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It’s not every day you find exceptional food and an incredible story. But I found both when I dined recently at Le Stick Nouveau in the basement of the New Orleans Hotel in Eureka Springs. The name translates into “The New Stick,” because the owners previously ran the longstanding Candlestick Inn in Branson, which was devastated by the 2012 Leap Year tornado.
“The building wasn’t completely destroyed,” said Brandon Cox, who ran the restaurant that was owned by his father and dad’s his wife. “By the time we finally settled with insurance, which was one and a half years later, it was 100 percent destroyed. I told people the tornado was bad, but I’d rather go through 10 more than deal with one more insurance company. There was no way to reopen.”
They weren’t left with enough money to reopen either. So Cox sold real estate and his wife managed a Branson resort until the space in Eureka Springs opened.
I’ll get back to the rest of the story in a minute, but first, the food.
Le Stick Nouveau is cutting edge.
For the first course, we ordered the carpaccio ($9). The carpaccio, which is paper-thin sliced extremely rare beef, is served on a platter and comes out in a dome. The dome is injected with smoke before it arrives at the table and as the waiter lifts the top off in a circular motion, a white cloud of smoke swirls into the air almost like a genie being released from a bottle. The presentation was exceptional. The carpaccio was good, too.
The biggest surprise of the night was the Caesar salad ($9), which blew me away. You don’t usually walk away from a dining experience saying “I’ll never forget that salad,” but that’s how my husband and I both felt.
The atmosphere is elegant, intimate, romantic and fun at the same time. Jake Rogers, who owns the restaurant with Cox and Fontanello, designed it. The “nouveau” in the name has a double meaning: new as in the new restaurant; but the décor is also based on the Art Nouveau movement in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
And that brings us back to the story.
In 1962, the Campbell family in Branson opened The Candlestick Inn. It went through several owners over the years and in 2007, Jim Cox owned it with 13 partners. He called his son Brandon Cox, who was flipping houses, and asked him to come turn the restaurant around. Cox didn’t want to take over but said his dad “pulled the father card, so I had to.”
Jim Cox bought out his partners, Brandon Cox hired his new girlfriend Donna Fontanello and in December of 2007, they fired everyone and started new. “We wanted to change everything. I mean everything. From the service to the interior design. We changed chefs, the menu, and that is where we met Jake, our partner here. He was the interior designer we had hired to do the Candlestick. We made the place look really beautiful and we forged a friendship,” Cox said.
Brandon and Donna fell in love with each other and the restaurant business. Three years later, they married in Eureka Springs on Monday, celebrated Tuesday, and were back to reopen the Candlestick Inn on Wednesday. “With my wife and I, we became a good team. We realized with the Candlestick, turning it around and running it for 5 years, it’s in our blood. This is what we do and we do it really well,” Cox said. Even when the Candlestick closed, there was no doubt they wanted to reopen; it was just a matter of when and where. As soon as they settled with the insurance company, they moved to Eureka Springs, which was always their favorite getaway.
The result has been even better than they expected, said Fontanello.
They have five stars on Trip Advisor, and many other review websites highly rate the restaurant. They do monthly tasting menus which sell out. Last weekend, they were fully booked. On the weekend, reservations are a must. Fontanello said losing the Candlestick Inn “was like a death. It was devastating.”
But there is new life now in Eureka Springs, and she hopes former customers will try it out.
“Anybody who enjoyed the Candlestick Inn, will enjoy The New Stick,” she said.
Want to go?
Le Stick Nouveau, 63 Spring St. Eureka Springs, Ark. Call: 479-981-3123. Online: www.lestick.com