An Institution Reboot

Written by Mary Ann Fitzmorris December 14, 2022 22:14 in Dining Diary

For about 80 years Chris Vodonovich and his wife Bernie had a legendary restaurant called Bozo’s in a nondescript house-like building in Metairie on a side street between Ridgelake and Causeway. Tom loved it because of the excellence and care Chris took in the kitchen, while Bernie was a most welcoming presence in the dining room. She presided over things from a cashier window. Bozo’s was not much on ambiance, but the restaurant had it anyway. It could be called warmth

It all came to an end when Chris died. Bernie lasted a few more years in her window, with two nieces presiding over the kitchen and administration. But they soon tired of all the work. Standards like Chris’s were hard to maintain. Tom always talked about the different oils and pots used for all the different fried seafood items. And that famous gumbo…

When it closed for good there was a definite void. Bozo’s was much-beloved. But the building wasn’t vacant for long. An extremely prolific restaurateur snapped it up, as much for emotional reasons as the obvious promising business ones.

Ed McIntyre of Mr. Ed’s everything (and Austin’s) visited Bozo’s often with his dad. It was important to him to do something good with the building that held so many memories for him. And so an empire was born. Mr. Ed’s Oyster House began in the 21st St. location. Ed transformed the space into the perfect environment for the times and the food. The decor really reflects the seafood theme. The bar that once held a cast of regulars has a quite different set of regulars now. The outdoor space that was never used in the Bozo era is a nice patio.

The food can best be described as Mr. Ed’s plus chargrilled oysters. There is a special menu of baked and chargrilled oysters, an idea too modern for the old Bozo’s, which stuck with the traditional New Orleans fried seafood dishes.

It’s these chargrilled oysters that are the best items on the menu. All the rest is straightforward New Orleans comfort food. Stuffed bell peppers, crawfish etouffee, trout amandine, hamburger steak, jambalaya, and Mr. Ed’s signature fried chicken.

There is so much appealing on this menu it is hard to decide what to get. Tom started with oysters and we ordered a shrimp and crabmeat dip with chips. One of us got the fried chicken and another, the jambalaya. And anytime I see a stuffed crab on a menu I have to see if it reminds me of the stuffed crabs of my youth at the West End. They never do.

The dip arrived at the table preceded by a smell that made me a little nervous. I took some and started eating it until it was mentioned by someone else. It was then that I sent it back. Too bad - it was ultra cheesy and had a nice flavor, but anything you smell before tasting it, and that smell is not good,.... The chips with this were completely uninteresting, and frankly, not worth eating.

Tom liked his chargrilled oysters with blue cheese and bacon, but these too, were not nearly as good as I remembered from our last visit here, which was admittedly a long time ago.

The fried chicken arrived with potato salad. It was crispy golden brown fried chicken. Quite good but not extraordinary. The potato salad was the kind scooped out from a dish, with no potato definition at all. I much prefer potato salad which resembles potatoes, preferably chunkier. It didn’t taste bad, just an old-fashioned consistency and texture.

Though I expected to see stuffed crabs in a fake shell, these came without shell at all. I inquired about them as I always do, and the waiter lowered my expectations by telling me how big they were. I was pleasantly surprised by these two fried golden brown fluffy lumps of crab stuffing. Unfortunately, I ordered potato salad with this too, not realizing that the chicken came with potato salad. The larger the stuffed crab the more breading. But these appeared generous, and, as the waiter promised, not overwhelmed by breading. There was plenty of crab.

The jambalaya was quite good. It had more of those shrimp in it, but everything else about it was good. A lot of everything else. What was odd about it was that the chicken appeared to be grilled and chopped, rather than soft and braised. No matter, this was a nice plate of food, including the canned string beans.

None of this was brilliant, but it is a good representation of what we love about New Orleans neighborhood food. Mr.Ed has the New Orleans neighborhood taste down, and it is the secret to his tremendous success.