Groves eatery revives family recipes, mom-and-pop spirit

Monceaux's photo by Kevin King

For Kevin Smith, bringing back Monceaux’s to Mid-County means more than just bringing back a popular restaurant dating back decades. He’s also keeping his mother’s memory alive, and her treasured recipes.

The late Helen McKinney was the cook at the original Monceaux’s in Port Arthur and brought her recipes with her when she began working there.

“Monceaux’s was famous for their shakes, hot dogs and hamburgers, but when my mom started working there, she brought stuffed shrimp, crab burgers, her tartar sauce recipe, and it blew up,” Smith said.

When she left the restaurant in 1986, McKinney took her recipes with her. The restaurant closed a few years later.

Smith rekindled his mother’s famous recipes when he originally re-opened Monceaux’s on the corner of 39th and Main St. in Groves in 2016, and continues to offer them to Southeast Texans at his new location across the street at 3947 Main St., a remodeled laundromat. Smith opened last March.

“This food is not fast food. It’s short-order,” Smith points out. “That’s the biggest difference that people need to understand. Everything you order is fresh. My chicken, my steak — everything. When you call and place your order, I bread and drop your food fresh. That’s the difference.”

Some of the popular food items that Monceaux’s has become known for are the restaurant’s ginormous steak fingers, homemade onion rings, and one-of-a-kind tartar dipping sauce.

“It’s not a tartar sauce. It’s a tartar dipping sauce, and it’s amazing,” Smith said. “You can dip fries, toast, pretty much anything in this sauce. … I don’t care what you order, it’s going to enhance it.”

Don’t be surprised if you see Monceaux’s famous tartar dipping sauce in local grocery stores in the near future, Smith added.

“It’s going to be called Monceaux’s tartar sauce, but I’m going to have my mom’s picture on it,” Smith said.

We tried the steak fingers, stuffed shrimp, the fish and shrimp, the double cheeseburger baskets and, of course, the tartar dipping sauce. If you’re not a fan of tartar sauce, this recipe will convert you.

These are probably the best steak fingers you will ever taste, and although they stand out above the rest of what we ordered, that isn’t saying the other food wasn’t absolutely delish, because everything was top notch and impressive. The onion rings are a must order, too. We loved dipping them in that tartar sauce.

The wait time may be a little more than some are used to — 15 to 45 minutes sometimes depending on what you order, according to Smith, but this food is worth it.

In an era where fast-food chains are a dime a dozen, for Smith, bringing back the delicacies of yesteryear is almost as important as establishing locally owned American restaurants again.

“It’s time for us to start having mom-and-pop places back,” said Smith, who mentioned he plans to open a convenience store next door to his eatery in 2018. “I think we need to start going backwards, in a sense, to start having more family-friendly establishments.”

Smith and his fiancée Alishia Mouton are doing just that.

“It’s her in here,” in spirit, Smith said of his late mother, who passed away in 2008. 

And McKinney’s recipes continue to live on in Groves.