Out of sheer COVID boredom, we drove to Mandeville for breakfast. Tom is very loyal to his beloved Mattina Bella, but I reminded him that we have to write about these experiences.
From its early days back in the 90s, this cute little Mandeville Cottage on Gerard has served breakfast. This is the flagship of the expanding and contracting Broken Egg empire.
For some reason Tom took an immediate dislike to The Broken Egg. Ferociously protective of all things local, it bugged him that the owner modeled the business off a breakfast place he enjoyed in San Diego. And Tom never got over it, even when it became a north shore phenom which spread to the Gulf Coast as far as Florida.
And then this original location became La-Lou, every bit as popular, but much better than Broken Egg. Tom seems to have forgiven this cottage its Broken Egg origins.
The menu is massive here, dwarfing the ambitions of Broken Egg. There are omelets, Benedicts, and Scrambles. But the most interesting section of the menu is local specialties. We started with an appetizer of biscuits, which are ordered in sizes that are multiples of two. I was excited to see pimento cheese biscuits, until I learned it means dry biscuits with a tiny ramekin of about 2 tablespoons of extremely mediocre pimento cheese. The biscuits were flaky, but otherwise ordinary, meaning fine but nothing special.
Tom got the Gerard Street Scramble and a waffle, which sported a fleur de lis imprint and a dusting of powdered sugar. Tom liked this very well, but not as much as he enjoyed the scramble which was comprised of spinach, bacon, and cheese, served with the standard fried potato cubes.
From the menu section marked Specialties I ordered a Crab Cake Napoleon, described as a grit cake topped with a crab cake floating in a shrimp and andouille cream sauce. Served with parmesan crostini. This was a massive pile of stuff that immediately brought to mind a favorite quote of Tom’s mentor, the late Dick Brennan. There was definitely such a thing as too many ingredients to Dick, who said that whatever it was then tasted like nothing. Except the pile before me was delicious, and I was thrilled at its size because I could eat it again later, which I did.
The crab cake was indistinguishable from the grit cake, which didn't really matter since both were just the platform for the smoky, spicy, packed-with-flavor cream sauce. The andouille seemed more like little smokies but it definitely worked. I can’t wait to eat this again, but the powerful impression this dish made on me just makes me want to try other things on this menu.
Service was glacial, which is a widespread problem attributable to the lack of staff. This is just one of the many problems plaguing the restaurant industry in COVID world. It is a crisis to restaurateurs, who have told us stories we find almost unbelievable. They were looking forward to the end of July to resume business, but it appears ever-elusive.
This place is very busy and with good reason. In studying the menu I discovered the presence of a club sandwich at lunch. That will be pursued, along with much else.
Another change here in COVID world is our tendency to stay close to home, or to cook at home. Last week I tried Greg Piccolo’s mother’s fried chicken recipe, but the chicken breast came in a pack of three, and each bloated breast was large enough to be the size of a whole normal chicken. With ML’s gourmet-shaming reverberating in my head, I decided to use the last two for Chicken Paillard, and Coq Au Vin. (more on this one later.)
I went to Whole Foods, which is the only place here carrying the gourmet greens of frisée and escarole, which seem an essential accompaniment to this dish. I was at least able to get the frisee. I used to find this feathery green annoying, but there is something impossibly delicious about it coated in a delectable French dressing. (I knew my dressing would fall short of that standard.)
Cutting raw meat and pounding it offends my animal insanity, so it was all I could do to free the breast meat from the bones. Pounding it was traumatic, so it was not pounded nearly as flat as it should have been. I heated the skillet hot with olive oil and butter, dusted the chicken breast with salt and pepper and a very light coating of flour, and placed it in the pan to sear. I kept a few tablespoons of flour and added it to the oils around the chicken in the pan, whisking gently to thicken it. I added the juice of half a lemon, and a splash of white wine from our counter stash. Then a tablespoon of capers. Continual whisking was required to keep this thickening smoothly. I added some water and more white wine as needed. I flipped the chicken once, so as not to lose the light coating.
All the French dressing recipes online, (including from the queen of all, Martha Stewart) included ketchup and sugar. No wonder the bottled versions were that orange color and thick. Ugggh.
It finally occurred to me that what I needed to search was French Vinaigrette, which was definitely more like it. This was a mixture of Dijon mustard and olive oil and sea salt, but the very classic one is simply olive oil, some wine vinegar, ubiquitous shallots, the mustard, and salt and pepper to taste. It’s hard to imagine how something so simple can be so divine, but it is.
After I tossed the friseée in this perfect light dressing, I poured a little of the Sauce from the pan and arranged the Chicken Paillard on the plate. What impressed me the most with this was that even though it was not pounded nearly enough, I was thrilled with how perfectly done it was. I have a tendency to overcook chicken (and everything else) but this was white through the middle and tender and really exactly what it should be. And that makes all the difference. It turns out that I like chicken after all, and when done properly, it doesn’t have to be boring at all. The recipes are below:
1 boneless, skinless chicken breast
2 Tbs, Olive Oil
2 Tbsp Butter
3 Tbsp. flour
1 Tbsp capers
⅓-½ cup white wine
Juice of ½ lemon
Salt and pepper
Pound chicken breast flat.
Heat olive oil and butter in a skillet on medium.
Dust chicken with salt and pepper and flour.
Place it in the pan, and add the remaining flour into the pan whisking it into the oils. Whisk in the lemon juice, then the wine. Add the capers . Flip the chicken once.
Place the chicken breast on top of some sauce on a plate, and add the green salad.
The French Vinaigrette from (eateuropean.com)
1 shallot chopped very fine
2 Tbsp wine vinegar
6 Tbsp olive oil
1tsp Dijon mustard
Mix all these ingredients together and add salt and pepper to taste.
Toss the greens.