I have a soft spot for New Orleans neighborhood restaurants. When I was a kid, my parents took us to Liuzza’s for dinner now and then, and we patronized multiple restaurants in Bucktown.
When I was a little older and going out with friends, we’d often end up at Frankie & Johnny’s. It was a place to get crawfish, or gumbo, poor boys or fried seafood. I took for granted how good it was until it wasn’t all that great any more.
It didn’t take the sort of nose-dive that the Pearl, the now-closed restaurant on St. Charles Avenue downtown, did before someone finally pulled the plug. At the end, the Pearl charged a hell of a lot of money for serving badly fried seafood. As far as I know, Frankie & Johnny's didn’t fall that far, but with all the other choices in town, I didn’t make a point of going there until I learned a friend and former neighbor bought it.
This friend is a chef who, when I met him, was working in a pretty high position for a guy with restaurants all over the country whose name rhymes with “Memeril.” He was a good bean those days and also gave me a pressure cooker that I have used regularly for the last 10 years. I like the guy.
I’ve been to Frankie & Johnny's since he took things over, and it was soup to nuts good. It’s the sort of place you take friends who’ve come to New Orleans for a vacation if you like them. But given my responsibilities where “new” restaurants are concerned and the fact that I cook most meals for my family, I haven’t been there in too long.
My friend said they’ve been busy, which is both good and unsurprising. People in New Orleans love to eat; we love the fancy restaurants and we love joints that serve red beans with sausage of dubious origin. We love the neighborhood restaurants that bridge the gap between those points too, and we should celebrate them to the same extent we celebrate the latest white tablecloth/casual, vaguely ethnic spot featuring locally sourced ingredients and a carefully curated bar program that will invariably open next month on Magazine or St. Claude.
I say that as a fan of white tablecloth/casual, vaguely ethnic spot featuring locally sourced ingredients and a bar program, carefully curated or not. It’s the neighborhood eateries that make us distinct, though, and I’d be interested to hear your favorite such place, whether in Orleans Parish or not.