a more formal venue, and those who cater to a less formal attire, Cotton and Planters’ are places anyone can come to,” Bo Smith relates. “You can come to Cotton or Planters’ in any attire, whether it be yoga pants after your work out, jeans and a t-shirt for casual drinks with friends, or those who are just leaving the office after a long day, both restaurants have price points that will meet virtually any budget,” Poland states.
But the mastermind behind these two wonderfully different and sublimely refined eateries is none other than Jay Howell himself. “Cotton and Planters are both Jay’s vision and part of my job has been to bring back the original recipes and bring them back up to Jay’s original standards,” Melson says with almost an utter firmness in his voice. Commanding a brigade of 22 in the kitchen, Melson has his plate full, as does Smith with approximately 24 at the front of the house. “Cotton and Planters’ are an experience, not just a place to dine,” and I couldn’t agree with either of them more.
Serving patrons with daily menu specials, a brunch on Saturday’s and Sunday’s which pay tribute to 4-5 different styles of eggs benedict, and dinner for those guests who would just like a night out with Cotton’s outstanding certified angus beef steaks or their delectable seared red fish, Chef Jack Melson certainly has the dish one is craving.
Now, for those in the midst who have yet to try a fabulous eggs benedict, this is a dish made up of two toasted halves of an English muffin (though in recent years other breads have been known to be substituted), some type of meat option (traditionally Canadian bacon in years of old), a poached egg and lovingly adorned with a velvety rich hollandaise sauce, although I’m certain Restaurant Cotton and Chef Jack Melson have placed a creative twist or two on this century old dish.
Pacing myself up the beautiful historical staircase, I couldn’t wait to view Planters’ Gastropub, and with each creak of the floor boards, the history of this building seems to exude itself. To the far left of the staircase, one will notice newly opened “Eli”, which is decorated with Edison bulbs dangling from the boards in the ceiling, which give off quite the unique glow for a small gathering of friends, private dinner party or the like. Located a few feet away, straight across from the opening of the staircase, The Exchange is located.
Moving down the hall, across the aged wood that must have seen the soles of millions of feet since it’s construction, we find one of the newest best kept secrets in Monroe, Louisiana – Planters’ Gastropub. Tall tables adorn this space, with rustic lighting scattered across the room and a large chalk style billboard prominently displayed on the wall. The header reads simply “The Planters”.
Scrolling down the list of the tantalizing items contained thereon, I can’t help but notice the variety of ways they serve their oyster dishes, nor the fact that they serve BRICK OVEN STYLE PIZZA! Yes, from a Mexican pizza, to the “Whole Hog”, comprised of pepperoni, country ham, bacon, andouille sausage and mozzarella cheese, there is most certainly a fabulous culinary experience awaiting those who journey up the steps to Planters.
But the pizzas were not my “draw” to Planters, it was their oysters! Chef Melson shared some of their fresh raw gulf oysters, which can be enjoyed in their most earthy way with a side of crackers and an offering of house-made cocktail sauce; or, one may opt to indulge in a more upscale take on the salt-water bivalve mollusks.
With three very prominent options, one may dive into such selections as: The Twain – Comprised of roasted oysters on the half shell, adorned with garlic, herbed butter and parmesan cheese; The Hemmingway – A merriment of roasted oysters, pepper jack cheese, hot sauce, jalapenos and bacon; and, The Steinbeck – Started with a New Orleans style bar-b-que, these oysters are adorned also with Reggiano cheese as an added touch.
From the French oistre, the Latin ostrea, the feminine form of ostreum, which is the Latin translation from the Greek osteron – “oyster”, Planters’ certainly knows how to prepare them.
Wishing to whet your whistle before you journey back down? Well, Planters has a drink that was given the prestigious accolade of becoming the Southern Choice Award Winner for Beverage Magazine – The Mexican Mule! “This drink is infused with a special blend of cilantro and jalapenos blended with other ingredients and served in the traditional copper mug,” Poland adds.
At the end of the day, and the end of our visit, there was one thing that was certainly clear – whether you prefer a more traditional sit-down style meal at Restaurant Cotton, or if you’d like to enjoy the view over the Ouachita River on the patio at Planters, there are two with a view waiting for you!
*For more photographs of this restaurant and many more, follow Tara’s Taste of the Town on Facebook.
Where: Restaurant Cotton
101 North Grand Street
Monroe, LA 71201
Phone: (318) 325-0818
Hours of Operation:
Brunch: Sunday – 8:00 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.
Dinner: Monday – Thursday – 5:00 p.m. – 9:30 p.m.; and
Friday -Saturday – 5:00 p.m. – 10:30 p.m.
Bar: 4:00 p.m. until Close daily
Where: Planters Oyster Bar
101 North Grand Street, 2nd Floor
Monroe, LA 71201
Phone: (318) 325-0818
Hours of Operation:
Closed on Monday
Dinner: Tuesday – Thursday – 4:00 p.m. until 11:00 p.m.
Friday – Saturday – 3:00 p.m. until Midnight
Sunday: 3:00 p.m. until 9:00 p.m.
Happy Hour: 3:00 p.m. until 6:00 p.m.