When Felix’s turned up as an advertiser on Tom’s show several years ago, I wondered how that happened. Tom spent a career stringently protecting his reputation, often to the consternation of the salespeople at the radio station. No advertisers were allowed to be endorsed by Tom unless he went to the restaurant and approved. When I asked about this once he explained that Felix’s always had great oysters.
The original location in the French Quarter is iconic, and a renovation a few years ago greatly improved the place. Same oysters, better vibe.
We visited the second location of Felix’s at the lakefront, in the former Brisbi’s. I thought there was little to recommend it, and I only went once. In the fall of 2019 I was dismayed to hear from Mark Benfatti that he was closing N’Tini’s with a fat check from Felix’s. I knew Benfatti wanted out, but it was disappointing to hear Felix’s would replace it.
After extensive renovations, the Mandeville location of Felix’s opened to great anticipation. (We live a quiet life over here and new openings are always thrilling.)The place was very unlike the New Orleans locations, spiffy and clean - almost gleaming. The story was the same otherwise - great oysters and beyond that, not much.
But we kept going back because Tom is the Oyster Man, and on one visit we ran into Neal Swidler from the NOPSI Hotel. He told us he was the new corporate chef of Felix’s and brought over a few of his fun new creations. It was the best food I have ever had from Felix’s.
The next time we went it was for the excellent Happy Hour, where raw oysters are a dollar apiece and chargrilleds as $1.50 each. When I looked at the menu for anything else Neal had cooked up, it was the same Felix menu. It turns out Neal makes his rounds of the now four locations (French Quarter, Lakeview, Mandeville, and Gulfport) and it’s a lucky happenstance when he comes in to cook.
For that reason, it’s been quite a while since we have been back. Everything we have had here is stridently ordinary, from the fried seafood to poorboys and salads.
The jambalaya is mildly interesting, as are the meat pies.
The only thing worth it at Felix’s is the oysters, and so we went again.
I was reminded of Felix’s again when someone called the show to mention neighborhood displeasure about loud music there. We understood the complaint just walking up. Tom usually has to plead to sit inside on a mild evening, but he got no argument from me. Dining with loud music is not fun to me.
It was my intention to just get Tom some oysters at a great Happy Hour price, but I saw a Lenten menu of three courses for $35, and I thought I’d try it.
Tom skipped the discounted Happy Hour chargrilled oysters in favor of Bienville, his favorite baked preparation. I ordered the spinach and crawfish dip with housemade kettle chips. Housemade fried potatoes in any iteration was the last thing I’d expect to see at Felix’s. The other choice of appetizer on this Lenten menu was a shrimp, crab, and crawfish bisque with a jalapeno hush puppy. For an entree I chose the pecan crusted redfish with Creole Meuniere sauce and cane syrup candied Brussels sprouts instead of “smothered” shrimp with angel hair pasta. Dessert choices were cheesecake or coconut cake.
While Tom was working on his oysters, which seemed odd for a Bienville. The color was salmon, and it looked like the dip that had just been placed before me, There was no hint of green in this dip, so I wondered where the spinach was, and this dip was accompanied by fried flour tortillas. I love fried flour tortillas, and these were quite a nice version of fried tortillas, but this wasn’t what I expected at all. The waiter was nowhere to be found, so I couldn’t ask about this dip. It was really tasty, though, so even though it looked unlike what I expected, I loved this thick dip. I suspected that it was the same thing on Tom’s Bienville.
A few bites into the dip the entree was placed on the table. The waiter left it to the side of the table and walked off. This is the sort of thing that the Tom-in-his-prime would have railed against. He didn't notice, but it annoyed me.
A manager did swing by and inquired how things were. I asked if the dip and oysters were the same substance. She said, “The crab dip?” Suddenly it was all clear. I was served the crab dip instead of the spinach dip. The waiter somehow didn’t connect that when I asked for the Lenten menu and ordered off it, I meant to get the whole dinner, and the app from that menu.
The manager promised to pack up a spin dip so I could try it. Meanwhile, Tom was sawing on a very large and very crispy Brussels sprout. Unpleasantly undercooked. The pecan crusted redfish was good. It was crispy with a nutty flavor in the crust. It was hard to eat fish and vegetable in the same bite because the Brussels sprouts were so problematic, but I actually liked this version of redfish, which I rarely say.
There was a bit of difficulty getting the table cleared as well. Essentially, we hardly saw the waiter. The manager did see to it that we got a spinach dip to take, and this arrived at the same time as the coconut cake.
This cake was citrusy. Layered with white icing, there was an orange drizzle flanked by a pool of cream cheese icing. The cake was dry to me but Tom loved it. The sweetness appealed to him.
When I got home I cracked into the spinach dip. The housemade chips were very good. They were crispy and greaseless, and dusted with Creole seasoning. The spinach dip, not so much. I was shocked at the pungent vinegar taste that dwarfed everything else. It seemed that the artichokes came with a lot of artichoke water. It dominated everything. Unfortunately, there was no need to keep eating this, and that is saying something if I am talking that way about spin dip.
This Lenten menu has some promise, and it is served everyday at Felix’s until the end of Lent. After that, we’ll just keep our plan to stick only with the signature item at Felix’s: oysters.