Simple Pleasures & Pleasant Surprises
Classic New Orleans foods done right
Viola Special at Charles Seafood
sara essex bradley
It was mid-afternoon on a Saturday earlier this spring, a day with that sparkling quality when just the slightest winter chill remains in the air and the sky is radiant. My husband and I were out tooling around in search of vintage light fixtures and guitars, a couple of our respective passions. I was on a mission with no interest in food. He was hungry, distracted.
“Can we just get you a snack or something?” We were headed west on Jefferson Highway. I’d head rumors of junk shop with a treasure trove of tacky old plaster lamps I wanted to get at.
“No. I want real food.” I rejected every place he pointed out: pizza, burgers – ho-hum. They all seemed cheesy.
Starving, delirious probably, Andrew pulled into the lot in front of a turquoise-colored stucco building. “This is where we are going. Screw you and your lamps.”
Charlie’s, the long-beloved Harahan seafood joint, reopened in early 2014 as Charles Seafood after a year-long closure. Despite the sign outside that says otherwise, the restaurant has been known as Charlie’s since it opened in 1951. People seem unwilling to call it anything else.
Andrew had made an excellent choice. I hushed right up. He gloated.
Everything about Charles Seafood welcomes you like an old friend. The waiters and waitresses are real deal Yats who speak to you in conspirational tones, calling you “Honey” and “Doll.” As they suck through piles of crawfish, the neighborhood regulars tell you what to order. The television on the wall keeps you abreast of the game, and the rich cream-colored walls make you feel warm and cozy. The large room in the back, the one with the muted swamp scene mural, looks like an ideal place for an extended family gathering or a welcoming place to take uninitiated out of town guests for an authentic local neighborhood restaurant experience of the dying breed variety.
A tower of greaseless onions rings will set you back $7.95. All of the poor boys and specialty sandwiches are gigantic, large enough to share. The Creole Oyster Blue ($11.95) features fried oysters tossed with a zesty sauce and crumbles of bleu cheese. The Viola Special features delicious homemade meatballs topped with Creole red gravy and melted mozzarella cheese for $8.95 – a bargain. A whole muffuletta is $14.95. The most expensive thing on the menu is the Charlie (seafood) Platter, which appears large enough to feed four with plenty to spare.
I visited Sammy’s Food Service & Deli with the intention of getting the fabled Ray Ray poor boy (Southern fried chicken breast with grilled ham and melted Swiss) but was distracted by the daily offering of Fried Trout Almondine, trout being an increasingly rare offering on all but white tablecloth restaurants. At $11.99 for the substantial, flaky filet (which comes either grilled or fried) with a choice of two sides (I went with buttery cornbread dressing and creamed spinach) this was a deal.
Clearly, this has been a month of good karma for me, both financially and culinarily.
Outfitted with a large, communal wooden table, on Saturday afternoons Singleton’s Mini Mart serves Vietnamese food the instead of its usual poor boys. On the Saturday in question my luck seemed to run out and the person in front of me scored the last Asian entrée to be had.
Starving, I settled on an order of eggrolls (meh) and a hot, dressed roast beef poor boy with Swiss cheese (excellent). Really, in a lifetime of good roast beef poor boys this one was shockingly outstanding. The garlic-flavored roast beef was piled high and laced with plenty of delicious gravy, Leidenheimer bread toasted just so. A Singleton’s bonus: the location in Uptown’s Black Pearl neighborhood. It is one block from the levee, five blocks or so from Audubon Park and six blocks from the Fly. Get your meal to-go and head out for an impromptu picnic.
Charles (aka Charlie’s) Seafood 8311 Jefferson Highway, Harahan, 405-5263, CharlesSeafood14.com
Sammy’s Food Service & Deli 3000 Elysian Fields Ave., 947-0675, SammysFood.com
Singleton’s Mini Mart 7446 Garfield St., 866-4741, SingletonsPoBoys.com