Before you dig into your plate of shrimp and grits at Fat Anne’s Bistro, or take the point off your lemon meringue pie, take a moment to appreciate the plate — its little painted roses or scalloped edges — because it might be a family heirloom. Owner and chef Tevyn Fisher serves on her grandmother’s china, along with plates and bowls friends and family have given her as gifts. Some are the plates Fisher grew up eating on.

Named for a childhood nickname bestowed by her brother, Fisher’s restaurant may draw its menu from New Orleans cuisine, but her grandmother Gayle Fisher — known as “Maw” or “Mawsie” — is everywhere. Her recipes hang on the lavender walls and her legendary pie crust, developed with her neighbor Lois Mangrum (Fisher’s other grandmother) is in the dessert case most every day.

Originally from Southern Humboldt, Fisher spent plenty of time at her grandparents’ house, with their garden full of tomatoes and cucumbers, picking peaches off the tree. It was largely in Maw’s kitchen that she learned to cook, watching her put up big family meals with mashed potatoes and gravy. “I was always inspired by watching my grandmother in the kitchen, laughing and cooking with a cocktail in her hand,” says Fisher. “She would taste as she went and when it was ready, she’d say, ‘Well, I’ll be damned.’” Maw would make extra pie dough for her 11 grandchildren to roll out little tarts of their own, too.
“There’s nothing like the feel of dough in your hands. Does it need more flour, more butter?”

click to enlarge Tevyn Fisher’s buttermilk fried chicken, a favorite among regulars, served family style. - MARK MCKENNA
  • Mark McKenna
  • Tevyn Fisher’s buttermilk fried chicken, a favorite among regulars, served family style.
Fisher knew she wanted to be a chef when she was a kid. At 12, on a family trip to New Orleans, she went to her idol Emeril Lagassi’s eponymous restaurant, where only she ate because it was too expensive. The grilled shrimp salad was a little spicy for her back then but she loved it. And she fell in love with New Orleans and its rich food culture.

After graduating high school, Fisher attended Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in San Francisco, where she also worked before returning to cook in Humboldt, including a four-year stint at the Sea Grill. All the while, she kept her eye out for a place to open a spot of her own. At 25, she opened in Fortuna, which later relocated to her current digs on Ferndale’s Main Street.

“I’ve definitely combined my classical French training with my grandmother’s cooking,” says Fisher, noting that her style, which she feels is still developing, isn’t myopically focused on perfection. “I’ve grown into accepting using what we have,” she says, “I want people to feel like their grandmother made it for them.” Homegrown ingredients are a good start. From her home farm, she brings in okra to dip and fry, and to add to the gumbo, as well as heirloom tomatoes, lettuce, kale, collard greens, habaneros for the peach hot sauce and herbs for the homemade ranch dressing. The pickles, mayonnaise and bread are house made, too. “You have to spend time with the ingredients in order to get to know them and let them shine.”

And shine they do. The buttermilk fried chicken is a favorite of hers and her regulars. “You can’t really go wrong if you eat it hot here or take it home and eat it cold leftover.” She’s a fan of “anything you can eat with a spoon,” including the Creole prawns and grits, a fine play between spice and creaminess. The Rumiano Cheese curds strike a similar balance, coated in panko and deep fried before a drizzle of honey, basil and red chili flakes. Also popular is the black bean burger — a hefty round of savory whole and mashed black beans on a house bun — a hearty pleasure you may have to share or pack some part of to take home.

A beer garden is in the works, offering an outdoor space to enjoy a special menu of appetizers and finger foods along with the nine local beers and ciders on tap, and wines from Old Growth Cellars and Largo Ridge.

click to enlarge Owner and chef Tevyn Fisher showing off Fat Anne's outdoor seating out front. - MARK MCKENNA
  • Mark McKenna
  • Owner and chef Tevyn Fisher showing off Fat Anne's outdoor seating out front.

Perusing the little wood-framed glass case of desserts may take more time than you expect. On one hand, it’s easy to understand why the grandmotherly carrot cake, a little lumpy with plump raisins and box grater shreds of carrot under a blanket of cream cheese frosting, is so often requested for birthday celebrations. But Fisher’s favorite is the lemon meringue pie. (Here’s some help: The carrot cake travels better but if you’re dining on the premises, seize the meringue. If the Grand Marnier olive oil cake is on offer, you’re on your own and we wish you luck choosing.)

Fisher’s small crew includes her sous chef Lucas Bell and a 16-year-old prep cook interested in culinary school. “I was once that young kid who didn’t know anything and wanted to be in the kitchen,” says Fisher. So far, it must be quite an education.

“We opened up not even 90 days before COVID,” says Fisher, explaining that the Ferndale restaurant, which started out with breakfast, lunch and dinner table service with a full menu of seasonal dishes, quickly had to adapt to shelter in place. Regulars and newcomers ordered takeout family dinners, holiday spreads and Fat Tuesday seafood boils, and showed up for patio dining. Indoor dining restored, patrons have returned to enjoy the cozy feel of the dining room. But a big party with zydeco music is the stuff of Fisher’s dreams, and Fat Anne’s 2022 Mardi Gras celebration is already in the works. “I’ve got grand plans for a full Carnival-style party.”

While Fisher may not cook with a cocktail in hand like her grandmother (maybe a glass of wine, now and then), she says she’s been told, “When I’m in my rhythm there’s a dance that I do … I don’t even think about it but I definitely enjoy being in the kitchen — it’s my happy place.” Perhaps happiest when her grandmother finally came to Fat Anne’s. “That was one of my proudest moments,” she says, “having her in the restaurant and eating her recipe’s pie crust.”
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About The Author

Jennifer Fumiko Cahill

Jennifer Fumiko Cahill

Jennifer Fumiko Cahill is the arts and features editor of the North Coast Journal. She won the Association of Alternative Newsmedia’s 2020 Best Food Writing Award and the 2019 California News Publisher's Association award for Best Writing.

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