New Sweet Grass Market in East Dallas serves authentic Cajun cuisine
Once their car was packed in New Orleans, Eugene and LaToyah Vessel saw two roads unfold in front of them. One drove to Atlanta and the other to Dallas.
Both towns had relatives, but the latter was LaToyah’s hometown. Her mother lived in Dallas. She knows it, she tells her husband. Hurricane Sally had swelled Gulf waters by the end of 2020. The Category 2 storm had developed rapidly, blazing a path familiar to the people of New Orleans. So, the Vessels, with a newborn baby, a 20-year-old daughter and a spark of ideas to develop their business, chose the road to Dallas.
Once in Dallas, they checked out LaToyah’s old playground – she had lived on Bryan Street and attended school in and around South Dallas. They spotted a small market that was closed, Buy Low Chupacabras, on the busy Ross Avenue thoroughfare in Fitzhugh. It was a place shell, but Ships aren’t the type to disengage.
Almost overnight, they became the owners of the Buy Low spot. The idea was to evolve their previous business – a mobile CBD business called Sweet Grass NOLA – by adding coffee, smoothies, fresh take-out food, and sundries. It was Eugene’s idea, LaToyah says with a smile, to build a new kitchen. It was his idea to serve the old school stuff – gumbo, yakamein, po’boys.
There was no outside funding or angel investor. They spent their savings to renovate the store.
“We were really like, ‘What the hell did we get into? ” “, she says.
Sweet Grass Market opened in early August 2021. Staff are currently immediate family.
Eugene begins to cook when the order falls. A simple flour and oil roux is in the pan. He stir and stir over low heat to make sure it doesn’t burn. This is the start of everything. The Gumbo is rich and dark like a campfire beer. The shrimp taste like the sea air, tender with the snap of sweet brine. One bite sends a load through you, all black sauce and plump rice that makes for home cooking. It revives memory from the gut, a long tail of history through flavors that you can literally taste. These are stories of neighbors and music.
Eugene’s menu features Cajun classics at a convenience store: creamy smother, crunchy po’boys, and turkey necked platters with boiled potatoes and sausage. There will be crayfish when Earth says it’s ready. The bread appears as big as the moon, soft and buttery.
And here’s a little gem: Sweet Grass might have the only true blue yakamein bowl within city limits. Eugene’s version is a New Orleans classic with straight laces. It’s a big, magical, steaming black broth loaded with noodles, tender ground beef, hot sauce and boiled eggs. He’ll bring the haymaker out of the whiskey flu through the saloon doors of your brain.
“We really wanted to bring New Orleans to Dallas,” says Eugene. “There are a lot of people who say they have Cajun food, but I wanted to come right out with what I’ve been through – soul food at its best, throughout my 39 years.”
The ships crackle with energy. A pandemic and a newborn and emptied savings account have not dampened their movement. They also own a townhouse in New Orleans that they Airbnb, and they interview the staff and the kitchen helper. Soon Eugene will keep breakfast all day. Think chicken and waffles, shrimp and eggs.
As for the husband-wife team, they have another baby on the way. The little guy who was in the car with them at the start, when they had to evacuate New Orleans during the hurricane, is about to be a year old. Their daughter is also in the kitchen, throwing hot okra in black bags. Family restaurants continue in difficult times and in the calm before the storm.
Sweet Grass Market is located at 4825 Ross Ave., # 10, Dallas. mysweetgrassmarket.com.