Deep Quarter Dining
Mary Ann Fitzmorris January 29, 2020 12:07 Dining Diary
Posted by Mary Leigh Fitzmorris, who writes in this space as the Gourmet Daughter
As you may remember from our announcement at the beginning of the year, I have made the switch to working for The New Orleans Menu full time. While I plan to pop in now and again to write about some meals I've had, the biggest task of this new endeavor is muddling through, organizing, and updating enormous amounts of data. I’ve been plugging away at updating the restaurant list, (a truly terrifying project,) and in the process, I’ve been taking note of places to check out.
Unfortunately, with all this work to do, I find myself suddenly living the freelancer’s dream, with no good excuse when friends and past coworkers ask me to help them with jobs. One particular friend has recently started his own fabrication business, Downtown Fabworks #shamelessplugcheckhimout. He’s helped me so much with my house for so long I owe him my first and second-born children, so when he needs help, there’s no saying no.
He’s been replacing some rotten millwork at an 1830’s estate deep in the Quarter, and needed a painter to restore some original French doors next to original Venetian plaster walls. And so I found myself in the Quarter for most of last week. Full disclosure - I am not a French Quarter person. But, remaining loyal to my inherited duties, I tried to make every meal in my neighborhood of the week as worthwhile as possible.
We were working in the more residential and far less overwhelming region of the Quarter, half a block off the Esplanade end of Decatur. Having already been to Dian Xin (the article’s coming, I swear it!!) and determined to stick to my aforementioned familial duty, I tried to find somewhere not too touristy to go, but not so nice that I wouldn’t be shooed out the door like a Quarter rodent in my perpetual state of paint-covered grunge.
I scoured the map of the nearby blocks, and realized I was only a block away from Belle’s Diner, a place that had jumped out at me in my restaurant list studies. It’s a funky retro diner plopped in the Quarter and owned by the same crew behind Barcadia and Sofia. If that’s not potential I don’t know what is! Huzzah! We have a winner.
I nearly missed the unassuming place walking down Decatur. The small dirt-patinated sign was the only thing marking the otherwise invisible white building. Maybe I was expecting diner-esque decor to be spewing out into the streets, as diners like to do. This concerned me for a moment, absurdly, (What if it’s not a REAL diner? What if I’m being trapped like a tourist??), but having settled on this plan I pressed on.
All of my fears subsided after stepping inside. I believe this was the back entrance, and I was carried down the hallway into the main dining room by the sweet scent of fresh pancakes like an entranced cartoon character being dragged along by a wafting smoke tendril.
One of the many weirdly enthusiastic service staff invited me to sit anywhere in the bright and only moderately diner-like space. It’s actually a lovely little room, with some standout vintage-looking mosaic tile floors and an overall aura of warmth. A single row of small marble tabletops adorned with aqua vinyl seating lines the wall, facing a typical diner-style countertop overlooking an open kitchen.
I scanned the menu, which was a pretty expected blend of classic diner fare with burgers and sandwiches, peppered with some classic New Orleans dishes to feed those trapped tourists. Their breakfast menu is as extensive as the rest of the offerings, and it’s served all day which explained the tantalizing pancake aroma.
I prefer to keep my meals in their regularly scheduled programming, so I skipped past the myriad of omelette and waffle varieties and checked out the appetizers. They mention a House-made Crab Cake, which would be an interesting test, but I decided to check the authenticity of the Roast Beef Debris instead, served over cheese fries.
I admit expectations were high at this point. I mean, it smelled really good in there. So I waited anxiously for my fries...and waited...and waited…
About 25 minutes later I was presented with a somewhat sad plate of ordinary fries sprinkled with a minimal amount of the promised cheddar cheese, a handful of unpromised cheese curds--where did those come from?--and a small hunk of tender roast beef in an ideal amount of gravy. They were nice and hot, and the roast beef itself was actually pretty good. Overall though, a large step or two down from what they could have been.
Thankfully, the appetizer served to ratchet down my expectations just in time for my Clubhouse Sandwich, another item I can’t walk away from on a menu. Being a diner I thought I might get lucky with a classic club. Wrong again. It wasn’t double-decker, I suppose because they would have needed to be less stingy with the ingredients, and they forgot the bacon. Forgot. The bacon. Needless to say, it was exceptionally ordinary.
By now I was too full to try one of their homemade milkshakes, but it was 35 degrees outside so I managed. Maybe that would have ended the experience on a high note, but after the roller coaster of emotions of this meal I walked out at neutral.
If you find yourself in that part of the Quarter, check it out. It’s a cute place and you’ll certainly do better than some of the other options available just off the French Market. I’d like to go back myself, next time for a burger and a milkshake. A burger and a milkshake at a diner-maybe I should have thought of that myself the first time.
1122 Decatur St New Orleans
Friday & Saturday 7-5