The Anchor Is Our Anchor

Written by Mary Ann Fitzmorris April 01, 2023 11:11 in Dining Diary

There is a joke on the Food Show (airs 2-4 pm weekdays WGSO 990 AM) between Patty the producer and me about our little north shore orbit of dining. The constraints under which the operation is laboring are pretty well-known, so no one is surprised to hear the same names of places we eat. They are now chosen, usually,  for reasons that have nothing to do with food, and more to do with a Vitamin D boost for Tom, and a mood help for me. So, sunshine and beauty.

Luckily, the Northshore has a lot of great food. If I didn’t live here and have these limitations, I would likely find myself driving over anyway to these same places to eat. As a committed al-Fresco diner long before this situation arose, I am and have been, constantly lamenting the dearth of places that offer a view and outdoor dining.

This piece is about one of my favorites, and although much airtime and space in this column have been devoted to it, there is more to say.

It was another gorgeous evening and even though I wasn’t especially hungry we drove down to The Anchor in Madisonville to sit by the water. The menu isn’t very large there, but it is a good menu. We have had most of it, but I never really tire of it. Occasionally I am moved to try another thing here just to complete the menu, but I really really like the things I like, and since this is about comfort, I do return to the familiar menu choices orbit. At The Anchor, that territory is larger than most.

I have had a rollercoaster of feelings about this place, mainly about service because the food is remarkably consistent.

The service started as full service. Then it became fast-casual, which was an utter disaster. Then it became sort of an annoying hybrid. But it is now back where it started as full-service, and the place may be its best self right now.

I would have gotten the burger, which I feel is the best out there currently, in my experience at least. Tom is a reliable crispy redfish patron, but he didn’t want that this evening and got excited about the Southwest Quesadilla, which shocked me with its goodness the last time I had it. 

And I returned to my favorite, the kid's chicken tenders. I almost never eat chicken tenders, considering them to be a frozen plank of mediocre chicken, but these are sublime, (within the context of the genre, of course. ) I love the batter, and the frying style, and these fries, albeit frozen, are just great. All of this is way better than it has to be for the setting, which is beside the Tchefuncte River in Madisonville, in a wide bend that allows a great view up and down the waterway.

A dock is out front which accommodates six pleasurecraft. Usually, this tends to be party barges, peppered with an occasional sleek powerboat. This evening it was nothing but these noisy, bilge-churning, diesel-emitting big boys. For some reason, they all converged at the same time, filling up all the dock spaces, and making it really unpleasant out there. This was thankfully the first and only time I have not absolutely loved being on the edge of that river.

Usually, it is breezy and just plain beautiful, with the sounds of nature offset by the steady hum of a sputtering boat engine. At certain times there is live music, which is always a negative for me. The other option is loud country music, something I endure just to be there. But mild annoyances do not offset the pure pleasure of being here.

Because these sentiments are shared by so many, it is best to get to The Anchor as soon as they open if you have a seating preference. Ours is always by the water. By the time we leave all the tables are full. 

Like the service here, the menu has had its ups and downs but has settled into a comfortable groove that is also delicious. And remarkably consistent.

Our favorite appetizer here is the boudin eggrolls, a nearly ubiquitous appetizer around town, but I think the best version of these may be here. They come with a surprisingly great pepper jelly mustard aioli. I am usually not a fan of this flavor, but maybe there is something about the contrast of the meaty boudin and the sweetness of the dipping sauce that makes it a more interesting combination. These come three or six to an order and are accompanied by a small pile of purple cabbage slaw.

I love the texture of the interior of these eggrolls and the shell is crunchy to offset the soft but not mushy interior of rice and pork. They are spicy but not too much, and the sweetness of the Cajun pepper jelly mustard aioli is the perfect complement to the spice. These are a terrific appetizer but very filling. I have sometimes ordered them as my entree.

Another first course I've loved here is the gumbo. It is a dark roux soup loaded with shredded chicken and lots of andouille slices. This intensely flavorful gumbo has a lovely consistency and a pitch-perfect spice level. It is served with a nice dollop of white rice and garnished with scallion bits. Three packets of crackers accompany it.

For some reason I always go right to being bad here, I guess because I love their fried foods. But one day I resolved to do better and got the hummus, which encourages good behavior by them serving it with cucumber spears. And pita, of course. This was a very nice version of hummus, but it was hard not to have plate envy at the fried shrimp app or the smoked wings as they went by.

The last time we visited though, Two much thinner ladies each ordered a salad that was beautiful, but simple. A gigantic pile of colorful fresh greens with dressing on the side. One had grilled shrimp on top and the other grilled chicken. I will definitely try that the next time I get willpower.

On the day I saw the salads, I had a fried shrimp platter. It was popping out with fried shrimp, encrusted with a nice breadcrumby coating, and served with an enormous pile of their great frozen fries.

Tom also deviated from our norm that day, opting for the crawfish roll, their take on a lobster roll. The bread is housemade here in the style of Dat Dog, where it is toasted on the outside, grilled, and sliced in the middle with something stuffed into it. In this case, there was a crawfish remoulade, but not very much of it. It was a fine but unexceptional version of the dish, and I wouldn’t get this again, It is probably the only thing I can say that about here. I ordered potato salad for Tom with the sandwich because the potato salad here is usually exceptional, but not at the top tier where Rest-A-While’s loaded baked potato salad sits. This one also has bacon and sour cream but not cheese. It is rich and delicious, but less so this day. I still love this potato salad.

I also love the coleslaw here. It is slightly different as I mentioned, because it is only purple cabbage. It doesn’t look as good as the more colorful ones, but we like it just fine.

I will often get the slaw with the Anchor Dog, which is different every time I get it. This is the only menu item that can’t decide what it wants to be. The current iteration of it is good. Supposedly andouille sits in the slit of the housemade roll, though I find the texture of this particular forcemeat to remind me more of an Italian sausage, It is almost crumbly. I love the spice level and every other thing about it, from the crisp skin to the smoke-level and grilling.

What I don’t like is the onion marmalade that covers the dog, and I keep forgetting to ask them to skip it. There is also some barbecue sauce with this. The Anchor Dog is one of our regular orders.

That goes double for the Boat House Burger, which I think may be the finest out there currently. It is a tall thing, with a nice patty covered in cheese, with two thick and smoky stiff bacon slices making an “X” sticking out the sides of the bun. I love this bun, which is sort of nondescript except that it holds up really well to this massive pile of patty, cheese, bacon, and lots of fresh dressings. A pickle spear attached by a toothpick spear jabbed into the top makes a nice presentation. This is a sensational version of the classic American dish. This plate of food shares most-favored status with my usual kid’s chicken tenders. 

Those are clearly prime chicken tenderloin pieces deftly fried with a great coating. They come right out of the fryer in a cardboard basket alongside more fantastic fries. They are usually too hot to eat, but waiting to dig into them is tough. Smoke erupts when you break them apart, and they are juicy and tender inside. I eat these unapologetically with ketchup, just like a kid.

Tom’s regular favorite here is the crispy redfish, a large slab of redfish, fried perfectly crisp with a big pile of fries. This is the priciest thing on the menu at $22, but it is a large plate of delicious food comparable to anything in a fancier restaurant. Tom devours the entire thing enthusiastically with lots of tartar sauce,

The Cuban sandwich and The Hot Chicken Sandwich are also very good, as is the roast beef, but they are a step below the ones I already mentioned. The bread is also made in-house, and it is not classic, so it doesn’t perform as well as the traditional bread for poor boys would. The Hot Chicken Sandwich brioche bun is the exception to this. After all, where is there a hot chicken sandwich on anything other than brioche?

On our most recent visit, I looked at the menu and realized that we had tried about 98% of it. That’s almost embarrassing. We finally got another appetizer we had missed, and one that Tom has oddly been intrigued by. The smoked chicken wings are first smoked then deep fried to crisp, and served with a choice of three sauces: BBQ, Nashville Hot, and Garlic Parmesan. We opted for two of these on the side. If you want them tossed you have to choose only one. They were served in a basket with carrot ribbons, celery sticks and Ranch dressing. These were very good for what they were, but since this isn’t really my thing I don’t have a lot to compare. The Garlic Parmesan surprised me by being thick and opaque, but I liked both sauces.

Tom got a kid’s burger which is like the real one but the real one is thicker and much better. Unlike the chicken tenders, this seems like a kid’s meal.

And I got a side of red beans and rice which was fine but not extraordinary. It was a nice portion with ample white rice, thick and creamy but also with clearly defined red beans. Bits of andouille confirmed my thoughts about this andouille, which is that it is odd. It’s a shy thing. Doesn’t make much of a statement, unlike the usual kind.

On this visit, unlike most others, Tom decided he need the single dessert here. It is an ice cream sandwich featuring a housemade cookie. On this day it was chocolate chocolate chip. This was frozen so hard it was difficult to eat, but when we did it was definitely an upscale ice cream sandwich. 

We left after another pleasant evening beside the river, where the food actually does match the quality of the scene. It’s a find.