Tom has long held a firm belief based on many years of covering restaurants locally. It is: restaurants in New Orleans located in strip malls and upstairs don’t do as well as they might in other parts of the country. In New Orleans, we like them free-standing on the ground.
But sometime around 2010 an Italian restaurant moved into the corner space in a strip mall near the I-12 in Covington, proving that there are exceptions to every rule. This restaurant in the strip mall happened to be very good, and very popular, which is why we were surprised when it up and closed after a few years.
That Italian restaurant was replaced by an American restaurant in 2012 called Pardo’s. It rivaled well-established Del Porto in the glamour department, and luckily, also in the food.
Owner Osman Rodas, an alum of A-list restaurants like Emeril's on the Southshore, hired Northshore chef Marvin Tweedy, whose talents certainly rivaled any on the Southshore, and together they created a glamorous place for glamorous people to enjoy glamorous food. It’s open kitchen had a buzz, turning out spectacular food, and the wood-burning stove was like a hearth that exuded warmth and comfort as well. We absolutely loved being there.
Pardo’s was open for lunch and dinner and we were regulars, Word got out and people came from the Southshore to experience the place. I often told Osman that he and Marvin were like a marriage made in Heaven.
Too soon it was over. Marvin had powerful demons and died an untimely death. And when the landlord for Pardo’s did an all-too-familiar landlord thing and raised the rent at lease time, Osman told us they were closing for a move.
When he told me where I laughed. Inside, not to his face. There was a terribly dilapidated Christian bookstore on Hwy 22 with a small parking lot. Usually I have outsized vision for such things but I just thought he was crazy.
After a nearly two-year renovation, Pardo’s re-opened in a stunning space that was more California than Mandeville. There was a valet for the parking lot, furthering the image of a glamorous place fitting more in L.A. than LA.
But the food was not there. In the three years since the new place opened, nothing from the kitchen could ever match what came from the kitchen with Marvin at the helm. The original chef was replaced by one from the Southshore who came with lots of demands and his own sous. Both turned out nice food beautifully-plated, but not at all exciting.
These two left abruptly in the middle of dinner service on a Saturday night, and were replaced by another roving Northshore talent whose hire was a surprise. It wasn’t a fit, and Pardo’s continued to try to regain its footing after the move. Another year or more went by until this peculiar alliance fizzled.
Osman even wound up in the kitchen for a spell, proving that his talents go beyond front-of-the-house, where his good looks and charm have set the standard of glamour for the restaurant from opening day.
And then another chef/owner gave Osman an unwitting assist. Jeff Hansel closed the celebrated Oxlot 9 in Covington, leaving one of the talents from his very creative line available.
We have visited Pardo’s a few times since JP arrived in the kitchen, and I am delighted to announce that Pardo’s is back.
Entering from the parking lot you walk behind a wall into a private courtyard with an outdoor fireplace, This space is enchanting and has never been properly used. The building has a glass wall allowing you to see the man crooning from the baby grand piano in the corner of the glamorous bar. I want to go right into the bar instead of left into the dining room, but we are here to eat, and I can finally get excited about that.
We started with oysters for Tom. If there are any oysters in any dining establishment, they will find their way to Tom. Every time we get oysters at Pardo’s they are in a different preparation, with only one connecting trait: uncommon deliciousness.
Here was a pile of crispy crunchy, golden brown, greaseless, fried oysters over a puddle of sauce Gribiche, flanked by thin radish slices. Gribiche is the perfect accompaniment to these oysters, (or anything else) with its light mustard and vinegar tartness muted by eggs and the pickled pungency of capers and cornichons a great offset to meaty oysters.Tucked into empty spaces in the pile were a dollop or two of smoked roe, and the whole thing was dusted with chopped parsley, dill and tarragon. As beautiful as it was delicious.
The folks at Trenasse have me newly enthusiastic about grilled peaches. When I heard Briana, our favorite waitress anywhere, describe one of the special appetizers for the night and I heard “grilled peaches”, I had to get it. There were also grilled shishito peppers in this mound of greens. Shishito peppers are the benchmark of hipness currently, and I am underwhelmed and mystified by them, generally. This dish was no exception, though I realized my new obsession with grilled peaches does not end with Trenasse. (Though I am very glad they turned me on to this great new taste.)
The next round came and in it is one of my favorite tastes anywhere. Pardo’s has a potato gnocchi with mushrooms in a cream sauce with a nice Parmesan component that I can only describe as divine. I would eat an awful lot of it if I could, but it is too delicate, and much too rich to attempt anything more than the perfect size portion they serve.
Next came my crabcake, an item I order as often as Tom does oysters, but crabcakes are not on every menu, and great ones are even rare. I remember the crabcake at Oxlot as one of my favorites. I knew this one would be terrific too, but it was definitely different.
Even more beautiful than the one JP did for his former employer, this one stands as tall, is smaller in circumference, and has a bit more breading. Its presentation is stunning, with Bearnaise dripping off the sides, and it is flanked by a bit of greens and pickled peppers. A close look reveals lumps of crabmeat held together by magic. So good!
Tom was delighted to hear an entree special. Swordfish is a dish he gets whenever it turns up as a special, because it is not a regular menu item in too many places. This was a little different - Amandine, served over broccoli rabe. Tom attacked it as he always does with swordfish. Judging by the way he savored the entire dish, I would say it was great.
This was such a wonderful meal that when desserts were mentioned, I was actually interested. There was no bread pudding or creme brulee, but a sweet biscuit caught our attention.
How can something so simple be so sublime? The delicate and lowly biscuit was presented so beautifully with clotted cream (whipped cream) and blueberries that it was irresistible.
We left Pardo’s giddy at its recaptured excellence, vowing a quick return. A few weeks later I had a late dental visit nearby and I needed cheering up. I absolutely love the entire staff at Pardo’s, so I sought refuge there.
As usual, we were welcomed with open arms. Briana put in an order for soup even though they didn’t have one, and JP made me a brothy delicious hip vegetable soup. Just what I needed. There were slices of zucchini and yellow squash, mushrooms, and green beans with sprigs of fresh herbs all floating on top of a seafood-based creamy broth.
Tom was again thrilled by a special that evening - scallops.
These had a little panko crust on them and were served over mushroom risotto. There was a very large woodsy mushroom trunk garnishing the dish, which I happily ate. A very generous portion of four large scallops, it was everything he wanted and more.
We left absolutely delighted that this is a place we can go back to and resume our regular schedule here. It has been too long. On the way out through the private courtyard, I saw through the glass window a happy group in the bar listening to the excellent piano player.
Next time we will drop into the bar for a drink before or after another great meal at Pardo’s.