When local restaurants first open up, it’s never a sure thing how long they’ll be around. But customers (and employees) have kept French Market Grille West going strong for more than two decades now.
The secret to success is a dedicated owner, Executive Chef Jim Beck. That, and great food, of course.
“I’ve looked at the menu and talked about changing stuff, or we try to run different specials as much as possible,” Beck said, “but there are a lot of people that come to this restaurant, when they pull up in the parking lot, they’ve already got in mind what they want to eat. And if I changed it or take it off the menu, they wouldn’t like it. So it is what it is. You got to run with what you brung, pretty much.”
What he’s “brung” to the Augusta area for years is authentic-tasting New Orleans-style Cajun food. The dishes were first made famous to Augustans at Surrey Center’s French Market Grille, owned by Chuck and Gail Baldwin.
Beck’s background with Cajun and Creole started when he worked with his father and brother at A Taste of New Orleans in Atlanta and brought the concept to Augusta. That Walton Way restaurant closed in 1996, however.
Chuck Baldwin knew Beck liked cooking and that he was good at it, so when Beck was working as a pipe welder, he had him start spending time at the Surrey Center location, simply known as French Market Grille. French Market Grille West opened on Furys Ferry Road with Beck as the kitchen manager in January 1997. The caveat to Beck co-owning the restaurant, which he landed in 2006, was that the two restaurants be kept similar for integrity purposes. That was a smart call, as the food is so good there’s really no reason to change it.
The restaurant is proud to never used canned food and to make everything from scratch. You can taste the freshness in any of their dishes, including crawfish, shrimp, soft-shell crab and oysters.
And in recent years, French Market Grille West has added something unexpected to its menu.
“We’ve been doing sushi about five years, on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights,” Beck said. “We call it Cajun sushi. It’s all your typical sushi, and then we also use crawfish tails, shrimp, catfish, and then the more traditional yellowtail, tuna, salmon sushi rolls.”
Customers fill tables for Crab Leg Night on Tuesdays, or just to get a taste of favorites such as Bourbon Street Duck, Seafood Pasta and the F.C. Philly Cheesesteak, named after former co-owner Frank Chirkinian.
“I have people come in and say we have the best Philly in town,” Beck has said. “We use really good cuts of steak, and if you start out with something good, it’s hard not to end up with something good.”
If you still haven’t thought of a good gift for the mom in your life, not to worry: French Market Grille West is opening on Sunday, May 13, just for Mother’s Day. Normally closed on Sundays, they’ll be open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., serving their dinner menu and a special Mother’s Day menu (which was still in the works as of this past week).
No reservations are needed at this holiday special.
If you end up at French Market Grille West, you’ll find yourself in an atmosphere like the kind you’d find in New Orleans. And if you’re unfamiliar with Cajun food and are a little afraid of the spices, just ask for a recommendation once you get in. It’s likely you’ll fall in love with the flavors.