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Okra’s Bistro Brings the Bayou to Gainesville

By Jennifer Lazzo

The food may be familiar, but the location is new. Okra’s Bistro, located in the clubhouse at Virginia Oaks Golf Course in Gainesville, opened its doors in April.

Okra’s Bistro is surrounded by the 166- acre golf course and nearby neighborhoods, so driving through the residential community to arrive there is typical. Chef-owner Charles Gilliam, well-known for serving the same delicious Cajun Creole fare at the original Okra’s in Historic Manassas, said he wanted his new restaurant to be in a unique location.

“It’s like a hidden treasure,” Gilliam said. “Our patio overlooks a pond with waterfowl, grass and trees. It’s so wonderful to have nature right outside the windows.”

Right outside, indeed. While the entryway and events space have original artwork depicting scenes of New Orleans culture—the birth of jazz, a po’ boy sandwich, Mardi Gras, a fleur-de-lis—the main attraction is the floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the golf course, bringing nature indoors regardless of the weather.

Better yet? Experience nature yourself on the patio just outside. Wrought-iron tables with umbrellas invite guests to sit down, relax and enjoy themselves. Gilliam said that the large concrete pad and apron that are adjacent to the patio will be ideal for hosting outdoor events.

Gilliam returned to the kitchen in June to fine-tune operations and tweak the menu. “I enjoy it because it is where I am best,” he said. “It’s very rewarding to create an outstanding meal, especially when it is the centerpiece for a remarkable dining experience.”

Now Serving Dinner and Sunday Brunch
For now, Okra’s Bistro serves dinner nightly and brunch on Sundays. Fan favorites remain— jambalaya, gumbo, oysters, alligator bites and dirty rice—but portions have changed and are priced accordingly (appetizers, $6-15; entrees, $12-26). Sunday brunch is ordered a la carte and includes soups, salads and entrees, such as quiche, breakfast burgers, shrimp and grits, salmon Napoleon, bananas foster French toast and omelets ($5-13). A children’s menu also offers burgers, chicken tenders, popcorn shrimp and angel hair pasta ($6).

When discussing his food and restaurants, Gilliam emphasized that Cajun Creole food is flavorful, not spicy like many believe, nor is Mardi Gras just about drunken revelry. “It’s about family, kids, the parades and having fun,” he said.

“In the literal translation, Mardi Gras is French for ‘Fat Tuesday,’ reflecting the practice of the last night of eating richer, fatty foods before the ritual fasting of the Lenten season,” he continued. “There is so much more that I could share about the culture and food. I could talk for days!”

With Okra’s Bistro, Gilliam provides that essence of culture with excellent fare and a natural gathering spot to spend time with family.

Gwynne Sayres, a mother of four from Haymarket, decided to try out Okra’s Bistro with family in town from North Carolina to celebrate the Fourth of July. In true family fashion, they ordered a little bit of everything to sample and share: Cajun deviled eggs, fried okra, collard greens, corn bread and key lime pie. Her daughter-in-law Christine Sayres ordered the pasta diablo— angel hair pasta tossed in a fiery cream sauce with andouille sausage and chicken or shrimp—and to her delight, “It was my first time eating Cajun and I loved it!” Her husband ordered crawfish Monica, a rotini pasta tossed in a white wine and garlic cream sauce with crawfish tails, and key lime pie for dessert. “My husband loved it,” she said.

Everyone in the Sayres’ party agreed that the food was delicious and the view was great. And with just a short 15-minute drive, “We will definitely be back!” Gwynne Sayres said.

Dustin Spencer, one of Okra’s bartenders, poses behind where you will find him most often during his shift.

Okra’s Bistro may be in the middle of a golf course community, but Chris Hobbs, who lives in the nearby Saranac neighborhood, is happy to see Okra’s Bistro open closer to home. He likes the convenience of living just a few minutes away and tries to visit two or three times a month. Hobbs admitted that he usually orders the gumbo or the shrimp and grits, “but I should really try new things!”

He was already familiar with the food as he started eating at the Manassas location with his parents after moving to the area with his family about a year ago. “It’s a great family place,” Hobbs said.

Parties, Weddings or Business Meetings Are Welcome
Okra’s Bistro also offers the St. Charles Room, a space suited for larger parties, weddings or business meetings for up to 100 guests. The wood floors, modern light fixtures and floor-to-ceiling windows carry over from the main room, keeping the space bright and airy. It features a cozy seating area in front of a
rock fireplace, a large television ideal for displaying presentations and a state-of-the-art sound system.

The small but well-appointed bar is ready with a glass of wine, the fixings for a Mardi Gras martini or hurricane or six beers on tap from Abita Brewing Company, a New Orleans-area brewery, and other domestic and non-domestic beer by the bottle. “One of the most comfortable places at this location is relaxing on the front porch. It’s the best place to sit and have a beer or a glass of wine,” Gilliam said.

Okra’s Bistro has it all: flavorful food, a family-friendly vibe and seating and events space both indoors and out.

Okra’s Bistro is open from 5:00 to 10:00 p. m. Sunday through Thursday, from 5:00 p. m. to 12:00 midnight on Friday and Saturday, and from 10:00 a. m. to 2:00 p. m. for brunch on Sunday. It is located at 7950 Virginia Oaks Drive in Gainesville. For additional information, visit okras.com or call 703-330-2729.

Jennifer Lazzo ([email protected]) is a freelance writer and editor who earned a B.A. in technical journalism and political science from Colorado State University. She lives with her husband
and twin girls in Montclair.

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