Over the weekend we went back to a place in Madisonville we never went, but we have high hopes for it now.
Friends (which was so appropriately named) had long been our barometer for food so bad we just couldn’t go, no matter the atmosphere. And the atmosphere was pretty great. In a particularly lovely stretch of the Tchefuncte River that curves and you can see around the bend, the beautiful new building is the rebuilt Friends Restaurant. The original burned down a few years ago, and it was replaced by three floors of nautical-themed glamour, including porches right on the water.
Friends has forever been a hangout for the yachting and party barge crowd on the northshore, and everything in between. The rest of us just liked to soak it all in. The food was dreadful, but no one, (except us apparently) cared.
After the fire the gorgeous new building brought fresh hope that the food would improve, but it never did. We always marveled that someone could spend a fortune on a building like this and have no thought about the kitchen. The operation met a tragic fate a few years ago and has sat idle since. Too much start-up cost was the popular and definitely plausible rumor about why.
And now, great news for the north shore. It reopened Friday as two separate restaurants: the second one opens in a few weeks, the downstairs last Friday. Downstairs is outdoor seating only, offering casual food in a place appropriately called The Anchor. Upstairs is upscale, and it is also appropriately-called Tchefuncte’s, opening later in July.
Our first question about all this was, “Is there any connection between the old place and this new one?” No, for any of you who were likewise worried. We didn’t ask that question until we left, and lunch was a little stress- filled until the first thing we ordered arrived.
It seemed safe to order the fries because the magic words were in the description. House-cut. As stringent connoisseurs of fries, the Marys have learned the deceptive lingo employed. The word “house” must appear in the description somewhere.
There were not a lot of these, but they were fantastic. Priced at $6 for the basic model, we jacked it up to $11 with the addition of cheese and fried pig. Cubes of fried pork belly transported these cheese fries to a special place. The aioli served with them was also especially great. We ordered a second batch.
With that assurance, we did what we usually do... we went crazy ordering. There was crispy boudin with remoulade sauce, and our resident hush puppy critic (ML) got those. I ordered a debris poor boy and Tom got grilled redfish. There were lots of other interesting things on the menu but we stopped.
ML had plans at 2, so the lunch became a little anxious because the pace of service was right in keeping with a place in business for one day. (Yes, we dragged Tom.)
We almost canceled the order but they assured us it would be out soon. This was 75 minutes after arrival. Had there not been the time constraint it wouldn't have mattered. Even though it was outside, it was so pleasant under roof with a breeze blowing through that at least ML and I could have stayed the afternoon. This is the kind of stuff that Tom warns about with new restaurants - proceed at your own risk. We would have sat in the sun on the water watching the boats round the curve on the river. This is a great place for kids. Lots of activity, and a playground as well.
The second order of fries came before the rest of the meal, even though it was ordered much later. When entrees finally came there was disappointment all around. We canceled the redfish because it was holding everything up. The portion of the boudin was out of step with the price, I thought. It was a skillet patty of boudin with a puddle of sauce over it for $12. And the debris poor boy was unusual. It was a high pile of debris served open-faced on a bun that seemed exactly like the ones specially made for Dat Dog. I like this bread as part of a hot dog but it seemed an odd choice for the poor boy.
This was sort of nothing. And Tom and I liked the hush puppies rather well, but they were rejected by the family hush puppy critic. They were beautiful, round, golden brown, and doughy inside. Like a fried donut, which was to ML the reason for the rejection. There was no cornmeal or coarseness here. It was almost like a beignet, without the sweetness. And that’s not a bad thing, unless you are expecting a hush puppy. These were served with honey butter, so that should have been a tip-off maybe.
There was no time for dessert.
The place was swarming with snazzy-looking service staff, as well as manager types. They are all hard-working and extremely friendly. It’s just the kitchen that was behind. But the kitchen is helmed by Michael Gottlieb, who was Executive Chef at the Rib Room, and The Ralph Brennan Group, as well at the legendary Inn at Little Washington. A graduate of Johnson and Wales, Gottlieb definitely knows his way around a kitchen. Maybe the food at this location will finally catch up with the view.
407 St. Tammany St Madisonville
Th-Sun 10:30- Sunset