Over the course of our marriage, Tom and I have had many disagreements, and our tastes are sometimes seemingly diametrically opposed. But in this late stage I find myself coming over to his side of these arguments more and more, no duress required. It’s been nearly ten years since I realized antique restaurants are really quite nice, certainly have something to offer a diner, and are usually as delicious as he has so often asserted.
There are many other examples of these St. Paul-type culinary conversions, but this piece is the latest. It involves a fantastically delicious little spot in Mandeville.
Cafe Lynn is one of the what I call A-lister Mom and Pops, restaurants on the north shore of the lake where former chefs at great New Orleans dining spots set up shop in order to offer their families a better life. These restaurants have scrumptious food, usually in unassuming environments.
The Hidalgo’s at peculiar Hambone, the Frentz’s tucked into the old train station in Covington, (fancy new digs here though with the addition of the fabulously refurbished train car), and the Najola’s in the strip mall on Hwy 190, are all turning out food maybe better than their training grounds.
The level of spectacular delciousness at all these places is proven by my fandom, because I, as an environment junkie, am usually affected by my surroundings. All of these places, by sight, represent what they are about: a nice young couple in a manageable business providing a living for their cute little family. Dad cooks, Mom seats, hours limited for family time. I love this story, and I really love the food. The place? Meh.
Cafe Lynn started out in an old Burger King, which they renovated into a charming little place. The vibe was cozy, the location visible but odd, and all was well until the structural drawbacks of an old Burger King manifested themselves.
The place they moved was not far away, in the nondescript strip mall near Debosque’s Jewelers, and adjacent to Marsh Bayou Outfitters, a place I routinely shop between courses.
I have never been a fan of the new space, which I find a little dark and 1980s elegant. But that is because I am a modern design snob, and this lovely space would greatly please 99.9% of other diners.
And with food like this, really, who cares about the environment? We have never had anything here that wasn’t borderline thrilling. And we are going a lot more lately, now that I have come to my senses. I still make Tom sit at one of the outside tables, where the ambience is parking lot, but I did snag 5 pairs of flip flops on sale next door, since I was sitting right next to the rack.
It would be nice to say we have eaten our way through the menu, but we are so nutso about what we have had that we can’t get past the regulars. Tom loves the escargot here, which was served the traditional way in the tray with indentions for the snail and its garlic butter bath. (Lately it comes as pictured.) French snails are not a de rigeur item on the north shore, so this is a staple for Tom.
For me it is crab claws, and this is the best version of my go-to app anywhere. They are served in a divine garlic, olive oil and herb sauce they call Persillade. The order is very generous, and this sauce should never go to waste I feel, so I have taken to asking for a side of plain pasta, which gets tossed in the sauce after the claws are gone. They are most accommodating to my request for Parmesan cheese, and I am happy.
We have also gotten the duck confit, which I think is also the best I have had anywhere. This comes in an appetizer portion of one leg quarter for half the price of the two leg entree at dinner. If you do not like duck confit, try it here before putting the matter to rest. Soft and falling off the bone where it should be, crispy where it should be. Delicious!
We have also had the crab cake Brandi Lynn (named for the owner) and the crabmeat au gratin. Again, extraordinarily pleasing. You simply can’t go wrong at this place. Get what you like to eat, and Joey Najola will make it so you can’t stop eating it.
Another thing I like here is the little baby salad that comes with your entree. It is adorable, piled high with fresh, eclectic and varied ingredients, and offered with a list of great house made dressings. It is just enough to perk your palate, making you hungry for the entree. If you want a salad as an entree, you’re on safe ground. The goat cheese salad is great, as is the Greek, and the crab cake. Again, impossible to misstep, but save the salad entree for a place with less stellar real entrees.
This restaurant has a list of entree favorites, and usually some equally appealing specials, like a delectable fried oyster dish we had once. Choices are daunting, and all will be great. We’ve had the lamb, steak, duck, pork chop, and various chicken dishes, and all are prepared with a level of sophistication and polish, and an artful presentation seen only in the kind of establishments where the chef honed his skills.
On our most recent visit I was eating better, so Tom and I split a Greek salad for an appetizer. It was exploding with color from all the different vegetables and studded generously with Kalamata and green olives. It was definitely enough to split and it came with a lemon vinaigrette that was opaque rather than clear, and oddly sweet. Full of chopped vegetables like cucumber, onion and tomato in a pile of the freshest lettuce, it was so filling we could have stopped there.
And I did, but Tom was intrigued by the Chicken Grenobloise. It came from the kitchen in a lovely stack: perfect green beans, topped with a stiff chicken breast seared beautifully with a brown butter crust, piled high with capers, draped generously with more brown butter. Small slices of roasted potatoes also had a nice sear in the appropriate places. The chicken was cooked to what I call the sweet spot, and this dish was everything it should be.
We rarely order chicken in restaurants, but the memory of this dish will have us think twice next time.
Tom had creme brulee which was not up to its usual standards. He raved about it anyway.
We left Cafe Lynn as we usually do now, not wondering why we don’t go more often because we are going more often now. Lately, we leave Cafe Lynn wondering why everyone doesn't go more often. Here is New Orleans A-list food for about half the price, literally. Where are the lines?