ANECDOTES AND ANALYSIS
Not many people drive through Harahan or River Ridge en route to somewhere else. Maybe that’s why through most of its history Harahan hasn’t had many restaurants above the neighborhood-joint category. And not many of those, either. With a menu and style in sync with the hippest Italian restaurants in the area, Oak Oven’s opening was bound to attract attention. It did, and that’s almost the only problem facing you and me when it comes to eating here.
WHY IT’S NOTEWORTHY
The centerpiece of Oak Oven is described exactly by its name. Pizza is the mainstay of the seemingly abbreviated menu, but all the other major Italian food groups are represented here. But this is not your standard big-appetite New Orleans-Italian eat place. The food shows up in modest, handsome presentations of pristine ingredients. They must be doing something right, because the main challenge is here is in getting a table. The old trick of showing up when it opens at five doesn’t work, because everybody in Harahan eats at five.
WHAT’S GOOD Start with pizza. It only takes five minutes to come out, and is great with wine or a cocktail. From there, you move from strength to strength, with fine work performed with house-made pasta; well-pounded white veal; herbal roasted chicken, crusty around the edges; and even a luscious daily soup. All this carries the flavor of Palermo (and I was just there, two months ago). Even the sandwiches are exciting. A chalkboard lists all the vegetables available that day that comes directly from local farms.
Two years ago, chef and co-owner Adam Superneau immersed himself in the culture of Sicily for enough months to become almost disoriented (Italy can have that effect) but ultimately inspired. He and his two partners–lifelong friends and Blue Jays all–have unimpeachable New Orleans/Sicilian/food roots. John Matassa is the grandson of record producer-grocer Cosimo Matassa, one of the two or three most important figures in the history of New Orleans music. Thomas Macaluso’s and Adam’s forebears were also in the local grocery business. The three opened Oak Oven in late 2013.
The restaurant is much too small for the crowds this outstanding food attracts. It was formerly the dine-in area of a Popeyes, with the floating ceiling and the tile floors removed to create a rustic effect. The walls are lined with photos of the owners’ Sicilian ancestors. Oak Oven is just finished an outdoor dining area. The servers are happily hospitable, and the chef and partners make frequent visits to the dining room to check on things.
»Soup of the day
Fried eggplant, tomato-basil sauce
»Shrimp and crabmeat, fire-roasted artichoke, lemon
Wood-fired beef, gorgonzola, mushroom and red wine
»Parmigiana salad (romaine, bacon, tomato, egg, olives)
Spinach salad, apple, raisins, candied pecans, gorgonzola dolce, homemade pepper jelly
»Arugula salad, cured tomato, cucumber, mint, feta, lemon vinaigrette
Sandwiches on ciabatta:
»Rosemary roasted chicken, Fontina cheese, roasted red pepper, sweet onions
Wood-roasted pork, tomato, spicy chile and fresh mozzarella
Lamb meatballs, marjoram, tomato sauce, ricotta
Thin-sliced steak, gorgonzola, wood-roasted onions and peppers Fried fish, shrimp, oysters, lettuce, tomato, tzatziki sauce
Mushrooms, sauteed spinach, red onion, feta cheese, olive oil
»Margherita (fresh mozzarella, tomato, basil, olive oil)
Americano (pepperoni, tomato & mozzarella)
»Formaggi (mozzarella, fontina, parmigiano, ricotta & tomato)
»Salsiccia (spicy fennel sausage, roast peppers, capers, olive, tomato)
Lamb meatball (tomato, sweet peppers, basil, red chile & ricotta)
Maiale (roast pork, fennel sausage, smoked bacon and sweet onion)
Shrimp and crabmeat, artichoke, red chile, oregano, garlic, white wine
»Verdure (spinach, arugula, garlic, mushrooms, thyme, olive oil
»Penne, rosemary chicken, grilled mushrooms, spinach & garlic
»Fresh frattura pasta, pork ragu, bay leaf, tomato, red chile
Spaghetti, lamb meatballs, tomato sauce, sweet marjoram, ricotta
Fresh fettuccine, cream, butter, Grana Padano cheese /
»Eggplant, chicken or veal parmigiana, tomato-basil spaghetti
»Veal piccata (lemon, butter, capers, cappellini pasta)
Panneed veal, fresh fettucine Alfredo
Gulf fish, crab, white wine, mushrooms, pesto angel hair pasta
Fried Gulf fish, shrimp, oysters, potatoes and tzatziki sauce
Wood-grilled New York strip, rosemary, sage, garlic, fried potatoes
Pine nut-caramel gelato
FOR BEST RESULTS
Even if it’s hard to get your head around the idea, make a reservation. You might still have to wait a few minutes. Unless you eat like a bird, you will need at least two courses here. (The prices are in line with that.)
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
If this place continues to draw the clientele it does, they will have to move to a bigger place.
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
- Consistency +2
- Value +2
- Attitude +3
- Wine & Bar +1
- Hipness +3
- Local Color +2
- Outdoor tables, drinks only
- Open Monday lunch and dinner
- Good for children
- Easy, nearby parking
- Reservations recommended