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Black Arts and Culture

Quaint Hampton Bistro Blends French, Creole & Neo-soul Cuisine

By Glen Mason
New Journal and Guide
Epicurean Correspondent

It started with a gift of mango preserves from two dear friends with a dubious amount of excitement.
“You and Sis have got to go there. I’m dying to see what you can do with this surprise we have for you in this bag, and we want to be there when you do something with it!” they exclaimed, almost in unison.

Okay, that was the back-story.
In the gift bag was a five-ounce bottle of Mango Mangeaux preserves that proclaimed over 100 uses on the label. Hmmmmm. Okay, then it comes with a bistro to boot. Okaaay.
As soon as my dining partner and I could slip it in our schedule, I did make arrangements to visit on our date night.
Magnifique!
The epicurean experience at Mango Mangeaux: A Simply Panache Bistro was, as a certain critic animation character said in the film “Ratatouille,” the food was ‘sublime.’

The atmosphere was truly continental. A true bistro with a functional tabula rasa (Latin for a clean slate) styled dining room that can be easily rearranged for small groups or parties of, say, 20. The light gray interior with white accents made an intimate room appear spacious. Next time I go, and there will be a next time, I’m going to ask for the chef’s table (a table near or in the kitchen a head chef presents his menu samplings usually for a higher bill).

When we arrived we were greeted by a gracious hostess who seated us immediately with the promise our waitress would bring water and present their unique beverage offerings momentarily. True to form she arrived to suggest an enticing review of house created beverages. Water would do I said as my dinner guest, a beautiful retired educator, and I reviewed the menu.

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Mango Mangeaux is situated among an eclectic mix of shops in Phoebus. Is that a city: part of a city? The bistro is located on Mellon Street in Hampton, VA.
It is a real bistro with a menu that changes seasonally at the chef/owners discretion inspired by the best of the French Quarter in ‘Nawlins.” They call their cuisine French, Creole and Neo-soul. The narrow interior is spruced up with light gray walls, white quilt paneled walls and accents. From our table for two the white drapes presented an added veneer of neo art deco elegance or refinement. They looked like columns.

My dining partner and I jostled over the entrees. She selected the Panache Platter. I was a tad curious about clever sounding chicken fried chicken entree. I’ve heard of chicken friend steak. Curiouser and curiouser.
I playfully told our waitress that if I ordered beyond my appetizer it would depend on my cup of seafood gumbo.

Not only was I was impressed with the gumbo that had a pretty authentic roux, I thought the cup was nicely plated served with a coastal flair of snow crab legs. The crab wasn’t necessarily regional but it worked. My date opened with the Neo-Soul egg roll that offered a unique flavor profile of collard greens, cheddar cheese, Black eye peas and onions. Not bad with the house made mango salsa.

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Her main course featured Chef Walter Smith’s perfectly house breaded selection of red snapper, crawfish, Lynnhaven oysters and shrimp accompanied by mango cocktail sauce. Freshly julienned potato fries functioned as a side and garnish. My chicken fried chicken was a moist, marinated butter-flied, tender chicken breast with a serving of slightly pickled collards and macaroni and cheese. Good portions.

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The homegrown business started in 2007, when Lakesha Renfro partnered with Nzinga Teule-Hekima and Tanecia Willis in a catering business called Simply Panache. They developed the mango preserves to use in their catering jobs, the product line along with opportunity, turned out to be golden mango meat to wax poetically. Their preserves were featured on the ABC series “Shark Tank,” but they didn’t receive any bites from the millionaire entrepreneurs. Nor did they didn’t get the $70K investment they were seeking. However, their appearance would elicit the proverbial reversal of fortune.

“We got an opportunity to appear on Shark Tank after testing our preserves at farmer’s markets and festivals all over,” said Lakeisha, hands still wet from multi-tasking and cleaning in the kitchen. “Most of the recipes come from our families. Mine are from Lousiana and Texas. I’m originally from Houston.”

The restaurant opened in the first of the year. The trio left Shark Tank without a celebrity investor but the exposure gave way to burgeoning sales of their mango preserves over the Internet that Renfro said resulted in over $200,000 in orders. What a difference a day makes.
With the MEAC Basketball Tournament at Scope, Mango Mangeaux could make for a nice excursion for locals who want to avoid the hustle and bustle of the crowds that will fill restaurants during tournament week in downtown Norfolk.

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