Metairie: 2700 Edenborn.
Steve Stonebreaker was one of the original New Orleans Saints. After he retired from football, he was in a succession of businesses, from a typesetting shop (trivia: his outfit set the type for Richard Collin’s last restaurant guide) to opening a restaurants–something quite a few Saints have tried over the years.
Stonebreaker’s originally opened as a branch of TJ’s Ribs, a popular LSU hangout in Baton Rouge. The specialty of the house was barbecued baby back pork ribs. At that time, barbecue of any distinction was rare around New Orleans. We had Harold’s Texas Barbecue, and that was about it. Corky’s wasn’t here yet (indeed, I met Sam Chawkin, the man who ultimately brought Corky’s to New Orleans, during lunch at Stonebreaker’s.)
Well-prepared baby back ribs are lusty eating. So are the larger St. Louis-style pork ribs and roast prime ribs of beef, both of which were specialties at Stonebreaker’s. I even know some people who claim to like barbecue beef ribs, although that taste is beyond me.
Steve Stonebreaker was a a hail-fellow-well-met salesman. He was always ready to tell you the details of where he got his ribs and how well selected they were. If you pressed him on matters like why his ribs were baked and grilled instead of smoked, he told you that smoked ribs are not his style. The former linebacker was bigger and fitter than you are, so he persuaded you.
The menu was simple, and rather similar to those of some chain restaurants. It began with spinach-artichoke-cheese dip, a big bowl of green stuff served with tortilla chips. My wife loved it enough to force me to try to duplicate it at home. The fried chicken tenders were well-seasoned, light, completely ungreasy, and one of the best items on the entire menu.
The flagship entree was as good as the smokeless style gets. The main appeal of baby back ribs is that the ratio of meat to bone is a lot higher than on most other ribs. Stonebreaker’s were trimmed better than most, resulting in very little in the way of globby fat. The mainstream vogue in ribs cookery is for ribs that fall off the bone as you pick them up. Stonebreaker’s ribs are tender, but not that tender–which I liked.
Two cuts of prime rib were a second specialty. The “quarterback” cut was what would in other restaurants be called a “ladies’ cut.” (Joke.) The “linebacker” cut was for real eaters.
Stonebreaker could have become famous for crab cakes, which were not nearly as widespread on local menus then as now. The were made with pure jumbo lump crabmeat, barely held together by a bread crumbs crust. They were terrific, but when the price shot up in the colder months, Stonebreaker took them off the menu. I think he could have charged whatever he wanted for them and gotten away with it. They were really that good.
The premises were originally built for Frank Occhipinti’s restaurant, and were quite handsome. The chair backs were upholstered with custom slipcovers that showed the names of NFL teams. The walls were full of football memorabilia, as you might imagine. Stonebreaker was a highly motivated positive thinker, and he infected that great attitude on his staff.
But it didn’t work. The restaurant had a big problem: it was off the main traffic stream, in a funny part of Metairie that’s off most people’s mental maps. You needed to know where it was to find it.
The restaurant–and Steve Stonebreaker himself–came to a sad end. He committed suicide, reportedly after learning that he had cancer. The restaurant was struggling at the time, and closed shortly after his death. He was too nice a guy to have such a fate. And if he’d held on a bit longer, and put some smoke into those ribs, he could have caught a wave of interest in barbecue that soon passed through New Orleans. Ave atque vale, Steve.