Backwater Voodoo: New Tiki-themed restaurant in Miamisburg celebrates grand opening Sunday

Crawfish Etoufée served over Tiki Tots ($16.95) at Backwater Voodoo in Miamisburg. CONTRIBUTED/ALEXIS LARSEN
Caption
Crawfish Etoufée served over Tiki Tots ($16.95) at Backwater Voodoo in Miamisburg. CONTRIBUTED/ALEXIS LARSEN

Credit: Alexis Larsen

It serves fun and fruity cocktails, plus New Orleans-inspired food

Ever since I was a little girl I have been obsessed with Tiki culture.

Growing up in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., I asked to go to the Mai-Kai Restaurant for birthdays, in addition to any other time I felt I could leverage a visit with my parents.

ExplorePHOTOS: Backwater Voodoo serves fun cocktails and flavor-filled food

It was warm, exotic, retro, kitschy and lively, with food that was delicious and, in some cases, made me giggle (i.e. the classic pu pu platter). I was smitten every time.

As a young adult, my interest and obsession didn’t fade, with travels across the country searching out the best island vibes that could be soaked up in the States from The Tonga Room and Hurricane Bar in San Francisco to Three Dots and a Dash in Chicago, to the Inferno Room in Indianapolis to The Polynesian in New York, and many other stops in between.

So loving tropical, fruity, Polynesian rum-soaked destinations as I do, I’ve longed for one to open close to home.

Now my wish has come true.

Backwater Voodoo in Miamisburg, owned by Maria and Eric Walusis, is a warm, cozy new restaurant and bar influenced by the couple’s love for New Orleans, and the city’s contribution to Tiki cocktail history and rebirth. They also own Watermark, which is next door to Backwater Voodoo, and the two restaurants share a patio dining area. CONTRIBUTED/ALEXIS LARSEN
Caption
Backwater Voodoo in Miamisburg, owned by Maria and Eric Walusis, is a warm, cozy new restaurant and bar influenced by the couple’s love for New Orleans, and the city’s contribution to Tiki cocktail history and rebirth. They also own Watermark, which is next door to Backwater Voodoo, and the two restaurants share a patio dining area. CONTRIBUTED/ALEXIS LARSEN

Credit: CONTRIBUTED/ALEXIS LARSEN

Credit: CONTRIBUTED/ALEXIS LARSEN

Backwater Voodoo in Miamisburg will celebrate its grand opening from 3-9 p.m. on Sunday, giving Dayton-area diners the chance to enjoy truly authentic Tiki cocktails and celebrate Tiki culture.

Owners Maria and Eric Walusis, who own Watermark next door, have opened a warm, cozy new restaurant and bar influenced by the couple’s love for New Orleans, and the city’s contribution to Tiki cocktail history and rebirth.

ExploreTHE BACK STORY: Watermark owners plan new Tiki-themed bar and restaurant in Miamisburg

“We have visited many of the best Tiki bars in the country, including Porco in Cleveland and Beachbum Berry’s Latitude 29 in New Orleans. We had already decided we wanted the décor and space concept to be non-traditional with regard to Tiki. In other words, we did not want to use the classic ‘Tiki-kitsch’ accoutrements such as fishnets, torches, grass awnings ... Don’t get us wrong, we love those things, but we decided that the world needed something different. We were inspired by another Tiki bar in Nashville called Pearl Diver — which has a full-on Mid-Century Modern décor that Don Draper would have been proud of. It showed us that a bar could be true to a Tiki program without the traditional look and feel,” said Eric.

In early 2020, prior to the pandemic, the couple took a trip to New Orleans and took in many of the Creole cottages. They decided to move forward with a NOLA-inspired décor and vibe.

“We love the fact that part of the New Orleans decorating style is that it very often is a pastiche of different eras, cultures and design styles. That fit in perfectly with our plan to fuse New Orleans style with a dedication to Tiki,” said Eric. “We are getting just wonderful reactions so far. Many people comment that we have perfectly captured the French Quarter feel inside the venue. It feels fun and mysterious all at the same time. Backwater Voodoo is definitely intended to be a casual and fun place — and so far it seems we accomplished our goal.”

Backwater Voodoo in Miamisburg, owned by Maria and Eric Walusis, is a warm, cozy new restaurant and bar influenced by the couple’s love for New Orleans, and the city’s contribution to Tiki cocktail history and rebirth. They also own Watermark, which is next door to Backwater Voodoo, and the two restaurants share a patio dining area. CONTRIBUTED/ALEXIS LARSEN
Caption
Backwater Voodoo in Miamisburg, owned by Maria and Eric Walusis, is a warm, cozy new restaurant and bar influenced by the couple’s love for New Orleans, and the city’s contribution to Tiki cocktail history and rebirth. They also own Watermark, which is next door to Backwater Voodoo, and the two restaurants share a patio dining area. CONTRIBUTED/ALEXIS LARSEN

Credit: CONTRIBUTED/ALEXIS LARSEN

Credit: CONTRIBUTED/ALEXIS LARSEN

A little more than half the cocktails on the menu are originals developed by Eric. Backwater Voodoo will always feature classic Tiki drinks like the notorious Zombie ($12, “the drink that launched a thousand Tiki bars, the Holy Grail, the Golden Fleece” ), and will have a partially rotating menu to keep things fresh.

I am a tough judge, and an early opportunity to try the drinks left me majorly impressed. The Zombie, invented in the 1930s by Donn Beach at his Don the Beachcomber Restaurant, can be a boozy juicy revelation if made correctly and a sugary waste of rum if made by someone not practiced and knowledgeable.

It is clear that Eric Walusis is capable, practiced and hugely talented when it comes to the art of mixing and inventing Tiki cocktails. Layers of carefully crafted fresh juices, syrups, bitters, liqueurs, spirits and fruit create deep, interesting flavors that play off of one another in a delightful symphony of luscious, interesting sweet and spice.

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His drinks that I had the opportunity to try at a soft open were among the best I’ve ever had.

One of the more interesting original options is Olmec’s Coco ($10) made with Appleton Estate Reserve rum, Plantation Overproof rum, orange, Orgeat, Mexican chocolate and cola.

“I cannot say I have exhaustively scoured the globe, but as far as I can tell, this may be the first genuine Tiki cocktail with a chocolate flavor profile. We serve it in a vintage glass festooned with the Mayan Calendar in gold. Another drink that is fast becoming a guest favorite is the Jazz Funeral, which is our homage to all things New Orleans,” said Eric. “A variety of rums is always a key element in a Tiki cocktail program, and Backwater Voodoo is no exception. In our opinion, part of what makes Tiki drinks so magical is the way that the primary spirits are balanced with the fruit juices and the syrups and liqueurs, such as Orgeat and Falernum. With the originals, our goal was to create drinks that authentically represent what a Tiki cocktail ‘should’ taste like, while at the same time stretching the envelope a bit.”

It’s not all just Trader Vic’s Mai-Tais ($12), VooDoo Daiquiris ($10) and Virgin Islands Painkillers ($10), there’s also a full menu of New Orleans-inspired food.

“Little Bites” include Hawaiian rolls with griddled Spam, caramelized scallion, melted swiss and spicy Chinese mustard (3 for $9.95), NOLA Jambalaya Dip ($9.95), made with caramelized peppers and onions, andouille and cheese, Boudin Balls ($11.95), a deep fried New Orleans classic made with pork shoulder and rice, with Remoulade for dipping and, my personal favorite, Death Rolls ($9.95) — generously stuffed alligator egg rolls with peppers, onions, cabbage and dirty rice.

Hawaiian rolls with griddled Spam, caramelized scallion, melted swiss and spicy Chinese mustard (3 for $9.95) and Death Rolls ($9.95) — generously stuffed alligator egg rolls with peppers, onions, cabbage and dirty rice.
Caption
Hawaiian rolls with griddled Spam, caramelized scallion, melted swiss and spicy Chinese mustard (3 for $9.95) and Death Rolls ($9.95) — generously stuffed alligator egg rolls with peppers, onions, cabbage and dirty rice.

Credit: Alexis Larsen

Credit: Alexis Larsen

Lagniappe (“a little something extra”) options include crispy Southern pork ribs ($18.95), Creole catfish ($17.95), Creole shrimp and grits ($16.95) and a wonderful crawfish etoufée served over white rice ($14.95), dirty rice ($15.95) or “poutine-style” over Tiki tots for ($16.95).

If you are still craving sugar after cocktails there is a bananas foster bread pudding with banana rum cream and caramel crème anglaise ($8) or a Café au Lait pot de crème ($7).

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“We hope that people will — first and foremost — simply have a fun time at Backwater Voodoo. And if they learn a bit about Tiki cocktails along the way, it’s a bonus. One of the things we have noticed is that many people hear ‘Tiki Bar’ and they think of a small grass hut located outdoors. So we can hopefully provide them with the pleasant surprise of learning how much more there is to the picture. We view ourselves as ambassadors for the legacy of Donn Beach and Trader Vic, and we want to do them proud,” said Eric.

In addition to the 40 seats in the quaint restaurant, the couple has also opened a patio adjoining both Watermark and Backwater Voodoo that can seat up to 120 and will be used for outdoor dining, as well as special events and live music.

Backwater Voodoo in Miamisburg, owned by Maria and Eric Walusis, is a warm, cozy new restaurant and bar influenced by the couple’s love for New Orleans, and the city’s contribution to Tiki cocktail history and rebirth. They also own Watermark, which is next door to Backwater Voodoo, and the two restaurants share a patio dining area. CONTRIBUTED/ALEXIS LARSEN
Caption
Backwater Voodoo in Miamisburg, owned by Maria and Eric Walusis, is a warm, cozy new restaurant and bar influenced by the couple’s love for New Orleans, and the city’s contribution to Tiki cocktail history and rebirth. They also own Watermark, which is next door to Backwater Voodoo, and the two restaurants share a patio dining area. CONTRIBUTED/ALEXIS LARSEN

Credit: CONTRIBUTED/ALEXIS LARSEN

Credit: CONTRIBUTED/ALEXIS LARSEN

“Both restaurants will share the patio, using a simple flag system. Guests will stop in to the host at either place, and when seated, they will place a flag on the table indicating which restaurant they are dining with. We will allow switching from one to the other after cashing out, but we do want to point out that we won’t be able to allow a single table to order from both venues at the same time, in order to minimize confusion among the staff. So far it is working well,” said Eric. “We are the only place within hundreds of miles you are going to find the Voodoo Daiquiri — made famous by Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop in New Orleans — made anywhere close to the original. Since they jealously guard the recipe, we reverse-engineered it very carefully, and we are convinced we nailed it.”

If Backwater Voodoo’s dishes and drinks going forward are as impressive as what I enjoyed during its soft opening, this will certainly be a destination worth seeking out.

As they would say in New Orleans, “laissez les bon temps rouler,” or more simply put, let the good times roll.

HOW TO GO

What: The grand opening of Backwater Voodoo

When: 3-9 p.m. on Sept. 19, which happens to be International Talk Like a Pirate Day

Where: 103 S. Second St., Miamisburg

More info: 937-949-0522 or www.backwatervoodoo.com

What’s new next door: Watermark just launched the Fall Chef’s Whim menu, marking the annual return of the popular Coca-Cola braised pork cheeks, as well as a delicious new “Duck & Waffles” small plate. Wiener schnitzel is also back, as well as a warm apple dumpling for dessert. Visit eatdrinkwatermark.com to learn more.

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