Dining in Fat City

Wedged alongside the corporate sprawl of Lakeside Mall lies the tiny enclave of Fat City. This area, whose name derived from a now-extinct snowball stand, served as Metairie’s rough equivalent of Bourbon Street during its heyday in the late 1970s and early ’80s. Time hasn’t been kind to the area since then; yet Fat City soldiers on, offering its unique collection of restaurants, bars and strip clubs. The restaurants are distinguished by friendly service and some good deals on entrées, such as steak and lobster. Redevelopment of the area looms in the near future, so now is a good time to visit before it likely gets stripped of its distinctive character.

Crazy Johnnie’s Steakhouse is a Fat City institution. The vibe here is low-key and unpretentious, with friendly service and generous portions to match. For appetizers, a good choice is the Crawfish Johnnie, which features crawfish tails in a butter and cream sauce rounded out with mushrooms, onions and celery then ladled over slices of French bread. Fans of the dish can opt for the entrée-sized version, which swaps the bread for rice and ratchets up the serving size accordingly.

Those who crave a steak will find some nice choices here that are very easy on the wallet. A Filet Mignon entrée rings up at under $16 and is served with Crazy Potatoes – basically smashed potatoes dolled up with butter, garlic and seasoning. I think the tastier choice is the Prime Rib au Jus, which rings up at under $13 and comes in a 12-ounce portion accompanied by a horseradish sauce as well as a ramekin of jus. This cut is more tender and flavorful than the filet, the portion is larger and it costs less. What’s not to like?

Guests not wanting steak can avail themselves of a diverse menu offering dishes such as Shrimp Sochi, which comes in a dill and crème sauce served with rice pilaf and traditional local favorites such as Shrimp and Crawfish Etouffee. If you’re still undecided, the Half-and-Half option allows you to mix and match.

No exploration of Fat City would be complete without a mention of Drago’s. And while the downtown crowd can now enjoy the signature char-broiled oysters at the new location at the foot of Poydras Street in the Hilton Hotel, there’s something special about the Fat City space. It is always packed, it’s always bustling and the oysters might be even better than their reputation. The sprawling menu offers plenty to choose from but other good bets here are the Maine lobster dishes, among the most reasonably-priced in the city.

Salvatore is a Fat City destination that features a lounge grafted to the side of the dining room, creating an odd dichotomy of white linen and live music. Factor in the faded ambiance and the old-school-southern-Italian-meets-Creole menu and you end up with something that could only be found in New Orleans.

For appetizers, the Oyster Salvatore is akin to a pan roast, loaded with Italian breadcrumbs, oysters, thyme, prosciutto and garlic. A similar dish can be found at Mosca’s but the version here is more flavorful. For entrées, I had good luck with the Trout Salvatore, which came pan-fried and dressed with a butter and cream sauce studded with crabmeat and plump local shrimp. My filet was piping hot and delicious, though on the menu it was described as “grilled.”

If you’re looking for a quiet, romantic place, the music from the adjoining club can become intrusive as the night goes on but the character here is all Fat City, and watching the club patrons from my perch in the dining room I could see that they were clearly having a good time. Also, before you go, check online for some good meal coupons, since the prices here are a bit steep for the neighborhood.

Skirting the edge of Fat City is Phil’s Grill, a locally owned and operated burger joint that has swiftly joined the ranks of such burger destinations as Port of Call. The menu here gets downright interactive with the Build-a-Burger option. Think of it as a burger lover’s version of a sushi card. The flowchart breaks down the burger step by step. Select the type of meat, the type of bun and choose from dozens of sauces, toppings and cheeses to create your own über-burger. You can make it as caveman or as frilly as you want. They are all cooked to order for $8.99, and are well worth it.

For appetizers, $4.49 gets you a basket of tasty fried pickle slices, which go well with a side of ranch dressing. If these sorts of things make your arteries recoil, you can opt for healthier options such as a grilled sashimi tuna salad. Additionally, you can build your burger on a veggie patty foundation, forsake the bun or downsize it with the mini-burger combo option.

Service is friendly and the variety of toppings is amazing – chipotle sour cream, arugula, peanut pesto and Creole aioli to name just a few. The only limitation is the parking (a perennial Fat City problem) as the place handles a large lunch rush. Try and get there early to beat the crowd.

One of New Orleans’ few Korean establishments can be found in Fat City. The word “spicy” isn’t used lightly at Korea House – even fans of fiery food might want to skew to the medium-to-low level of heat when asked. An appetizer of Spicy Squid was big enough to be passed off as an entrée. Green onion tops, carrot, zucchini and onion came along for the ride in the red chili sauce. The Bi Bim Naeng Myon, cold noodles seasoned with a hot spicy sauce, served up cold noodles in a vinegary broth spiked with chili sauce and vegetables along with boiled egg. Among the more accessible dishes is the tasty Bul Go Gi, thinly sliced beef marinated in sugar and soy sauce then stir-fried with ginger and garlic. It comes along with a terrific assortment of kim chi. Five different versions of the Korean pickled condiment flanked the entrée, including a cold slaw of julienned carrots and cucumber, sweet black beans, hunks of daikon radish with chili sauce and the usual effervescent fermented cabbage.

Other dishes to try include Bibimbop – rice dishes served in a hot stone pot glazed with sesame oil which sears the outer layer of rice to a savory crust. These dishes come with a variety of vegetables, seafood and meats, and make for a very substantial meal for a low price. Or, order up some Korean barbecue to cook on the tabletop grill.

FAT CITY FUN

Crazy Johnnie’s Steak House
3520 18th St.
Metairie
887-6641

Drago’s Seafood Restaurant
3232 N. Arnoult Road
Metairie
888-9254

Salvatore
3226 N. Arnoult Road
Metairie
455-2433

Phil’s Grill
3020 Severn Ave.
Metairie
324-9080

Korea House
3547 18th St.
Metairie
888-0654

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