TR Spirit of Jacksonville June 2016READ ONLINE
Owner’s heritage shines in restaurant’s offeringsOriginally Published September 13, 2012 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated September 12, 2012 at 11:35 a.m.
Tucked into the corner of a little strip center on College Street in Batesville, the nontraditional cottage shop facade of Natalie’s is only a teaser for the pizzazz within.
Louisiana-born Natalie Cox has created a haven for diners that is equal parts whimsy and wow, in both the food and the furnishings. At first glance, vibrant color is everywhere — from the shiny, bright beads decorating the tables to the deli case full of more than 20 salads that are prepared fresh daily to eat in or carry out.
Cox personally attends each table and customer, providing a level of customer service that is rare and often reserved for owner-managed restaurants. Previously a stay-at-home mom, Cox catered out of her home “forever” but resisted her clients’ pleas to open a restaurant.
“I knew it would be different. I love cooking, and I love people, but I knew the restaurant would be hard,” Cox said.
She took on a couple of larger catering jobs that reinforced her strengths and support base and started a luncheon cafe in a downtown antique store. That first effort wasn’t as successful as she had hoped, she said, primarily because the retail business schedule wasn’t particularly conducive to success in the restaurant.
“There is a real need in Batesville for a restaurant to be open on Monday. At Natalie’s, we do great business on Monday, but we are closed on the weekend,” she said.
In another departure from the norm, Cox purchases all her ingredients personally, not utilizing the large food-service groups that can provide ease and convenience, and tries to buy as much local produce as possible.
“Oh, it’s a lot of extra work. We cook 40 to 50 pounds of chicken daily. That’s for everything — casseroles in the deli freezer, salads, lunches. But I really like to control the quality,” Cox said. “My youngest son, Cameron, works here, and he and I start from scratch every morning. Both my sons, Cameron and Cody, have ‘tasted’ so much in the two-plus years that I have had this cafe, much more than they ever did when I catered. I couldn’t do it without them.”
Cox lets her love of her Louisiana heritage shine throughout the restaurant — parade beads, fleur-de-lis and crosses are repeated in multiple variations — all lending a balance of family and fun. Patrons constantly ask her about the decorations, and she happily shares her memories of Creole country, which often make it to the menu.
Frequent customer Cynthia Smotherman of Newport said of Cox, “She is the Cajun queen of Batesville. We love her shrimp pasta. Her customer service is superior. If requested, she will make a takeout dish with just the ingredients you request.”
Cox donates any leftover food to Autumn Hunter, a local humanitarian who distributes donated food to the hungry in adjacent Westside on Saturdays.
“I support her effort so much. I got my church, Compass Church, involved,” Cox said. “We are trying to get her a building for food service and maybe a clothes closet. I always try to help where I can. My dream is to have a soup kitchen someday.”
Natalie’s features daily specials, which are posted on the restaurant’s Facebook page. The restaurant serves a daily hot plate, four panini specials and a full cabinet of fresh salads, and has a deli/freezer stocked with entree casseroles and desserts, which are Cox’s passion. Natalie’s is at 1335 E. College in Batesville and is open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday and from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday. The restaurant’s phone number is (870) 698-0200.
TOMATO CUCUMBER SALADIngredients:
2 cups cucumber, seeded and cubed
1 cup Roma tomatoes, chopped
2 cups warm water
1 cup sugar
4 tablespoons vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
Combine cucumber and tomatoes in large bowl. Stir sugar into warm water until completely dissolved. Add vinegar. Pour over vegetables and season to taste.
Refrigerate and allow flavors to meld for at least an hour before serving.
BROCCOLI, CAULIFLOWER AND TOMATO SALAD
2 cups broccoli florets
2 cups cauliflower florets
1 cup tomato, chopped
1 bottle Wishbone Red Wine Vinaigrette salad dressing
Combine vegetables in large bowl. Cover with the amount of dressing that suits your taste, approximately 1 to 1 1/2 cups.