Diary For Fri. 11/16/2018: Café Lynn. The past week somehow formed itself into the happiest week in my memory. It may even have been the most smilific in history. Most of what gives me this glow is personal, and I plan to take it all down before it fades. (As always, the part of this journal that readers tell me they like best is the personal side.) But it’s also about weekday dining, as reported earlier in these pages. We visited Jack Rose, The Roosevelt Hotel, DiMartino’s (best roast beef poor boy in town) and the Bon Ton Café on a cold, forbidding night.
On Friday, Mary Ann was too busy to have dinner. An under exploited restaurant idea came to me. We almost never go to Café Lynn in Mandeville. It’s not MA’s style, for reasons I don’t understand. Every time I go there, I walk about the door proclaiming that this is the most underrated restaurant on the North Shore. It’s also close enough to the lake end of the Causeway to be a credible dinner location for Metairians.
It also has an interesting story, as the most logical heir to the now-extinct, sainted La Provence. Café Lynn’s chef-owner is Joey Najolia, who for quite a few years was the chef at La Provence. During that tenure, Joey worked under one of the all-time-great geniuses of New Orleans restaurant practice, Chris Kerageorgiou. Chris passed away just after the hurricane, when he passed La Provence to no less than John Besh. Around the same time, Joey Najolia opened his own place in what was at the time a defunct Burger King.
Here, I officially lay to rest the story of how people looking for Whoppers sometimes mistakenly entered Café Lynn, to be very surprised to find soft shell crabs Grenobloise instead. Chef Joey is a low-key guy–I almost never see his face while I’m in his restaurant. But his wife Brandi fills in that gap. So does the staff in the front of the house, which is unusually swift and catches every glitch before it happens. That eventuality is usually avoided by the customers, most of whom are regulars who know the restaurant’s strong points. The best example of this is the consistency with which the food comes out sharply hot. This is a quality not attended to by many restaurants these days, but Café Lynn is consistent in nailing that it down Not too hot or unnecessarily sizzling, but perfect for the fish or the steak or whatever.
Tonight I had the fish special: redfish amandine. Just right in every regard. The way such dishes were once routinely rendered. I began oysters Logan (who dat?) dish in which the bivalves were fried and topped with knurdles of blue cheese and prosciutto. All hot, except the a layer of salad underneath everything. My dinner was exactly what I expected: an assortment of French and French-Creole dishes, cooked to a sharp edge. Prices are a bit lower than one expects to find for food this sophisticated. A lot of the choices come out of a time that has faded away, but I find that very welcoming in these tepid days.
As dinner ended, a familiar episode played. I had been ignored by the other customers in the room, but when the waiter brought the check, suddenly an assortment of radio listeners, fellow graduates of Rummel, friends of friends, people who wanted to know where the Cool Water Ranch is, and other pleasant regular customers here. They all agreed: here is indeed one of the most underrated eateries on the North Shore and beyond. I can’t dope out why MA and I go there so seldom.
Fennel, Italian Sausage, and Cornbread Stuffing
When we started smoking our Thanksgiving turkey, the cornbread-andouille stuffing we used to do became one smoky thing too many. So I changed the recipe to use Italian sausage. Since that already had an anise flavor, I thought I’d take it one step further with fennel. This is also pretty good baked over oysters.
If you have fresh herbs available for the thyme, tarragon, or chervil, use twice the amounts shown here.
- 3 cups chicken or turkey stock
- 1 1/2 pounds spicy Italian sausage
- 1 stick butter
- 2 medium onions, chopped
- 2 bunches fennel (all parts, not just the bulbs), chopped
- 2 ribs celery, chopped
- 1 bunch green onions, tender parts only, chopped
- 1 bunch flat-leaf parsley, bottom stems removed, chopped
- 1 10-oz. bag fresh spinach, well washed and picked of big stems
- 1 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1/2 tsp. black pepper
- 1 tsp. thyme
- 1 tsp. tarragon
- 1 tsp. chervil
- 2 oz. Herbsaint or Pernod
- 2 eggs
- 1 pint half-and-half
1. In a large saucepan, bring one cup of the stock to a boil. Break the sausage into the pan and cook, stirring with a fork to break it up, until it no longer looks raw–about six minutes. Transfer the sausage to a bowl.
2. Heat the butter in the saucepan until it bubbles. Add the chopped onion, fennel, celery, and green onions. Sauté until tender. (Note: It might be easier to do this in two batches, starting with half the butter for each batch.) When finished, transfer the chopped vegetables to the bowl with the sausage.
3. Add a half-cup of stock to the pan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Add the spinach, parsley, salt, pepper, thyme, tarragon, and sage. Cook until the spinach and parsley wilt, then add the Herbsaint. Cook another minute, then turn off the heat.
4. Remove the spinach mixture and chop. Add the chopped spinach mixture to the sausage bowl. Toss all the contents of the bowl to mix well.
5. In another bowl, beat the eggs, then whisk in the half-and-half and the remaining chicken stock.
6. Break up the cornbread into morsels (not quite crumbs). Put the cornbread into a large bowl and add the milk-egg mixture. Stir lightly to combine.
7. Add the sausage mixture to the cornbread, and toss to combine. Taste and adjust seasonings with salt and pepper.
8. Load into a baking dish or two. Press down the top of the stuffing to flatten it out. Bake in a 400-degree oven for 30 to 40 minutes (longer for larger baking dishes), until the top has browned nicely.
Serves about fifteen.
November 19, 2017
Thanksgiving: Nov. 23
Christmas: Dec. 25
Eat Club @ Roosevelt. Nov. 28.
New Year’s Eve: December 31
Today is National Whole Ham Day. I cannot imagine Thanksgiving without a turkey. But I also cannot imagine it without a ham. It’s not just because I like ham. It’s also because I love the way the house smells when this ham is in the oven. As it is all morning Thanksgiving. And I love the way the early arrivals fight over the black ham–the crusty stuff I cut off at the beginning of the carving, coated with the brown-sugar-and-mustard black crunchy stuff. And I like to contrast of color and flavor with the turkey, even though the two are sliced more or less the same.
A whole baked ham is a joy far beyond the more familiar deli sliced ham. The texture and flavor change completely in the baking. I found this out the hard way, when one year I used a bigger ham than usual and didn’t bake it long enough. Nor did I leave it out overnight to take the chill off. I had a temperature reading of over 150 degrees after four hours of baking (the ideal is 160). When I cut in, the difference in color and texture between the center and the outer two-thirds was alarming and disconcerting.
The most common baked hams these days are those spiral-sliced jobs you find in specialty ham stores and supermarkets. I’ve had my share of them, but I haven’t bought one for years. I like the ones I bake myself better. Not just because I have a good recipe, but because I’m starting with a better ham than the ham shops do. Those hams ate too sweet and sliced far too thickly for my taste, too.
There’s only one thing wrong with a baked ham: getting rid of it. (You’ve heard that Dorothy Parker definition of eternity as two people and a ham.) We have a lot of people over for Thanksgiving, and everybody who wants it gets a big chunk of ham to take home. But we do all sort of things with what we have leftover. Sandwiches and omelettes of course, but red beans and jambalaya, too.
Deft Dining Rule #5355
When buying a country ham, always buy the left leg. It’s slightly smaller but more tender. [This is a matter of controversy.–Tom.]
Deadlines In Frozen Turkey
If you bought a frozen turkey for Thanksgiving, today is the last day for beginning to thaw the bird. Three days is what they say it takes, but in fact you are safer if you give it five days of thawing in the refrigerator. Remember: if you have a frozen turkey when you start roasting it, you will have a disaster on your hands.
Deadlines In Dining
This is Make Holiday Reservations Day. It really is. And it’s a smart observance. With Thanksgiving dining on most people’s minds, only planners of private Christmas parties have bothered to make reservations for the month of December. But after Thanksgiving dinner, people talk about how nice it would be to get together in a restaurant around Christmas. The weekend tables in the best restaurants fill shortly thereafter (they’re already largely booked). Then the weekdays start filling in. Wait until a few days before, and you may be out of luck for restaurants you’d really love to dine in. There is no reason in the world to wait any longer. Do it today. By the way, we’re not only talking about Christmas but New Year’s Eve–the busiest restaurant night of the year, already completely booked in some restaurants. Having a table of six reserved on a good night in a great place gives you a valuable resource for celebration.
When you make your reservations, keep in mind the Reveillon dinners. Throughout New Orleans, forty establishments will offer these delightful, affordable holiday-themed dinners. The menus are already posted here.
Sweet Potato Creek is a short, pondlike, tidal drainage into the Bohemia River. That’s the uppermost reach of Chesapeake Bay, up in the northeast corner of Maryland. It’s seventy miles from Baltimore. Sweet Potato Creek’s banks are lined with substantial homes, most of which have private docks on the Bohemia. It’s an easy walk from the creek to the nearest restaurant, The Beach Grill Plus, a half-mile away in Hack Point.
chess pie, n.–A staple dessert of the American South, chess pie is most succinctly described as a pecan pie without the pecans. It also resembles a custard pie, except that it’s made without milk, and usually sweetened with corn syrup. It’s also common for the crust to be made with cornmeal or corn flour instead of wheat flour. It has no top crust. Chess pie is usually very sweet; some bakers add a little vinegar to the custard to offset this. The origin of the name is something of a mystery. The story that rings most true (or it could be that it’s just the most entertaining one) is that it’s the expression “just pie” (as planin old pie) said with a Southern accent. It does not seem to have anything to do with the game of chess.
Deft Dining Rule #105:
Be a regular customer in at least one important restaurant. It comes in handy at busy times of year.
The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:
The best stuffing for a small bird (Cornish hen or smaller) is a dense forcemeat of pork, veal, or chicken, with a little chicken liver in there, too.
Ann Curry, news anchor for the Today show for awhile, was born today in 1956. . . Benjamin Chew, the chief justice of Pennsylvania before the Revolution, was born today in 1722. . . Screenwriter Sam Hamm, who wrote the script for the first modern Batman movie, among many others, gave his first line of dialog today in 1955.
Words To Eat By
“Ham’s substantial, ham is fat.
Ham is firm and sound.
Ham’s what God was getting at
When He made pigs so round.”–Roy Blount, Jr.
Thanksgiving is not the busiest day in the year for restaurants, but it is the time when things have a way of becoming most frantic. It’s also a day in which finding a reservation is most difficult. Calling ahead months is a very good idea, particularly if you’re planning on having Thanksgiving dinner with many family members and friends. Tables in famous restaurants are also hard to nail down. Finally, if what you want from the restaurant is a big feast, it’s essential to make your reservation in, say, September or earlier.
There is an escape if you still don’t have a reservation a few days ahead of Turkey Day. When you call a few says or hours before dinner time, laugh to show that you understand how dear Thanksgiving tables are, then ask whether there are any last-minute cancellations you can fill. That works even for the toughest seats.
The Thanksgiving experience is is different from other meals in other ways. Buffets–which have almost disappeared from fine dining in recent years–have a way of popping up in many restaurants. Most of these are high-end hotels. If you go that route, know that it will be much more expensive than what you remember from years ago. It may even go higher than $100.
On the other hand, Thanksgiving has a way of inspiring restaurants to create special menus that may be surprising. Three courses for $around 50 have been common in recent years. And there are always children’s menus.
All that said, here is my list of the forty best restaurants for Thanksgiving in 2018. Enjoy!
Andrea’s. Metairie 2: Orleans Line To Houma Blvd: 3100 19th St. 504-834-8583. Special menu: three courses, $40. Regular menu also available. 10:30 a.m.-7 p.m.
Annadele Plantation. Covington: 71518 Chestnut St. 985-809-7669. Three courses from a special menu, $48, 11 a.m.-2 p.m.
Arnaud’s. French Quarter: 813 Bienville. 504-523-5433. A special four-course menu for $47, with a mix of traditional Thanksgiving dishes and Arnaud’s specialties.
Bistreaux. French Quarter: 1001 Toulouse St. 504-586-8000.
Borgne. CBD: 601 Loyola Ave (Hyatt Regency Hotel). 504-613-3860. A special four-course menu, plus a limited regular menu.
Bourbon House. French Quarter: 144 Bourbon. 504-522-0111. Regular menu and Thanksgiving specials, entrees $26-32.
Brennan’s. French Quarter: 417 Royal. 504-525-9711.
Broussard’s. French Quarter: 819 Conti. 504-581-3866. An especially beautiful setting, with the courtyard open.
Chophouse. CBD: 322 Magazine St. 504-522-7902. This high-end steakhouse is promoting its steaks as an alternative to the standard turkey dinner. If that appeals to you, there they are. Handsome place.
Commander’s Palace. Uptown 1: Garden District & Environs: 1403 Washington Ave. 504-899-8221. Special menu. Very likely already to be sold out.
Compere Lapin. CBD: 535 Tchoupitoulas. 504-599-2119.
Criollo. French Quarter: 214 Royal. 504-523-3341. The new restaurant in the Monteleone Hotel serves its second Thanksgiving. It’s a handsome restaurant with an imaginative, current New Orleans-style menu.
Crystal Room. CBD: Le Pavillon Hotel, 901 Poydras. 504-581-3111. Buffet, a bit less expensive than in the other hotels, and for that reason fills up early. Food is good as buffets go.
Dickie Brennan’s Steakhouse. French Quarter: 716 Iberville. 504-522-2467. Regular dinner menu and Thanksgiving specials, 3-9 p.m.
Five Happiness. A Chinese restaurant on Thanksgiving Day? Yes. What happens here is that people who either missed the turkey dinner or already had one earlier in the day. Five Happiness is open into the evening for those people, and is very busy.) Mid-City: 3605 S Carrollton. 504-482-3935.
Fleming’s Steak House. Metairie 2: Orleans Line To Houma Blvd: 3064 N. Causeway Blvd.. 504-799-0335.
Latil’s Landing. River Parishes: In Houmas House Plantation. 225-473-9380. This is the grand restaurant in Houmas House Plantation, on the River Road, halfway from New Orleans to Baton Rouge. Buffet, noon-4 p.m. $55, $25 children.
Lebanon’s Cafe. Uptown 4: Riverbend, Carrollton & Broadmoor: 1500 S Carrollton Ave. 504-862-6200.
Lüke. CBD: 333 St Charles Ave. 504-378-2840. John Besh’s most popular restaurant. Special menu.
M Bistro. French Quarter: 921 Canal. 504-524-1331. The flagship dining room of the Ritz-Carlton offers a high-end buffet 11 a.m.-7 p.m.
Maple Street Cafe. Uptown 4: Riverbend, Carrollton & Broadmoor: 7623 Maple. 504-314-9003. Both locations, special menu. Three courses, $25, $13 children. under 12. Noon-7 p.m.
Mr. B’s Bistro. French Quarter: 201 Royal. 504-523-2078. Special menu, featuring free-range turkeys. Noon-8 p.m.
Muriel’s. French Quarter: 801 Chartres. 504-568-1885. 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Special menu, three courses, $45.
Palace Cafe. French Quarter: 605 Canal. 504-523-1661. Regular menu with Thanksgiving specials (entrees $26-42), 11:30 a.m.-7 p.m.
Ralph’s On The Park. City Park Area: 900 City Park Ave. 504-488-1000. Very substantial special menu, three courses $46-54.
Red Fish Grill. French Quarter: 115 Bourbon. 504-598-1200. Buffet 10:30 a.m.-9 p.m., $47, kids $15, under 6 free. It’s not an enormous hotel-style buffet, but the food is fresh and distinctly Creole. Lots going on for the kids.
Restaurant des Familles. Marrero To Lafitte: 7163 Barataria Blvd. 504-689-7834. Way out on the bayou twenty minutes from downtown, and quite an environment. Special menu.
Rib Room. French Quarter: 621 St Louis St83. 504-529-7045. Special menu. four courses, $37-51. 11:30 a.m.-8 p.m.
Roosevelt Hotel. CBD: 123 Baronne. The Roosevelt Hotel serves Thanksgiving dinner in the Waldorf-Astoria ballroom, the grandest and largest space in the hotel. In addition to the buffet, there are several other action stations cooking to order. On a smaller scale, the hotel’s Fountain Lounge will also be open.
Roux On Orleans. French Quarter: 717 Orleans (Bourbon Orleans Hotel). 504-571-4604. The restaurant of the Bourbon Orleans, a block in back of St. Louis Cathedral. Buffet from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Adults $59, tax and tip included (!).
Royal Sonesta Ballroom. French Quarter: 300 Bourbon. 504-553-2278. Now that R’evolution is the main dining room at the Sonesta, the holidays bring forth special arrangements. The buffet you remember from the days of Begue’s is now in the hotel’s big ballroom. $75 is the price; $35 6-12 years, free under that. Seatings begin at 10:30 a.m., with the final seating at 1:30 p.m.
Ruth’s Chris Steak House. Metairie 2: Orleans Line To Houma Blvd: 3633 Veterans Blvd. 504-888-3600. Thanksgiving specials ($40, complete dinner) and regular menu, both locations. Noon-8 p.m.
Ruth’s Chris Steak House. CBD: 525 Fulton St. 504-587-7099. Thanksgiving specials ($40, complete dinner) and regular menu, both locations. Noon-8 p.m.
Tujague’s. French Quarter: 823 Decatur. 504-525-8676. Usual table d’hote dinner, with fresh turkey and other Thanksgiving dishes, about $40. 11 a.m.-9 p.m.
Vacherie. French Quarter: 827 1/2 Toulouse St. 504-207-4532. This boutique hotel in the French Quarter (it’s where Louis XVI used to be) hase continually expanded the reach and goodness of its restaurant, particularly on holidays. Thanksgiving brings a buffet from noon until 4 p.m. The price is $39 adults, $18 children.
Windsor Court Grill Room. CBD: 300 Gravier. 504-522-1994. Special menu, four courses, $95. It’s offered all day long: 11 a.m.-9 p.m.