One of the silver linings in the COVID saga, at least culinarily, is the chef diaspora that has reshuffled key kitchen personnel around town. Great chefs who have been with organizations for decades have left for areas outside New Orleans, where the COVID regulations placed disproportionate burdens of restaurants. Everyone has complied and adapted as they could, and for some of the more storied white tablecloth places, that meant just shutting doors for an extended period of time.
Gus Martin, a 30 year veteran of the Dickie Brennan Group, made his way to the north shore and is now with Keith Young’s Steakhouse. And Phillip Buccieri has discovered in all this that there is more to life than a 90 hour work week.
Last night we celebrated Phillip’s arrival at his new home, MeMe’s in Chalmette, where he landed after Emeril’s NOLA closed. The status of NOLA is technically unclassified, but Buccieri has moved on much closer to his home. (Coincidentally, he lives in Chalmette right down the street from MeMe’s last-world class chef.)
His introductory dinner was very well-attended. Three seatings of 80 completely sold out. The mood was festive as this new chapter for the 8-year-old restaurant commenced. Proprietors Rae Ann and Chuck Williams were as gregarious and welcoming as ever. These are warm and fun people, and their great success as neophyte restaurateurs is no surprise. Phillip is right at home here.
We started the dinner with oysters. There is a large bar with big grills behind it (and a great ventilation system because you’d never know all this oyster chargrilling is going on) and an extensive menu of oyster options. There are raw oysters, basic chargrilled, Rockefeller, bacon and blue cheese, and Bangkok, which has a sweet chili sauce atop the usual fixins. All of these are excellent and the price is incredible. 8/14 or 9/15 depending on the complexity. This is a steal.
The waitress offered us garlic bread. I’m so glad we said yes. I expected the usual bad French bread made tolerable with a good garlic butter, but there was something different about this pile of bread parts that arrived. I inquired about this irresistible mound of carbs and was told by Rae Ann that she makes a run to get in the line at Dong Phuong every day for their legendary French bread. I now understand the phenom that is Dong Phuong. Well-deserved. Rae Ann told me about the poor boys on this bread. I think we will make a special trip for those.
The oysters were exactly what we expected, with the Bangkok the most distinctive. The sweet chili sauce was an interesting twist. Different. And very good.
Tom was so thrilled with these oysters that he wanted another order. But we had so much food coming. While we were still discussing it, the first round came. The menu was another steal. It was $29.99 for four courses plus dessert. These were served family style and two at a time. Fried green tomatoes and shrimp remoulade garnished with Louisiana Caviar came in a portion for two along with a double portion of big plump diver scallops and mushroom risotto. The disks of fried green tomato were a little thick and crisp-battered and fried golden brown. The remoulade had a nice kick to it and the caviar was the perfect topper. Tom’s dreams of eating his fill of scallops came true with the second course. These were enormous and seared just right. I loved the mushroom risotto that came with them.
The entrees were even more Louisiana-themed. The first entree was crispy fried chicken breasts atop a pile of dirty rice with a pepper jelly glaze. This was a very nice plate of food. The chicken breasts were tender but crispy. The dirty rice was a really good one, with the distinction of being liver-less. The meat was only ground meat. The pepper jelly glaze made the whole thing pop. I ate more of this than I should have. The other entree was a sliced pork loin dish over mashed sweet potatoes and an apple compote. This dish surprised me because it began with a sous vide, which I never like. The pork was a nice-sized slice and very lean. Though the biggest surprise was the compote, which was addictive. This was a great blend of flavors, and a perfect fall dish.
The dessert was apple cobbler which was light and delicious. But Chuck slipped me some of the restaurant’s signature coconut pie. The pie is a recipe from the mother-in law of Chuck and Rae Ann Williams’s daughter. It is made of the most pedestrian ingredients, but is delicious. Cool Whip, cream cheese, nuts, graham cracker crust and caramel drizzle. I remember the first time I tried it. They had given me two pieces to bring to Tom, but insisted I try a bite before I left. I did, just to be polite, and the other two pieces were gone before I got out of the parish. Neither slice ever made it to Tom. The one on this night disappeared just as quickly.
The night was festive, with everyone happy to be together again after a long six months. The air was celebratory with great expectations of the new era of Phillip Buccieri. This terrific restaurant remains terrific, tweaked by a new talent in the kitchen. And a good time was had by all.
On Thursday’s Grocery Goddess segment with Nicole Dorignac the Mom’s throwdown featured another old fashioned New Orleans dish, Turkey Poulet. After the conversation, I resolved to myself to try this one day.
The delicious cap bread we had at Clancy’s Saturday night inspired me to make it this weekend. French bread is the base of Turkey Poulet, so I brought home the untouched bread from our table. I went out to get some thick bacon and both oven roasted and Creole house turkey breast.
I toasted the bread in the oven and made a cheese sauce out of butter and milk and parmesan cheese. I spread a layer of the cheese mixture on each slice, layered turkey and bacon, and finished each piece with more cheese sauce. A generous sprinkling of paprika and off it went into the oven.
For all the fun we have made of this old-fashioned dish, it was really quite good. No wonder it was a signature dish at the Roosevelt all those years. The recipe is below.
I loaf cap French bread sliced in half lengthwise
½ pound of sliced oven roasted in house deli turkey
4 slices of crisp thick cut bacon
⅓ cup milk
½ cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
1 Tbsp butter
Place the bread in a 350 degree oven to toast. Remove and set aside.
Melt butter in a saucepan on low heat. Add milk.
Stir in cheese and stir constantly until it becomes a sauce.
Spread cheese sauce on each piece of bread.
Layer the turkey, then bacon.
Pour the remaining cheese sauce on top of each piece evenly.
It is done when the cheese bubbles.