The Enraged Chicken
Lower Garden District: 1115 St. Mary
The Enraged Chicken was as quirky as its name. One night, the menu would be Mexican. The next, Chinese. After that Italian, Creole, and Spanish. Maybe. You not only had to take what cuisine you found, but accept the set menu with no choices.
But if you were caught up in the phenomenon that had built up around The Enraged Chicken, you knew that it was essential to stop in at the end of the week to pick up the following week’s menu. That would tell you exactly what would be served each night. So, instead of picking the dish you wanted, you chose the day of the week with the best-sounding food.
You also knew that behind this apparent madness was something entirely rational. Two brothers named Schaeffer operated The Enraged Chicken as a school for cooks, servers, and restaurant managers. Each night, the students would move from one position to the next. The chef of the day would decide what kind of food was to be served, and what dishes. Keeping a lid on the kitchen was Chef Gary Darling, then in the early years of his career. (He’s now one of the owners of Zea.)
And the customers would fill the two small rooms of a converted neighborhood bar for lunch and dinner, Monday through Friday. They would pay with cash. If you made a reservation and didn’t show up, you’d be put on the “you-know-what list” (they really called it that), and you couldn’t get a reservation anymore. The Enraged Chicken had its customers well trained.
I ate there four or five times. Some nights, the place was brilliant, and the prices were low enough that it was easy to understand why people were so worked up about the place. Other nights, it was just okay, maybe even disappointing. The service gaffes were the biggest problem. Most of the students were inexperienced in serving gourmet customers. A few seemed never to have dined in a restaurant before.
But most customers turned a blind eye to the shortcomings, and enjoyed the hipness of the place. But, like all things hip, The Enraged Chicken’s day in the sun ended. When it stopped being hard to get a reservation, and especially when there were empty tables at every meal, the novelty wore off. People stopped coming. And that was that.
The idea was a good one, however, when applied twenty years later by non-profit operations like Café Reconcile and Café Hope, which do more or less the same thing, but with at-risk young people learning the restaurant trade and a straightforward, predictable menu.
This is one of 122 reviews of fondly-remembered but extinct restaurants from Lost Restaurants Of New Orleans, just published by Pelican. It’s available in bookstores all around town, and full of photos, graphics, menus, and memorabilia.