It is now the week after Easter and the end of my Friday Fish Fry obsession for this year. Luckily, Good Friday brought a day off from the radio show, (weekdays 2-4pm 990 AM) allowing us to cross the lake for a Fish Fry Friday binge eat.
We met a friend at The Commissary, the Next Gen Brennan operation. Dickie Brennan’s two kids Sarah and Richard, and Lauren Brennan Brower’s son Jordy opened this restaurant/market deep in the Irish Channel last year. It is located half a block from Tchoupitoulas on Orange, across (but not directly) from Le Citroen.
This was our second visit to The Commissary, whose indoor/outdoor breezy vibe I like very much. There is a lot happening here, as the young Brennans continue to imagine what could be, and what they might do. There are spare rooms here for experimenting with distilling and coffee (but not together), and the smoker out front, which is now a charming old rural design statement. Sadly, it can no longer keep up with the demands of their success. When we arrived this day, hams for Easter orders were coming out of the smoker, along with housemade sausages.
Dick Brennan’s grandson Richard visited at the table with us for a bit, mentioning that the next arrival at The Commissary will be a serious smoker. They plan to retire the old one to Mississippi, from whence it came. It was a gift from a neighbor. That old smoker gives the place eclectic character.
We talked about the house made andouille, (my favorite ever) which they do plan to market for sale outside the Commissary. It seems things are going very well for them there, and we are happy about this.
We met a friend at The Commissary and he was not there to eat the fish fry. He ordered a smoked trout dip which came with house cut chips as an appetizer. His entree was a sandwich called The French Onion Grilled Cheese. Caramelized onions melted white cheddar and Gruyere cheese between two slices of sourdough, resulting in a gooey deliciousness. The side salad was arugula, Feta and creamy dressing.
The smoked trout dip was creamy but firm, with a light smokiness and a hint of spice. Fresh cut potato chips were thick kettle cut, crisp and golden brown, with a generous dusting of Creole seasoning.
For the table I got more house cut potatoes, this time fries. An ample portion with a very nice aioli, these came with the same Creole seasoning. More of a good thing.
But the reason we were there at all was the fish fry plate, which at $14 was a good value. Thin strips of delicate Des Allemands catfish were piled to the side of the plate beside a thick and somewhat spicy tartar sauce. An enormous slab of a bright orange cakey cornbread centered the plate, with two perfect accompaniments: a bean salad with a light vinaigrette dressing, and a mirliton slaw. The bean salad reminded me of Thanksgiving succotash served as a salad. I liked it a lot. The dressing was quite acidic and the use of baby limas is different. The mirliton slaw had other cruciferous vegetables that made for a colorful and interesting mix. I will remember this use of what is to me a useless vegetable. All of these were perfect companions to the fish. I left wondering how the Catholic schools made any money this year, with this plate and others like it being only a few dollars more than the school version.
We said goodbye to our friend at 4pm. Our intention was to move on to Dat Dog for their cod plate, and maybe the Court of Two Sisters, but it was unthinkable, especially since we planned to pop into GW FIns when they opened only an hour later.
The traffic in the French Quarter was bad enough that we barely made it to GW Fins for the 5pm opening. Already people were lining up for a table. With the spacing protocols, this would be tough without a reservation.
We landed at the bar which was actually very nice. The stools are uncomfortable so they moved two chairs from an out-of-service table, and it was perfect.
We knew the bartenders, so it was fun to chat. As usual, I only half read what I read, so I was surprised to hear that the fish fry was only for pick up. The bartender asked the kitchen if they would do it in house, and they said they would for a $4 upcharge.
So the fish fry plate went from $18 to $22, but this is GW Fins, and if a Friday Fish Fry isn’t worth that at GW Fins, where would it be?
This fried sheepshead was served with three sauces: Meyer lemon tartar sauce, Creole mustard cream sauce, and a spicy Korean aioli. The presentation of these was very stylish. A few large pieces of fish and chips style tempura battered fish was set atop long and thin house cut fries. Elegant in its simplicity.
On this plate, it was all about the sauces. I was surprised I liked the mustard sauce as much as I did. Each was as delicious as the next. The Meyer lemon was, true to its name, delightfully citrusy, while the mustard cream sauce did not overwhelm anything. The Korean aioli seemed like a spicy but sweet ketchup. All of these elevated the fish beyond expectations., but what else would you expect at GWFins?
While tempura is not a favorite coating for fish, it is emblematic of fish and chips, which I always like, and love to like.
The fries just sort of laid on the plate, were maybe a tad greasy, and needed salt, all minor details that did not deter me from consuming them all.
Even though this is what we came for, it was not all we had. Because we have lately had a caller asking about the best gumbos in town, I felt compelled to try the one on this menu. It was seafood, of course, and quite delicious. Redolent with chunky vegetables like the trinity and okra, this was pretty perfect. A dark roux and lots of shrimp and crabmeat made it filling enough to be a meal in itself.
Tom had the sheepshead, a fish he gets whenever he sees it. His order was a good intro for him to ask the bartender her opinion on this fish. He loves to talk about sheepshead. Both agreed it was the underrated of underrated fish, and what a pity that was. This was a more complicated dish than just sheepshead. It was Parmesan crusted sheepshead with jumbo lump crabmeat (and a lot of it) crispy capers, Meyer lemon beurre blanc, and grilled asparagus. The charred asparagus were plentiful and cooked to the “vegetable sweet spot”, the capers offered a nice intermittent crunch, the crabmeat was plump and plentiful, and the fish had that nice coating. All of these elements were tied together with the light and perky sauce. A great dish.
And before all of this food were too many of the totally addictive signature GW Fins biscuits.
The food was delicious. The atmosphere buzzing. The place was hopping. The Quarter was full of life. Owner Gary Wollerman called to us as we left, and we chatted outside for a minute. And for that short time, everything seemed...normal. It was strange, but oh so nice.