Dozen Best Ground-Beef Dishes (No Hamburgers or Meatballs). The king of beef dishes is not steak. Or the roast, stew, paillard, or stir-fry. Far and away the most popular shape of beef (and most other red meats, too) is ground. As in hamburger, the world’s most popular meat dish.
The reason for this is clear. A steak needs to be a large, beautiful cut with little in the way of bones or connective tissue. A hamburger (and all the other dishes that begin by grinding the meat) can use any part of the animal, including all the fat and a good deal of gristle. The fat makes the lean meat taste better. The gristle disappears when ground. No waste. Nearly the entire animal is used. Even if sold at a low price, this economy makes grinding beef a lucrative business.
Two more attractions. Ground beef can be cooked in a million ways. And –most important of all–it tastes good.
1. La Petite Grocery. Uptown 2: Washington To Napoleon: 4238 Magazine. 504-891-3377. I just said that ground beef can be cooked in many ways. The best of them to my palate is a dish that’s not cooked at all, despite the advisory on the menu against eating raw beef. Steak tartare is raw ground (or finely chopped, if you want to be a purist about it) beef mixed with the likes of mustard, cayenne, onions, capers, and a few other condiments of choice. It has almost disappeared, even from the upscale restaurants that made it tableside. (Could be that’s because such restaurants themselves have mostly disappeared.)
2. Cafe Giovanni. French Quarter: 117 Decatur. 504-529-2154. Spaghetti bolognese is the simplest entree at Chef Duke’s place, and perhaps the best. Ground beef and pork come together in a tomato-enhanced meat sauce tossed with the pasta, looking like a disintegrate meatball. The small nubbins of meat release more flavor than a meatball does. Although children love it, this is not, merely kidfood.
3. Doris Metropolitan. French Quarter: 620 Chartres St. 504-267-3500. The most important recent addition to the well-populated steakhouse assortment around town does everything a bit differently from the standard New York-inspired steak menu. Here is Doris’s (or Dori’s–either is correct) steak tartare, called Chateaubriand tartare. It starts with short loin scraps before being chopped finely and abetted with smoked paprika, shallots, capers, and Dijon mustard. A quail yolk adds a crowning touch.
4. Mr. Ed’s Oyster Bar & Fish Grill. Metairie 2: Orleans Line To Houma Blvd: 3117 21st St. 504-833-6310. Hamburger steak was at one time almost a universal dish in New Orleans restaurants. Even places like Galatoire’s served it. Not so much anymore. Only the few neighborhood restaurants that try hard turn out anything worth talking about. This is the best of the, It’s made with gravy and onions.
5. Byblos. Metairie 1: Old Metairie: 1501 Metairie Rd. 504-834-9773. Depending on who you ask, the grilled sausage-shaped meatballs made with ground meat (beef, lamb, or a combination of the two) are called either lula or kafta (or kufta, kifta, kefta, kofto, or even koufta) kebabs. The meat gets mixed with cracked wheat, parsley, and seasonings, and seared on a hot grill, with hummus on the side. The version they do here is the best around.
6. Happy Italian. Harahan: 7105 Jefferson Hwy. 504-305-4666. Meat sauce on pasta is routine, but can you remember ever having a pizza made with Bolognese sauce? You probably haven’t. They do that here, and it’s not merely offbeat, but terrific.
7. Cafe 615 (Da Wabbit). Gretna: 615 Kepler. 504-365-1225. The hamburger steak has nearly arrived in full oblivion, a journey that began with its being one of the most common dishes found in casual restaurants. At Da Wabbit, it comes out big, juicy, and crusty, with brown gravy and onions.
8. Cafe Reconcile. Warehouse District & Center City: 1631 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd. 504-568-1157. Meat loaf is another once-popular, now rarely-seen dish in neighborhood restaurants. Another rarity that once was popular, meat loaf is now a daily special–all you need to know is the day. A few retro restaurants make a fuss over it–notably the American Sector. It’s a big favorite at Cafe Reconcile.
9. La Boca. Warehouse District & Center City: 870 Tchoupitoulas. 504-525-8205. Empanadas (“enclosed in bread” are a familiar part of Latin American cookery. The version at La Boca is, like most items on the menu, done in the Argentine style. The crust is filled with seasoned ground beef and baked. A good if large appetizer, along the lines of Natchitoches meat pies.
10. Lebanon’s Cafe. Uptown 4: Riverbend, Carrollton & Broadmoor: 1500 S Carrollton Ave. 504-862-6200. Kibbe is ground beef mixed with cracked wheat, parsley, and seasonings. It’s usually made into the shape of a football about an inch and a half long, then fried and served with taratour (ground sesame seeds, mostly). Good appetizer. Another form of kibbe–surnamed nayyih–is served raw–but that cannot be found in restaurants anymore. I wish it could be.
11. Peppermill. Metairie 2: Orleans Line To Houma Blvd: 3524 Severn Ave. 504-455-2266. The Peppermill is the surviving descendant of the extinct Buck Forty-Nine Steak House in the 1950s through the 1990s. Such places always had a hamburger steak (or, as it was often known for atmospheric reasons, a ground sirloin). It was popular enough at the Buck 49 that it still shows up as a special here.
12. Joey K’s. Uptown 2: Washington To Napoleon: 3001 Magazine. 504-891-0997. Stuffed bell pepper. This runs as a special a couple of times a week. It looks like the classic Creole version, but after a couple of bites you find that it’s stuffed both with ground beef and shrimp. Better than it sounds. They also make a good hamburger steak here.