A Dinner to Remember
by Kathy Schwartz
It’s not the building. It’s not the location. It’s not the menu or the wine list. It is the experience. That is what separates Joseph Decuis from other restaurants.
“First and foremost, it is about the experience,” says Alice Eshelman, proprietor of Joseph Decuis in Roanoke, Indiana. “Part of that experience is great food. Food that is fresh and of high quality adds to the ambience.
“The better the freshness is, the better the quality of the food. The better the quality, the better the experience of dining.”
But all the other things add to the encounter. The personnel at Joseph Decuis strive to deliver the total experience.
“The most important thing is to sit down and talk to each other across the table. The beautiful surroundings, the setting, and delicious food that is well served and prepared, all add to that,” insists Alice.
“It all began with a horse,” she explains. “We lived in a subdivision of Fort Wayne, and Pete bought a horse, so we had to have a place to put it.”
They settled on the farm and Alice’s husband set up his insurance business there. Pete’s clients were from large cities with sports venues.
“But he kept bringing clients home, because where do you go in Fort Wayne that will rival what they were used to?” says Alice. “We were able to control the setting, the food, the whole business atmosphere. It worked very well for us.”
At first, dinners were served at the Eshelmans’ house, with the kids and all. The evenings with clients became more frequent.
“So, we bought the bank in Roanoke, and we were able to entertain there. People kept wanting to dine at the restaurant, which was private and open only for corporate events,” remembers Alice. “So eventually, we opened to the public, and that became the restaurant, Joseph Decuis.”
The restaurant was first known as Club Creole because Pete was originally from New Orleans. But, when the establishment became a public one, they could not get the rights to that name.
“So, Pete comes up with the idea that we are going to name it after his ancestors,” Alice recalls, smiling. “I said, Nobody is going to know how to say that.
“There are still some people who say, ‘We are going to Joe’s tonight.’”
Albert Decuir was an immigrant from France—and an indentured servant. But, just two generations later, Joseph Decuir was one of the largest landowners in Louisiana.
“It is a real rags-to-riches story,” Alice says proudly. “We changed the spelling, the ‘r’ to an ‘s,’ and later, we realized it sounded like ‘cuisine.’”
Joseph Decuis is an award-winning restaurant and known for its farm-to-fork cuisine.
“When we opened up in 2000, I looked at some of our bills and realized we were being charged 75-cents per squash blossom, plus shipping, and I thought I could grow some squash and blossoms for less money,” Alice remembers.
“The horse was gone, so we started raised gardens in the corral. We took the riding ring and turned that into more gardens. Then, we added some chickens for the eggs. That was easy.”
What isn’t easy is coordinating what is available at the farm with the menu at the restaurant. The addition of a hoop house, utilized in the winter months, has helped. The menu is changed often to reflect availability of fresh ingredients. “I have a new staff at the restaurant that has figured out how to incorporate all the items from the farm—the beef, pork, chicken, vegetables and herbs.”
Alice continues, “You have to go with the flow. We are farm-to-fork in the sense that what we raise on the farm is served in the restaurant—but not everything there is from our farm. We subsidize items. We try to not to import from other countries and try to buy from like-minded producers.”
Another noteworthy part of the Joseph Decuis menu is the Wagyu beef. There is some confusion as to the difference between the terms Wagyu and Kobe. “Wagyu is the breed of cow. The Kobe beef is Wagyu beef grown and raised in Kobi Japan,” explains Alice.
The confusion is in the labeling. The majority of Wagyu beef sold in the United States is crossbred with Angus beef. The cross breeding produces a very different product.
“We are on a real mission to try to force restaurants or suppliers to say that it is pure bred or state what percentage is crossbred,” reports Alice. “We have very close to 100-percent Wagyu. It looks and tastes different.”
What causes the difference? Japan did not eat beef until the 1700s. The cows were strictly work animals, and their bodies adapted by building up this intramuscular fat for energy. That is where the marbling comes from.
“The marbling is what gives that amazing taste,” informs Alice.
How the Wagyu are raised is quite different from domestic stock. Japanese husbandry emphasizes stress-free living.
“The cows are at their mother’s side for six months,” Alice says. “We chop the hay into small pieces so it is easier for their digestion. Full-blooded Wagyu are 36 months old before they are harvested. Classical music is played in the finishing barn. Special grains are given.”
It is this unique approach that produces a quality product. Combine the quality of the products raised on the farm with the emphasis on detail, and attentive service by the staff, and what is created is a dining experience not soon forgotten.
Joseph Decuis serves dinner between 5:30 and 10 p.m. on weeknights and Saturdays. Reservations are recommended. Look over the current menu on the restaurant’s website or its Facebook page.
191 N. Main Street
Roanoke, IN 46783