Good news for casual dining in Uptown: recent months have seen the opening of McClure’s BBQ and the reboot of Frankie & Johnny’s.
The former is a welcome addition to the local barbecue scene, while the latter marks the return to form of a neighborhood favorite. Both are family- and budget-friendly options with a lot of appeal as we roll into the warmer months.
To open McClure’s BBQ, owner Neil McClure built on his success with his Tuesday night pop-up at Dante’s Kitchen, where he formerly worked as the general manager. Large plate glass windows look out over the corner of Bordeaux and Magazine streets, and the inside is furnished with surreally humorous art by Scott Guion.
A Lang smoker parked across Bordeaux Street serves as his pit, a concession to some nearby residents who had objected to the scent of smoky goodness.
“Barbecue has been my passion from the beginning, and the pop-up gave me a good platform to test things,” McClure says. “My customers told me that I was good enough to do a brick-and-mortar rather than just once-a-week.”
All smoking is done over firewood, no charcoal, and he burns through about a cord of pecan wood a week. “I’m probably influenced the most by Carolina style,” says McClure, who grew up in Pensacola. “Though growing up in Florida we didn’t really have a predominate style. There was a lot of straight-off-the-shelf KC Masterpiece and – God forbid – Kraft Barbecue Sauce.”
McClure mixes his own “Creole” base rub, then fine-tunes it to complement each type of meat.
“What I vary the most from meat to meat is the salt and pepper content,” he says. “Ribs I don’t put any salt on. I do brine them a bit, but too much salt on a rib and it turns into ham. Whereas the chicken is an even spread, and the brisket is heavy on the pepper.
Texans would kill me for putting rub on it, but I think we do meat better here in New Orleans.”
About his brisket – if you go, start with that. “Brisket is pretty much what set me off on my mission. Going to the Joint and eating my friend Pete (Breen’s) brisket – I’ve never really been a brisket guy before. And I fell in love with it and then decided that I wanted to learn how to cook it. And learning how to cook it led to all of this.”
McClure doesn’t sauce anything, leaving that up to the customers. And that is one of McClure’s big appeals: a selection of seven sauces representing various regional styles, including a mustard-based South Carolina style and a white Alabama-style that goes well with the smoked chicken. Kansas City, Texas and Memphis round out the tomato-based options. All are homemade and the NOLA East is entirely his own invention, a spicy concoction that includes hoisin and soy sauce in a nod to the Vietnamese community in the east.
For sides, try the coleslaw, which is vinegar-based and offers a sharp and refreshing complement to the smoky meat. The barbecue jambalaya is studded with tasty morsels of all the meats as well as some smoked vegetables tied together with a touch of the Kansas City sauce. And if the stewed greens are available, try them as well. You won’t be disappointed.
Countless locals have fond memories of Frankie & Johnny’s, the quintessential neighborhood seafood joint that feels like a little slice of Bucktown on Arabella Street. Recently the building’s owners sold the restaurant (but not the property) to restaurateur Anthony Macaluso, who embarked on a top-to-bottom renovation. Along the way, Macaluso brought on business partner Woody Valls.
The restaurant maintains its original character, down to its checkered floor, but everything is brand-new. Booths were installed where there was once bench seating and the bar underwent a complete overhaul. Covered patio seating was added out front.
Other changes include a new oyster bar. “They never served raw oysters before, and that has been a tremendous success,” Valls says. “We’ve been very fortunate in our oyster supplier who’s providing us an excellent quality of oysters.”
Parents might appreciate one other addition: the old downstairs office was gutted and made into a mini-arcade for kids. Squatting on the floor in there as well is a large cabinet safe. “Too heavy to move,” Valls explains.
The menu itself was left essentially unchanged, including their famous fried green pepper rings and a few modest upgrades, such as tuna steak. The focus is on fried and boiled seafood, poor boys and plate lunches that vary by the day. These include Beef Stroganoff, chicken and dumplings, ham steak with yams and yellow rice, for example. Red beans and rice is served daily. In line with the arcade, a kid’s menu is offered as well.
The bar menu has also been beefed up and now offers 14 draft beers along with a more substantive wine list. A weekday happy hour from 2 to 6 p.m. offers a discount on drinks and oysters.
So how was the re-launch received? “That was the most rewarding aspect of all this,” Valls says. “So many people were happy as can be to have their iconic local neighborhood restaurant back. I for one was overwhelmed by the community’s response,” Valls says.
Ed. Note: A kitchen fire last month temporarily affected the availability of some menu offerings, especially fried items. You might want to check ahead.
On the Dot
Doughnut lovers rejoice! Mid-City favorite Blue Dot Donuts has expanded into Uptown, with a new location at 5236 Tchoupitoulas St. Stop by in the morning to admire their gleaming cases and fill a few boxes with their decadent offerings, including a wide array of cake-style donuts as well as multiple glazed, cream-filled and specialty items such as Red Velvet with Cream Cheese. Their signature Maple and Bacon Glazed Long Johns, above, are available as well.
Finding a favorite
4800 Magazine St.
Lunch and dinner daily
Frankie & Johnny’s
321 Arabella St.
Lunch and dinner daily
Blue Dot Donuts
4301 Canal St.
5236 Tchoupitoulas St.
Breakfast and lunch, Tuesdays-Sundays