WHY IT’S NOTEWORTHY
The longest-running and most Gallic of our growing population of French bistros, Cafe Degas is unique both in its environment and kitchen. The dining room, while fully air conditioned, is in fact outside, on a deck. The menu is a modest catalogue of country-style French cooking, with a few New Orleans accents. It’s easy to be charmed by the place, and wind up lingering longer than you originally planned.
I like Cafe Degas a little more every time I go there. The premises are so comfortable (in a completely casual way) that you can’t help but begin a meal in a good mood. Enough seldom-seen specialties are on the menu to make the eating distinctive. Sometimes, the insistence on using French-style ingredients and techniques when local ones might be better result in a downtick–notably in the seafood department. But the aforementioned charms have a way of making you fuzz that over.
The restaurant is named for seminal French Impressionist painter Edgar Degas, who lived for a time in New Orleans not far away from the restaurant. It opened in 1980, a collaboration of Jacques Soulas and Jerry Edgar, who had in mind the cafes of the French Quarter, but in a different setting.
A tin-roof-covered deck surrounded by awnings (they’re lifted when weather is nice) gazes onto the little park across the street and into Esplanade Avenue’s big live oaks. Even when awnings are down, the place has an outdoor feeling, although the temperature is reasonably well controlled.
Board of assorted patés
French boudin noir
Mussels with fennel and pommes frites
Onion soup gratinee
Brussels sprouts and Stilton salad
Salad with warm goat cheese
Salade Niçoise (with fresh tuna)
Hanger steak with pommes frites
Mignonettes de veau au parmesan
Dijon crusted rack of lamb
Daily special entrees
Blanquette de veau
Liver, bacon, and onions
Sunday brunch egg dishes
FOR BEST RESULTS
Never come here in a hurry. The service and undersized kitchen move at a slower than average pace, but that works in the tout ensemble. Sunday brunch here is as good as it is popular, which is very. Remember that they’re closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
The food is all fresh, but the quality is not always the top. (That’s a hallmark of French bistros, in France, too.) I have never been impressed by a fish dish here.
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 +2
- Attitude +1
- Wine & Bar +1
- Hipness +1
- Local Color +3
- Courtyard or deck dining
- Good view
- Open Sunday lunch and dinner
- Open all afternoon
- Good for children
- Easy, nearby parking
- Reservations accepted
ANECDOTES AND ANALYSIS
Something about Café Degas makes dining there feel as if you’re on vacation. No other restaurant makes it so clear how interwoven with France our food culture is. Time seems to go by more slowly. You may as well have another glass of wine.
The crowd that dines at Café Degas is hip enough that the kitchen doesn’t hesitate to serve offbeat groceries. A great way to begin the meal is to split a board of pates, cheeses, and smoked fish. These cold assortments are very French and light, too, served amply enough to almost make a lunch unto themselves.