Old House. Good Food.
Tom Fitzmorris October 08, 2019 10:16 Dining Diary
Dick and Jenny’s sits quietly on a corner of Tchoupitoulas near Napoleon, just as it has over a hundred years. For a good stretch of that time it was a bar, but the third chef at Upperline harbored a dream about it. Dick Benz and his wife Jenny finally realized that dream in the early 1980s when they made it a delicious Contemporary Creole restaurant, in fact, the talk of the town. All the plates on the walls are signed well wishes from other chefs in town. They remain to this day. Dick and Jenny enjoyed many years of devotion from local diners, and suddenly they moved on. About ten years ago it was purchased by Cristiano Raffignone, a flamboyant European expat with an eponymous place that is the most talked-about great restaurant in Houma, of all places.
Within the last year, Dick and Jenny’s changed hands again, this time to Merlin Chauvin, whose parents were local trendsetters in ethnic cuisine when they opened Ma Thai in Gretna in the early 1980s. Merlin grew up in the restaurant business along with his sister Diana, as they watched their dynamic mother Punnee Semiesuke cook delicious Thai food from her homeland. Their father was a Cajun, a culinary culture that became more pronounced in their food when they opened La Thai on Metairie Road, hence the name. La Thai relocated to Prytania in 2008, and in this one Mama, as she is called, took a supporting role and Diana ran the place with Merlin to assist.
And then a broadcaster from Channel 4 took the charming and beautiful Diana off the market and she soon became a mother herself. La Thai closed, Mama retired, and Diana became the new mama. Merlin moved on to other places. A succession of them, most recently Brasa on Metairie Road.
In fact, it seemed that Merlin came out to say hello to us from an astonishing number of restaurants, so it wasn’t all that surprising to hear his name dropped at Dick and Jenny’s recently. Two of Mary Ann’s sisters accompanied us, and we were cruising around looking for a place for dinner after our first choice of the new Bordeaux was nixed by a Tales Of The Cocktail Event.
None of them had ever been to Dick and Jenny’s, and it had been a long time for me, so we dropped in. Old-houses-turned-restaurant is low on MA’s atmosphere meter for a restaurant, but she was outnumbered tonight. And this old-house-turned-restaurant was legendary for the first half of our association. She was curious.
What struck us most about the place was how abbreviated the menu was. What was on it was definitely interesting, just very limited. We started with oysters and more oysters. I had baked oysters, which were very different than the usual fare and very good. These had a lot more to them, most notably red bell peppers. And then we got fried oysters, arrayed nicely on a long plate. These were also good, crispy and greaseless, with a nice sauce. MA got some barbecue shrimp which had an underwhelming presentation, but a really delicious rich and complex flavor. And then a creamy pasta dish at another table intrigued these girls, and soon it was at our table. Crawfish pasta in a very large portion, with a rich and creamy sauce can never be bad. And it wasn’t, but neither is it spectacular. Not much to report here. MA got a steak dish special with a decidedly Asain twist. Lots of chunky vegetables and a large dollop of rice. This too was good. No one was hungry for dessert.
For once, Merlin did not come out to say hello. He was too busy now running his own place. We are glad to see he has landed. And we look forward to another stretch of good food at Dick and Jenny’s.
Dick and Jenny’s
4501 Tchoupitoulas New Orleans
Friday & Saturday till 10