On the exterior, with its deep, graceful front porch and lush, verdant gardens, the impeccably restored and maintained historic Italianate raised center hall cottage that houses The Country Club reveals nothing of the building’s oft-sordid past.
Built in 1884 as an elegant home for Anne McAvoy and George Canby, by 1947 the house had devolved into disrepair and became a boarding house for travelers of questionable moral character and low standards. In 1976, the once grand manse evolved from its incarnation as a flop house into a grubby dispatch hub for taxi service. In 1977 three friends pooled their resources and purchased the property, installed a pool and outdoor bar at the rear and opened the space to the public as The Country Club to serve a mostly gay and, poolside, usually unclothed patronage. The property changed hands several times until Hurricane Katrina dealt it a nasty blow in 2005, and inspired the restoration that brought it to the spectacular state in which we find it today.
Each of the three dining rooms is adorned with stunning hand painted floral murals by local artist Cindy Mathis that walk the fine line between sexy and proper. Whimsical paintings by southern artist Louis St. Lewis are scattered throughout and highlighted by custom lighting that makes the works sparkle. Despite its large scale, the open square-shaped bar and an adjacent room adorned lavishly with butterflies feels like a secret retreat. The Country Club is popular for bachelorette parties as well as the Saturday and Sunday weekly Drag Queen Brunch.
Formerly of Commander’s Palace, chef Chris Barbato heads up the kitchen with a menu that merges Creole underpinnings with a Caribbean flair. Starters include a crab and coconut bisque, blue crab beignets with a crisp tempura-battered exterior served with a bright saffron aioli and a seasonal salad combining raw and roasted vegetables. Entrées range from light, fresh Louisiana oyster tacos to a bold, assertive fried chicken sandwich. For the latter, a large boneless chicken thigh is coated in a shaggy batter before it’s deep fried in bacon drippings and served open-faced on a brioche bun with pickles and a dill aioli.
If a prize were available for beautiful, inventive plating, the Oyster Bed Roast at Saffron would be a sure bet. One dozen fine Gulf specimens arrive on a large pewter platter in the shape of a curving leaf with wells forming the cups within which the oysters are broiled with caramelized onions, garlic and curry leaves. Sexy lighting, the tinkling laughter from the constant swell of delighted patrons and a fresh, imaginative cocktail program make the Vilkhu family’s James Beard nominated (Best New Restaurant 2018) Magazine Street hotspot one of the most coveted reservations in New Orleans.
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Since launching in September 2017, chef Isaac Toups’ Counter Club – the monthly off-menu dinner and brunch series at Toups South – has been a roaring success. Counter Club dinners takes place the third Thursday of each month at the Toups South exhibition kitchen inside the Southern Food & Beverage Museum (SoFAB) in Central City. The Mad Hatter chef and his ace team of fellow kitchen wizards preside over the dinners. Guests are seated at the U-shaped counter surrounding the kitchen, so the action is up close and personal. Seatings are offered at 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. Counter Club brunch, always a festive affair, takes place the second Sunday of each month at noon. These are coveted, tough to score reservations, and the very limited seats sells out quickly. Each four-course meal comes at a bargain price of $50 per person.
This month’s Counter Club dinner “Cheese Please” will be on Thursday, April 18. The theme was brought back by popular demand and highlights include Baked Rigatoni Pie and Crab Fontina Risotto prepared in a cheese wheel. Diners with dietary restrictions should mention them when calling Toups directly for reservations.
The Country Club
634 Louisa St., 945-0742, TCCNO.com
4126 Magazine St., 323-2626, SaffronNola.com
1504 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd, 304-2147, ToupsSouth.com