I never made it to Chops Bistro and Martini Bar, the restaurant in the Heritage Plaza building at the foot of Veterans Boulevard. I work downtown, and the restaurant never really caught my interest. When I heard that Ralph Brennan was opening a restaurant in the space formerly occupied by Chops, I was intrigued. Heritage Grill opened recently, and although it is a work in progress – as of this writing the restaurant is still waiting for a liquor license – it shows promise.

The restaurant is located on the second floor of the building. The long, split-level dining space features windows that wrap around on three sides. Like all of Brennan’s restaurants, Heritage Grill is tastefully decorated, with tan and brown dominating the color scheme. Booths line the exterior wall that runs along the side of the space facing Veterans, with tables of varying size on a lower level, closer to the open kitchen. There is a bar on the south side of the room, near the entrance. When I dined recently, service was enthusiastic and attentive.

The restaurant is open for lunch only, Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Brennan is clearly positioning Heritage Grill as a spot for power lunches, and this past Tuesday the space was moderately busy with tables of folks who appeared to be doing business while eating. This being New Orleans (well, almost, it’s on the Jefferson side of the parish border), I suspect that the absence of a liquor license limits the clientele, but that is temporary. I was told they expect the license to come through next week.

The menu is not expansive, but there are a number of choices for appetizers, soups, salads, sandwiches and entrees. A gratin billed on the menu as warm crab dip was excellent. The dish is topped with breadcrumbs and full of crabmeat; it was delicious spooned onto the toasted baguette slices that come with it. 

I wasn’t as taken with the buttermilk onion rings. Thick-sliced onions are coated in a batter heavy enough that it was uncooked at the center of some of the larger rings. The onions were apparently seasoned with pepper sauce prior to being battered, which gave them a slightly sour note. The fries, on the other hand, were excellent. They are of the thin-cut variety, and they came out crispy and perfectly seasoned.

The fries, along with grilled asparagus, came with the hanger steak I ordered as an entrée. The steak was cooked to order, topped with a blue cheese compound butter, then served in bite-sized slices over a red-wine demi-glace. It was a very good rendition of the bistro classic. The meat was tender, the asparagus was cooked perfectly, and the blue cheese in the compound butter was excellent. Blue cheese is a pretty typical pairing with steak, but it can often be overpowering; combined with butter, it retained the bite you expect from the cheese, but mellowed.

My dining companion ordered the chicken and dumplings, which arrived as a stew with large parsley dumplings placed on one end. The dumplings were a little doughy, but the stew was well-flavored. I think the dish would be better served in a bowl than the oval plate on which it came, but that’s hardly damning criticism. 

Other starters on the menu include garlic bread served with fresh mozzarella and basil; a P&J oyster gratin with artichokes and Pernod cream sauce; grilled jumbo gulf shrimp with a black-eyed pea salad and remoulade sauce; and roasted duck, wild mushroom and tasso egg rolls.

There is a duck and andouille gumbo on the menu, as well as a soup of the day, potato and leek on this occasion. There are two salads on the starters portion of the menu: butter lettuce with bacon, marinated cherry tomatoes and green goddess dressing, and seasonal greens with goat cheese, spiced pecans and a sun-dried tomato vinaigrette.

Sandwiches include a roasted turkey sandwich on ciabatta with bacon, arugula, marinated cherry tomatoes and basil mayonnaise that comes with onion rings; a burger with cheddar, fries and house-made ketchup; and a crawfish remoulade sandwich on a buttered croissant with fresh fruit. Fried oysters show up in an entrée-sized salad with spinach, frisée and blue cheese dressing; and there’s a grilled chicken paillard served over sliced tomatoes with arugula, house-made mozzarella and a basil vinaigrette.

Other entrées include blackened redfish with a corn and Anaheim pepper salad, fried catfish with maque choux, crab cakes with angel hair pasta and barbecue shrimp made with Abita beer and served over grits.

For a restaurant that’s only been open a short time, Heritage Grill is already capable of putting out some very good food. When the restaurant can serve a martini along with a meal, I expect it will be extremely successful. When I called the restaurant while writing this piece, I was told that it’s possible that it will open for dinner service at some point in the future. You can call 934-4900 to find out if that’s the case, or to make a reservation.