WHY IT’S NOTEWORTHY
Austin’s is the best practitioner of a nearly-extinct subspecies of New Orleans restaurants I call Suburban Creole. Like top-forty music radio, restaurants of this genre serve only the familiar hits of the local cuisine. Not even the specials engender much need for asking questions about ingredients, sauces, garnishes, or cooking methods. You know all of them from repeated exposure in the past.
If you have a liking for a familiar local favorite you enjoyed twenty or forty years ago, there’s a good chance you’ll find it here, prepared at least reasonably well. The raw materials are fresh and good, and the cooking is not only deftly carried out, but in most cases presented in an uncommonly appetizing way. The only minor exception to that rule is the proclivity of the kitchen to overload plates with food, but even that is celebrated by the regulars.
Austin is the son of Ed McIntyre, who also operates the more casual, neighborhood-style Mr. Ed’s in Bucktown and Metairie. This place began as one suite in a small strip mall, but expanded three times to its present size. After Katrina, it took serious flooding, but McIntyre repaired and reopened it quickly enough to became one of the highest-volume white tablecloth restaurants in town for a few months. It’s still so busy most of the time that reservations are essential.
Instead of combining the strip-mall suites, Austin’s uses them as a series of more intimate dining rooms and a bar. That keeps the noise and bustle to a minimum, and makes the restaurant unusually good for having conversations with friends or lovers. The lighting is low enough to feel elegant without making it hard for the older customers to read the menu.
»Crabmeat Austin (a salad with asparagus, greens, and white remoulade).
Seared, bacon-wrapped sea scallops.
»Gumbo ya-ya (chicken and andouille, in a dark roux).
»Stacked tomato salad with blue cheese.
Artichoke and asparagus salad.
Redfish with crabmeat, mushrooms, and green onions.
Crab cakes with crawfish dill sauce.
Crabmeat au gratin.
Panneed veal with fettuccine.
Roast duck with orange or cherries.
»Double-cut pork chop.
»Sirloin strip steak.
FOR BEST RESULTS
Reservations are essential. Beware of dishes that seem to have one too many ingredients piled on top.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
They openly admit to buying some dishes (soups and desserts, mostly) from outside sources. On the other hand, these are actually quite good, and the pricing makes it a fair deal. The parking lot is not quite big enough to handle the busiest nights. If there is something you don’t like about the style of the food or the service, the management will not usually be on your side.
FACTORS OTHER THAN FOOD
Up to three points, positive or negative, for these characteristics. Absence of points denotes average performance in the matter.
- Dining Environment +1
- Consistency +1
- Value +1
- Attitude +1
- Wine & Bar
- Hipness -1
- Local Color
- Good for business meetings
- Open Monday lunch and dinner
- Unusually large servings
- Good for children
- Easy, nearby parking
- Reservations accepted
ANECDOTES AND ANALYSIS
One of Metairie’s most popular restaurants, Austin’s took the baton from Sal & Sam’s, the Red Onion, La Cuisine, and other practitioners of upscale Creole comfort food. But they do a much better job of cooking than any of those place ever did. Although the kitchen gets low marks for creativity, there’s almost no way an honest diner can say that he doesn’t get a very good meal here. For certain items–notably the steaks and duck–Austin’s is right up there with the best specialists.
There’s a nice positive feedback loop going on. The presence of well-heeled, happy regular customers makes this a great place for waiters to work. As a result, the restaurant has attracted a much better dining room staff than can be found anywhere else in Metairie.
Historically, first-class restaurants have not done well in the burbs. By toning its ambitions down just a bit, Austin’s found the sweet spot.