The Myrtles Plantation in St. Francisville is commonly known as the ‘most haunted house in America,’ but it’s beginning to be known for a completely different reason. Thoughtfully created seasonal dishes are served from the 10-foot wide wood fired hearth at Restaurant 1796. Named for the year The Myrtles was built, the farm-to-table restaurant is what rose from the ashes when the original restaurant on the property set fire in 2017.
Property owner Morgan Moss took over leadership from his parents after the fire. His parents bought The Myrtles Plantation in 1992. When he was 12 years old, he began a career racing motocross and by the time he was 16, he had turned bonafied professional, racing for Grand National Cross Country. It was originally a fire in the gift shop in 2013, however, that had him race home with helping hands.
“When I came home to help with the reconstruction of the gift shop, that kind of opened itself to an opportunity to manage the property,” Moss said.
Fire struck again in 2017, and the family was left wondering what was next for the food & beverage component of their paranormal attraction. Moss knew he wanted to change the direction of The Myrtles Plantation’s branding, and offer something unique to visitors, but also to the locals of West Feliciana Parish.
“After we were able to recover from that, we shifted our focus to building a bigger, better restaurant that would be hitting in another weight class,” Moss said.
The result was Restaurant 1796. The concept is centered around the original way of home cooking used in the 18th century. While traveling across the country for his motocross career, Moss was exposed to lot of different restaurants and cuisines.
“It was always something I was fascinated by, just food and people’s different approaches to preparing it,” said Moss. “We were trying to come up with a concept that was fun and modern, not another cookie cutter restaurant. We found ourselves really fascinated by woodfire cooking, and felt like it was a really modern and unique approach, but it also has a huge tie to the history of the property.”
In the year of 1796, cooking meals was solely done over the hearth of one’s fireplace, and restaurants were an up-and-coming concept. Though there are many ghost stories surrounding the original owners of the property, there is no doubt meals there were prepared over an open flame. Moss works together with Executive Chef Daniel Dreher to put forth a memorable dining experience. He gives the culinary talent his full support, and control over the menu.
Chef Dreher, a graduate of Chef John Folse Culinary Institute, has a team of chefs he trains to respect the flame. The fire is what cooks these stand-out dishes, but it can be tough to work with. This challenge is what drew him to work at Restaurant 1796.
“It was something totally different from what I have done in the past. I have worked in numerous kitchens over the years from country clubs, hotels to fine dining,” said Dreher. “So, to have the experience of venturing out with a new technique of cooking was very appealing to me.”
The technique has been growing for some time across the country. Returning to the old way of cooking has become a new modern approach for chefs. Restaurants like The Dabney in Washington D.C., Ox in Portland and King + Duke in Atlanta all use the open flame. Chef Dreher is picking up on the trend, while still cooking with strong ties to Louisiana’s Cajun and Creole history.
The seasonal menu changes every three months, with its biggest changes in the Spring and Fall. Chef Dreher’s inspiration comes from his mentorship with Chef Bryan Carr, and work done under previous Restaurant 1796 chef, Chef Brian Lewis. As St. Francisville natives, both Moss and Chef Dreher love working in their hometown, giving locals something to be excited about. They themselves get excited about receiving local support they have always craved.
“We get a lot more local engagement on the property now than we ever have, and that’s rewarding to see,” Moss said.
Moss wants to keep the ghosts around (not like they’re going anywhere), because that is a large part of the bed & breakfast’s DNA. Instead, the plan is to move toward creating a boutique hotel experience, giving people a different reason to visit The Myrtles Plantation.
“What we’re really on a mission to do is diversify why people are coming onto the property,” Moss said. “It’s more than people expect for little old St. Francisville. They are genuinely impressed by the space, its appearance, concept and what we do here.”
All photos used in this story courtesy of Restaurant 1796.
The Louisiana Restaurant Association (LRA) was established in 1946 to advocate on behalf of the state’s foodservice and hospitality industries.