#30 Among The 33 Best Seafood Eateries
ANECDOTES AND ANALYSIS
The greatest restaurant loss from Katrina was the historic West End. Even though it was was in a long decline when the hurricane hit, the total destruction down to water level marked the end of a dining zone that dated back to before the Civil War. Efforts to restore any kind of restaurant to West End were greeted with hope and longing. So much that we even put up with Landry’s, the chain restaurant that opened years before any other West End place did.
Then, after six years, plans for two new restaurants alongside the New Basin Canal began to take shape. Brisbi’s and The Blue Crab–similar in that they include many outdoor tables, a view of the lake, and service to boats–opened in late 2013. The crowds were enormous. Everybody who had ever dined at West End jammed in, waited a long time for a table, and had meals which more often than not left the diners a little or a lot disappointed. How could it be otherwise? The revival of a major institution always has its customers saying that it isn’t like the old place. Now, after two years, these two restaurants and their customers have figured one another out. More or less.
WHY IT’S NOTEWORTHY
The classic West End restaurant is a big, casual place with big windows giving a view of the lake, serving modestly-priced local seafood dishes of large size. The food begins with raw oysters, boiled lake crustaceans, and fried everything. What sets Brisbi’s apart is that its menu extends well beyond the basics, with hollandaise sauce and fish tacos and other departures from the deep-fryer.
The chef is David deFelice, a member of the family that for over a century has operated Pascal’s Manale. There is no business connection there, but Brisbi’s kitchen does borrow more than a few dishes from the Manale’s catalog. They include both good things (barbecue shrimp) and bad (turtle soup). Indeed, the poor boy sandwiches and seafood platters seem to take a back seat. Downstairs, what almost seems like a different restaurant shucks thousands of oysters and boils the seasonal shellfish.
The exact spot where Brisbi’s is now was for decades the Hong Kong restaurant, a well-known Chinese place as famous for its romantic booths for necking as for its food. Owner Jonathan Brisbi has a feeling of waterfront dining, having grown up on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. He and partners (one of whom was, briefly, Chef Duke LoCicero of Cafe Giovanni) began working on the restaurant in 2010, finding themselves having to be pioneers in erecting a restaurant outside the levees, with even more bureaucrats to sedate than usual. Brisbi’s opened at almost exactly the same time that the Blue Crab did, in 20132.
The building is brand-new, with most of the operation lifted twenty feet above sea level. (There are elevators.) Other requirements came from the Army Corps of Engineers, who had to sign off on nearly everything. The main dining room is smaller than one expects, but so much outdoor dining space is available that this becomes an issue only when the weather is unpleasant. One wants to dine alfresco always, because a full house in the main interior room generates noise levels hard to talk over.
FULL ONLINE MENU
Tuna tartare nachos, pepper jelly vinaigrette, wasabi aioli
Fried green tomatoes, crabmeat or shrimp remoulade
Buffalo-style oysters, shrimp, or chicken
Shrimp and crabmeat-stuffed mushrooms, hollandaise
Baked crab cakes, horseradish cream sauce
Barbecue shrimp and grits
Shrimp and crab gumbo
Fried oysters, shrimp, catfish, calamari or combinations
Pecan crusted catfish, sweet potatoes, asparagus
Sesame-crusted tuna, pineapple teriyaki
Gulf fish Pontchartrain, crabmeat, hollandaise, asparagus
Fish tacos, blackened or grilled, pico de gallo
Salmon florentine (spinach, artichokes, hollandaise)
Fish meuniere or amandine
Fried oysters with pasta bordelaise
Panneed chicken with fettuccine Alfredo
Spinach and romaine salad, fried oysters, bacon, roasted peppers and grape tomatoes, blue cheese
Fried oysters, shrimp or catfish poor boy
Chicken or eggplant parmigiana or meatball poor boy, red gravy
Stuffed barbecue shrimp poor boy
Roast beef debris poor boy
Key lime pie
FOR BEST RESULTS
The kitchen better executes the more ambitious, hipper dishes than it does the basics. The raw oysters are so good that one might spend the entire visit on the lower level.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
From Day One through today, service here has never been finely tuned. The food either comes out too fast or not nearly fast enough. That turtle soup recipe should go extinct.
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 +2
- Value +1
- Wine & Bar
- Hipness +2
- Local Color +3
- Courtyard or deck dining
- Good view
- Open Sunday lunch
- Open Monday lunch
- Open after 10 p.m.
- Open all afternoon
- Oyster bar
- Good for children
- Easy, nearby parking
- Reservations accepted (for five or more)