MeMe's Moves On

Written by Mary Ann Fitzmorris February 01, 2024 09:55 in Dining Diary

It’s been 36 years since I’ve been on the periphery of the restaurant business. Until a few years ago I was a casual observer, even though many of my meals were taken in restaurants, as the wife of Tom Fitzmorris. One of the most interesting things I have observed about restaurants can be submitted as a question: why should some restaurants be way busier, when others that are very busy shouldn’t be? What is the magic equation?

An even more interesting question to me: how do brand new restaurateurs with nothing but a desire to be a restaurateur somehow win the restaurant lottery? The greatest example of this is the engineers who started The Ruby Slipper chain, now with 28 locations and counting. The wildly popular Rum House is another example of this phenomenon, operated by a woman and her niece. This piece is about MeMe’s Bar & Grille in Chalmette, started by MeMe, a grandmother, and her husband Chuck Williams, both very successful flooring people who just felt a good restaurant was needed in Chalmette.

They were right, and the restaurant they started right after Hurricane Katrina became an instant success. Rae Ann (MeMe) and her husband Chuck Williams were superb at front-of-the-house matters. Both were gregarious and gracious hosts. They were blessed with an excellent chef from California who married a girl in the neighborhood and needed a job close to home. Magic.

Tom was a fan of MeMe’s from the very beginning, declaring it “the best restaurant to even exist in Chalmette.” I agreed. We loved the food from the kitchen with Lincoln Owens at the helm, and we loved Chuck and Rae Ann.

A year or two before COVID, Lincoln left and Emeril’s alum Phillip Bucchieri took over the kitchen at MeMe’s. The owners were delighted with the “upgrade,” though I preferred the food from the original chef. 

When everything changed in 2020, Phillip returned home to the Northeast, and some of his buddies from Emeril’s had lost their A-list gig, landing in Chalmette. Chef Doug Braselman took over ownership of the restaurant as well as the kitchen at MeMe’s, with Ray Gumpert as sommelier, assuming control of the wine and service program. Both of these guys are part of The Furloughed Four, who are also busy doing private cheffing events around town. 

We had Doug Braselman on The Food Show recently to chat about the new MeMe’s. And everything he said made me want to drop everything and go there immediately. 

Unfortunately, we had to wait a few weeks before that was possible. We went for their Twilight Tuesday, which was an insanely fabulous deal. I can’t speak about the drinks which I assume were also fantastic, but all the apps were half price. As usual, we went crazy, ordering one of almost everything on the menu.

Besides Trenasse, MeMe’s is the best place in town for oysters. Their menu is big and widely varied, offering several different kinds of chargrilled preparations. And even better, they were half off! The oyster bar is separate from the kitchen and it’s fun to watch them crank it out.

There are four types of chargrilled oysters here: Basic chargrilled with garlic, butter, Parm, and herbs. There is a spicy Asian preparation called Bangkok, Rockefeller, and Bacon & Bleu cheese. And there is a combo platter including all four. We like all of these but prefer the simple original version.

We next got spin dip, because we have to. This was an enormous portion of very cheesy spinach dip with a lot of tortilla chips. The portion was really too big, but it was a good basic version of spin dip. Requisite telephono cheese tendrils, etc. The chips were thick and nice.

Extra points to MeMe’s for doing housecut fries…still. These are quite nice in the housecut fries spectrum, though I don’t agree with the garlic butter topping, and I forgot to ask for them bare. They would have been even better bare, at least to my taste.

Tom had some seared yellowfin tuna, completely covered in crispy fried wonton strips. There were thin bits of vegetables in an Asian slaw, peeking out from the sides, with a perky dressing featuring Wasabi mayo. Also mixed up in this somehow was a ginger soy glaze. He loved this.

I asked about the crab cakes before ordering them, as per my crabcake/crab patty obsession. I was assured by the waiter that these were not deep fried, thereby allaying my fears of a crab patty. It turned out that, pan-seared or not, these were indeed crab patties. Again, not a problem, since I love crab stuffing, I just wish the nomenclature on menus offered more clarity. These came with a nice aioli.

Perhaps I was just tired at this point, but the Honey Buffalo Shrimp app was underwhelming as well. These fried shrimp were tossed in a Crystal Honey Glaze, accessorized with pickled onion and crumbled Bleu cheese, and plated on some lettuce. It just seemed an odd combination of flavors thrown off by the pickled onion. I realize chefs are under pressure to create something new, but new only works if it’s better, and I would have preferred a plate of fried shrimp with remoulade or tartar sauce.

The Oven Roasted Meatballs were the last thing we had, and maybe the single biggest disappointment. I get meatballs wherever they are offered. They sounded so promising, with a Mozzarella Fondue and Basil Pesto. These sauces were the high point of the dish. That’s a great combination of flavors with marinara, but the meatballs themselves were overdone and had an unpleasant hardness to them, as sort of a shell.

I wanted to get an entree after all this, but the parade of appetizers was so hit and miss, that I didn’t need any more this visit. And we were full. We will return for the burger, which I remember as great, and some of the other offerings on the menu.

Though I am personally not as enthusiastic about the food of this post-original version of MeMe’s Bar & Grille,

the warm service style of the staff remains as great as when it was under the tutelage of Chuck and Rae Ann Williams. Tom’s feelings about the place remain true: MeMe’s Bar & Grille is the best restaurant to ever exist in Chalmette.