64 Parishes

Where the Locals Eat

Monroe’s Mohawk Tavern

Where the Locals Eat

Photo by Rebecca Mixon

Growing up in the South, there were a few things I understood without question: leather seats are cruel to bare legs on sizzling summer days, anything can be and should be monogrammed if it sits still long enough, and good food is essential to a good life.

Southerners have the notion of what constitutes “good food” committed to memory like Bible verses on the last day of Vacation Bible School. Ask us where the best places to eat are in any town within a fifty-mile radius of wherever we are, and you might want to pull up a rocking chair and get comfortable. Restaurants in the South are as much a tradition as Friday night football and sugary sweet tea so thick it could pass as syrup.

For the Mohawk Tavern Seafood Restaurant in Monroe, that tradition has been going strong for seventy-one years. Opened in 1952 by Tom and Alline Fontana, the Mohawk Tavern established itself “as a place for friends to enjoy drinks and oysters on the half shell,” per their website. Since that time, the restaurant has expanded into a full-service establishment and is still owned by third-generation family. Attentive, soft-spoken, smiling waiters wearing white jackets serve guests in a dimly lit dining area that seems to exist outside of time.

“We have always loved the atmosphere,” Tamie Coon said, in addition to the great food. She and her husband Henson have been customers since they began dating in 1983. “It’s still our spot full of memories.”

No doubt, many area residents feel that way. The Mohawk Tavern describes itself as “Where the Locals Eat,” and reviews of the restaurant support that claim. West Monroe resident Karen Simpson said she enjoys their fried shrimp most of all.

“I love the fact that the taste of their food has not changed over the years,” Simpson said. “Many places have changed to cheaper options to keep costs low and have ruined the quality of their food. The original deliciousness is the reason we loved them to begin with. Most people want what they enjoy, not what’s cheaper.”

The Mohawk Tavern’s seafood options include appetizers such as oysters on the half shell (a long-time restaurant staple), seafood gumbo, boiled shrimp, shrimp cocktail, and oyster stew. Seafood entrées feature platters with shrimp, oysters, stuffed shrimp, fried crawfish, and a combination platter with any two of your favorites. If, as many southerners say, “your eyes are bigger than your stomach,” or you are in the mood to share a plate, the Seafood Platter offers fried shrimp, oysters, catfish, stuffed crab, and stuffed shrimp.

After more than seventy years of serving diners with an atmosphere that feels like a perfect time capsule of the 1950s, could the Mohawk be on the brink of forced change, pressured to keep up with the preferences of younger generations and the present economic realities?

For a little something different, order the fried frog legs or quail. Guests who prefer non-fried foods can choose from items such as crawfish étouffée and grilled options, including mahi mahi, salmon, tuna, and halibut, all of which are wild caught. Like many good southern restaurants, there is also a selection of po-boys and burgers, and in true Mohawk Tavern seafood tradition, the choices include an oyster burger, a soft-shell crab po-boy, and a combo po-boy (fried shrimp and oysters).

Neil “Joe” Young of Crossett, Arkansas, grew up in West Monroe and remembers going to the Mohawk Tavern with friends in his teenage years in the 1960s.

“It was a cool place to hang out,” Young said. “The food was always good, and it still is today. Eating there now is like taking a step back to when I was a teenager like no time has passed. You don’t find that level of service and integrity as much these days.”

A Yelp reviewer drives home the point: the Mohawk Tavern is “always a favorite! The food is great. The atmosphere is perfect. But it’s the staff who make this place.”

These days, locally owned restaurants like the Mohawk Tavern are reliant on loyal patrons to stay in business; COVID-19 and the ensuing economic crisis has taken a toll on the food industry. After more than seventy years of serving diners with an atmosphere that feels like a perfect time capsule of the 1950s, could the Mohawk be on the brink of forced change, pressured to keep up with the preferences of younger generations and the present economic realities?

Not likely, according to Mohawk Tavern fan Kayla Noble.

For customers like Noble, the Mohawk Tavern does not need to change. Each generation it serves embraces it as the place “Where the Locals Eat”—and they are eager to appreciate what is nostalgic, vintage, and offered with care.

When asked what she likes best about the restaurant, Noble’s answer is straightforward: “Everything.”

 Rebecca Mixon is a dedicated logophile who enjoys talking and meeting people as much as writing and creating. Raising three daughters with her husband Randall and managing a career in healthcare community impact give her plenty of chances to do all of the above.