A lot has changed in Bucktown since the storm. While this short stretch of Lakefront remains a favorite destination for casual seafood, much of its charm has been obliterated by the massive gate and pumping station at the mouth of the 17th Street Canal.
Another casualty of both the storm and eminent domain, Sid-Mar’s, a wonderful joint whose land was claimed by the Corps, is sorely missed.
Also gone is the small fleet of trawlers that used to issue forth into the lake, bringing back the goods for market. But many of the pre-storm places are still chugging along, serving up fried seafood platters in quantities that can feed whole families, plus in-laws to boot. The resilience of the community makes it special, as does the collection of independent seafood markets.
R&O’s remains my personal favorite; it’s a bustling shrine to all things briny and fried. This is a restaurant that can absorb whatever walks through its doors, including extended families and other large groups. Plus, you have to love a place that maintains a vintage Galaga arcade game.
R&O’s menu is a mash-up of fried seafood and New Orleans-style Italian specialties, along with a few must-try quirks like the Hot Tamales. A good place to start is the Italian salad with olives in all its shaggy, iceberg lettuce glory. Reminiscent of the archaically named Wop Salad from Mosca’s without crabmeat, the R&O’s version comes with plenty of artichoke hearts and pickled peppers. From there, delve into the seafood. The Shrimp Remoulade appetizer is good, featuring peeled and boiled shrimp dressed in a light Remoulade sauce. The overall taste benefits from the one-two punch of shrimp boil flavor and signature sauce.
The Fried Seafood Platter can be tailored to your liking, but I like the straight-up version with oysters, catfish and shrimp rounded off with a stuffed crab. All this comes served on a mound of fries that would qualify as a meal on its own. If you don’t want seafood, the Roast Beef Poor Boy has a good reputation (the sesame-studded bread here is distinctive), as does the Meatball Pizza. For lighter fare, the Eggplant Parmesan is about as dainty as it gets, which is to say, not very.
Whatever you choose, chances are you’ll be leaving with Styrofoam boxes as the portions are huge. Dessert, if you make it that far, consists of a rotating series of cakes, including Orange Dreamsicle and Chocolate Rum .
Next door is New Orleans Food and Spirits, which puts a spot of polish on the typical Bucktown joint without compromising the essential character (“Y’alls” and “Dats” are sprinkled liberally throughout the menu.) Some nice lunch specials include half a poor boy served with choice of soup, salad or gumbo. Upscale your lunch by choosing the Crab Cake Pontchartain, which serves up a baseball-sized crab cake topped with pasta in a crawfish and cream sauce. Gumbo here comes with potato salad in lieu of rice, a love-it-or-hate-it proposition (I fall into the “love it” category). Daily specials include an expected Red Beans and Rice on Mondays and an unexpected Smothered Rabbit with White Beans on Thursdays.
A meal at Deanie’s Seafood starts off on the right note, with new potatoes done up in crab boil arriving at the table in lieu of a ho-hum breadbasket. Offset their spice with an iced tea so sweet it makes your teeth ache. Start your meal off with an appetizer-sized portion of Barbecue Shrimp, featuring Goliath-sized crustaceans in a witch’s brew laden with cracked pepper, paprika and lemon. The good stuff sinks to the bottom, so be sure to trawl the bowl with hunks of the chewy pistolette that accompanies the dish. If you don’t want to get your hands dirty, opt for the BBQ Shrimp Pasta, which serves up a user-friendly, pre-peeled version plus noodles.
Among the other appetizers, Crab Fingers come lightly battered in cornmeal then flash fried. All the more reason to order the BBQ Shrimp: you can keep the bowl on hand for dip duty later on. Additionally, Deanie’s has some good lunch specials, including smaller, more manageable stuffed crab and fried soft-shell platters. But for those wanting to go all-out, opt for the Giant Seafood Platter, a towering ziggurat of enough fried seafood to feed a small army. Dessert includes local flavor in the form of their Gold Brick Sundae with Elmer’s Gold Brick topping, and a Nectar Cream Soda. In addition, Deanie’s is available to cater parties and events, and can also ship seafood nationwide – visit their adjacent market to learn more.
Finally, if you don’t have time for a meal or simply want to bring the Bucktown experience back to your own kitchen, check out Schaefer Seafood. In the prepared food coolers you’ll find the Etoufee and Stuffed Artichokes. Those looking to make turtle soup can find turtle meat here, along with other pre-prepped essentials like sliced okra. Three types of boudin are offered as well, including pork and shrimp. Live soft-shells and jumbo shrimp are also there for the picking.