So many people have raved to us about The Commissary, our curiosity finally got the best of us. Yesterday we headed over there to experience this unusual operation at all levels. We had lunch, we got prepared foods from the market, and a raw kit for cooking at home.
First, it’s in a surprising place, in the deepest part of the Irish Channel. Not even a block from Tchoupitoulas on Orange St., the only other food service place nearby is Le Citroen, a truly under-the-radar place that has been operating for many years in one of the oldest buildings around. It is also the neighborhood of the Kingsley House.
A very hip-looking metal building painted a cool blue, it radiates a hipness. A Dickie Brennan restaurant delivery van sits out front, which is the way we located it. Inside the place bustles. The kitchen is massive and open. There are just a few tables inside the indoor-outdoor space. You walk to a register with only one menu mounted in acrylic. It’s a good thing I looked online first. We were greeted by Sara Brennan, one of Dickie’s two children. Richard III is in the kitchen. Jordy Brower, the oldest of four children of Dickie’s sister Lauren and husband George Brower, busies himself with the very coolest outdoor smoker I have ever laid eyes on. Serious smoker envy here. Jordy explained that the smoker was a gift many years ago by a family friend, sitting at the Brennan family weekend place in Mississippi. Jordy is smoking, among other things, the very best andouille in my experience. He whacked off a piece and handed it to me in a brown paper cone boudin style, and I couldn't stop eating it. Chunky and smoky, with a casing that is crispy with just the right resistance, this is a high-water mark for the local sausage. Great spice level too, which was not immediately apparent. The more I ate, the better it got. I hope they sell this in the market. Great stuff.
Jordy is joined by two of his three siblings, making it a true next-gen operation. Both of Dickie’s kids have extensive experience outside the family's restaurants. Sara is a very accomplished baker with San Francisco’s famous Tartine on her resume, as well as some Napa hotspots.
The place was busy with vendors coming and going. One was a foie gras purveyor from the north shore. This operation was conceived to celebrate farm to table. Richard came over to chat and mentioned that a tremendous expansion of the Market was coming. His description made it sound like the old Foodies, the terrific-but-sadly-shortlived Market/Eatery modeled after Eatzie’s. It was located on Veterans next to Dorignac’s and died with Katrina. Every time I pass the building which is now some office, a tinge of sadness strikes my heart. Just recently a caller to the radio show reminisced with me about Murray’s Blue Cheese and Walnut bread. Richard watched me wax about it and softly injected that he was too young to really remember it. I hope his parents and aunts help revive at least something similar here. Sister Sara is certainly capable of a reprise of Murray the Baker’s role. There is a built-in and eager customer base still there.
All of these cousins are skilled, helpful and charming and it’s truly heartwarming to see the family camaraderie about the place. They clearly get along, enjoy working together, and are of one mind. And passionate. Fun to watch. Yes, but how was the food?
We went a little crazy ordering. For lunch, we had the grilled fish sandwich, a burger, and a Creole Cubano just because I can’t resist them. These came with housemade chips that definitely need work. From personal experience, it is merely a second between a golden brown chip and a too-brown one. It takes practice, but too-brown ones are unappealing and shouldn't be served. Golden brown house cut chips are hard to beat. House cut french fries are easier, but these need work too. They were less golden and more blonde, which we discovered with the first bite was a problem of undercooking. A minute more on these would have made them spectacular. Also salt. They definitely had the look. We never leave good-looking french fries, but we did here because they were just a tinge undercooked.
The Cubano was also a disappointment. It had the sound of good on the menu, it looked promising, but the pulled pork was not shredded but pulverized. It was accompanied by housemade bacon and the Creole mustard and pickles rounded it out. No ham or cheese. This too needs reworking.
Tom loved his grilled fish, and with good reason. This was very good, spiced nicely and dressed appropriately. My hamburger was excellent. On a housemade bun that was just a good bun, these two grass fed beef patties were cooked perfectly, American cheese melted into a coating that made for a delicious-looking and absolutely great burger.
From the Market we got a redfish meal kit which included salad and potatoes and a chocolate cream pie for two. There were two beautiful vacuum packed redfish sealed with a compound butter. And we got some macaroni and cheese to bake at home, a container of pimiento cheese, a pound of grass fed prime ground beef, and a rotisserie chicken. I was shocked to discover than in packing this, raw foods sat on top of a container of pimiento cheese, and a bag of salad next to raw redfish. These raw items were vacuum-packed, but not putting raw items, no matter how well-sealed they are, next to things that won’t be cooked seems like packing 101.
I hit the chocolate cream pie as soon as I got home, and it was really good. Creamy and chocolaty, with a thin cookie crust, this was hard to resist. The thick schmear of whipped cream offset the chocolate exactly right.
Last night I had a slice of the chicken off the breast, and a little of the macaroni and cheese. The chicken was really smoky and also needed some salt, as did the macaroni and cheese. I actually got a hint of sweetness to these two things, but that could just be me.
Right now that chicken is sitting in a pot boiling for what will be a fantastic chicken andouille gumbo, but I have to go back and get some more of than superb andouille.