MELBOURNE, Fla. – People who visit New Orleans love gumbo, jambalaya and beignets.
People who grew up in Louisiana know there’s more to the state — and the food — than the Big Easy. Sure, they love a steaming bowl of gumbo or a crisp, powder-laden beignet, but they crave dirty rice and Natchitoches meat pies.
The menu at Lizette’s Cajun Bistro, which opened last week in Melbourne, has dishes to satisfy both types of Louisianaphiles: Po’boys with fried oysters, shrimp, catfish or gator; gumbo with andouille sausage, shrimp and crabmeat; and Natchitoches fried meat pies, a north Louisiana version of empanadas with a decadent blend of ground beef, pork sausage and Cajun spices. The meat pies can be eaten alone as an appetizer, or as a meal served with dirty rice and mac and cheese.
Shyrl Johnson, who is opening the restaurant with her son, chef Kevin Johnson, used to love the meat pies from Lasyone’s restaurant in Natchitoches, Louisiana — according to News 6 partners Florida Today. Now her son will make them for Lizette’s guests.
Kevin started cooking when he was about 5. Opening a restaurant has always been his dream, he said.
Last year, he took over ownership of North by South Bistro in Satellite Beach, but the seafood place across the street from the ocean didn’t survive COVID.
He and Shryl have been transforming the former Francisco’s Mexican Restaurant off Lake Washington Road into Lizette’s since January. The bright dining room is decorated with fleur de lis and large-scale photos of New Orleans scenes.
Kevin was born in Little Rock to a military family. His parents were from Louisiana.
The restaurant pays homage to his parents. Lizette is Shryl’s middle name; the company’s name is For my Dad LLC. The chef was 4 when his father, Kevin J. Johnson, died in the 1996 terrorist attack at Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia. He was a member of the 71st Rescue Squadron at Patrick Air Force Base.
“This is a whole joining of this family and making good food for everybody else,” Kevin said.
Kevin attended Le Cordon Bleu in Orlando, but he also learned from his family (though not his mother, she said with a chuckle), and watching cooking shows. All his dishes are made from scratch.
“Cooking from the heart, that’s what he does,” said Shyrl, “because he loves cooking.”
The idea is for guests to feel like they’re going to their grandma’s house to eat.
“Right now, my favorite dish to cook is gumbo,” he said, but when I graduated from culinary school, I made a lot of Italian food. My go-to dessert is cheesecake.”
Though she won’t be in the kitchen, Shyrl plans to add her own touch to the Lizette’s dining experience. Once the restaurant is up and running, she plans to have jazz musicians playing on Fridays and Saturdays.
“I’m a jazz vocalist, so I’ll sing,” she said.
It’s been a long eight months trying to get Lizette’s Cajun Bistro open. It’s been a lot of hard work, Shyrl said, but she’s proud of Kevin.
She stayed in Florida to raise Kevin and his brothers Nicholas and Ché after her husband’s death, but Shryl is proud of her Louisiana roots, and she’s eager for people to visit the restaurant to try Kevin’s cooking.
“Here we are 25 years later, and our son’s opening a restaurant in honor of his father and mother,” she said.
Lizett’s Cajun Bistro is at 2447 N. Wickham Road, Suite 146, Melbourne, between Paisley Vegan Kitchen and My Island Pancake House. Call 321-622-5281 or visit lizettescajunbistro.com. Hours are 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday. The restaurant was scheduled to open Friday, Aug. 20.
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