WHY IT'S NOTEWORTHY
The best and longest-running major restaurant in Hammond, Jacmel Inn serves food that ranges from the familiar to the very adventuresome, in premises with a rustic charm. The kitchen's style is a mix of American and Creole, with a major specialty in the steak department. The owner is a wine buff who can always be counted on to provide a bottle you never heard of, or a wine from the dim past. The Sunday brunch, particularly when the outdoor dining area is open, is pure pleasure.
Chef Doyle Murphy is a young guy with a good grounding in the local flavors and the enthusiasm to go out in search of unusual, locally-raised ingredients. The first courses are particularly interesting, enough so that it would be worth considering making a meal of several small plates. On the more substantial side, co-owner Paul Murphy has shifted his quality standards upward in recent times. He's moved almost entirely to USDA Prime beef for his steaks, for example.
The restaurant is named for a famous pirate who roamed the Caribbean in the 1800s. Paul Murphy and Rick Colucci--who came to town from upstate New York--opened Jacmel in 1977. It has undergone a subtle but continuous upward evolution ever since, with the food becoming much more sophisticated and local than it was in the beginning, while the spirit of the place remains more or less the same.
An 1888-vintage house, with two large hearths, five fireplaces, and a spacious, broadly windowed second floor, creates a unique collection of dining spaces. The renovations over the years have been light. The building has a rustic quality, and no two tables have the same feeling. A new courtyard outside creates a fine outdoor dining venue in good weather. The entire place is by a jungle of bamboo, through which a path to the parking lot winds.
Panko-crusted pork croquettes.
»Agnolotti (mini-ravioli) stuffed with ricotta.
»Oysters en brochette.
»Seared steak tips with blue cheese.
French onion soup.
Wedge of bibb lettuce with blue cheese.
»Salad of spinach, strawberries, and goat cheese.
»Diver scallops with truffled bacon risotto.
Barbecue shrimp and grits with smoked gouda.
Lobster with potato gnocchi.
Duck two ways (seared breast, confit leg).
Profiteroles with homemade ice cream.
FOR BEST RESULTS
Sunday brunch, especially on a cool, sunny spring day, is marvelous. There is no better place in Hammond for a business lunch. In the evening, this is a superb date place that can even calm down a running argument with your other and turn it into a romantic evening.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
The menu never seems to have enough to choose from for my tastes. But that can be remedied by telling them what you feel like eating. The kitchen is quite adept at inventing on the fly.
FACTORS OTHER THAN FOOD
Up to three points, positive or negative, for these characteristics. Absence of points denotes average performance in the matter.
- Dining Environment +2
- Consistency +1
- Value +1
- Attitude +2
- Wine & Bar +2
- Hipness +2
- Local Color +3
- Live music some nights
- Courtyard or deck dining
- Good view
- Good for business meetings
- Many private rooms
- Open Sunday lunch and dinner
- Easy, nearby parking
- Reservations honored promptly
ANECDOTES AND ANALYSIS
The North Shore--particularly Tangipahoa Parish--is a hotbed of specialty food farming in recent years. Chef Doyle Orlando grew up in the area, and has developed connections with local growers of everything from rabbits to strawberries. This is no mere copy point, but shows up all over the menu, with the provenance of many ingredients expressly identified. And the goodness of all that noticeably improves the eating. Meanwhile, the growth of Southeastern University in Hammond has done a lot for the dining options in that town. It supplied two important elements needed for a strong restaurant community: a clientele and a source of wait staff. Hammond is still not a great center of gourmandise, but no restaurant has pushed the population more in that direction than Jacmel Inn. It opened in 1977 and remains good enough to justify a special trip from New Orleans for dinner.