by Marylou Morano

The Meyersville Inn Spices Things Up for Spring 

I’ll be the first to admit it. Dining out in New Jersey can be an adventure. Pull up to the Meyersville Inn in the Morris County hamlet of Gillette and it’s hard to know what to expect. It has the look of a 19th century farmers co-op, and indeed that’s what it once was. It also could be a well-camouflaged wings and pies joint. It’s not. Like so many restaurants in the Garden State, the Inn offers an eclectic mix of pub food, steaks, seafood and Italian specialties. Unlike almost every other New Jersey restaurant, it specializes in Cajun and Creole cuisines. This taste of the Bayou comes courtesy of Chef Hoss, aka Houssain Elhady, an Egyptian- born culinary maestro who swapped his mechanical engineering degree a few years back for kitchen whites.

Elhady learned the art of Cajun and Creole cooking from the previous owner, Dan Walker, a Louisiana native. Since then Chef Hoss—whose résumé includes stints at some of the better restaurants in central New Jersey—has added a few intriguing twists of his own for the Inn’s new owners. “Creole and Cajun food isn’t as popular as other cuisines, like, for example, Italian food,” he says. “My culinary philosophy centers 21 around Creole and Cajun cuisine, and the ability to offer it to our customers. Those who have never tasted Creole and Cajun food need only try it once to experience the richness and depth of its flavors.” For the uninitiated (and the timid) there are some important differences between Chef Hoss’s menu offerings. Cajun cuisine takes a rustic approach to cooking, embracing fresh, locally grown ingredients and simple preparations. Onions, bell peppers and celery are the Holy Trinity.

This style developed from the French-speaking Acadians who were chased out of Canada following the French and Indian War in the 18th century. They settled in Louisiana and adapted their cooking to the local ingredients, i.e. anything they could hook, net, gig or trap. Crawfish were among the more abundant resources, and today they play a starring role on the Meyersville Inn menu. Much of Creole cuisine relies on the onion-pepper-celery combination, but from there it diverges significantly from Cajun. Creole is a Caribbean-influenced blend from the food cultures of France, Spain and Africa. As a rule, the French flavors are more aristocratic than in Cajun fare. Cajun food usually has a kick to it but, contrary to popular belief, an authentically prepared Cajun dish does not involve eye-watering heat. Unless, of course, you specifically ask for it that way. If you’ve been to New Orleans and still can’t remember which is which, Antoine’s is Creole and K-Paul’s (Paul Prudhomme) is Cajun. Emeril does both.

Elhady distinguishes himself from other Cajun/Creole chefs by making all of the spices and rubs used at the Meyersville Inn from scratch. This, he believes, adds to the authenticity of his food. From an ambiance standpoint, The Meyersville Inn offers a choice of two separate dining experiences. Those who prefer a more intimate setting will find the tavern, with its subdued lighting, blazing fireplace and generously stocked bar a quiet retreat from a hectic workday. Here light, classic pub food soothes and nourishes. Bayou-inspired specialties include authentic gumbo and a superb catfish sandwich.

Those who prefer to dine in a livelier setting veer toward the well-appointed dining room. Here a lighter, brighter, more spirited atmosphere provides the setting for an upscale but casual crowd, while the room’s Décor pays homage to the building’s colorful roots and history. The wide-ranging menu includes chicken, steaks and seafood, the portions are generous (hey, this is New Jersey, right?) and the wine cellar is surprisingly good. The Meyersville Inn isn’t exactly in the middle of nowhere, but for many it’s a hike. What makes it worth the trip is drifting down the Mississippi with Chef Hoss as your guide. Bring your imagination and your appetite and prepare to spend an evening on the Bayou.

Editor’s Note: The Meyersville Inn is located at 632 Meyersville Road in Gillette. (908) 647–6302. Marylou Morano is a freelance writer whose articles appear in magazines and newspapers around the state.