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Ya Ya’s Comfort Food
Quality upgrade in Harahan
Harahan just upped its breakfast game with Ya Ya’s, a new restaurant from first-time owner and chef Conner Mullins. This is not your average spot for ham and eggs. For starters, Mullins spent the last six years honing his chops under the tutelage of chef Frank Brigtsen. Then there is the fact that he opened Ya Ya’s in the part of town where he grew up. When you put these two ingredients together, the skills and the love of home, you’ve got a recipe that works.
Ya Ya’s took over the spot formerly occupied by Hillbilly BBQ. It is tucked away a bit, but at a recent service the restaurant was nevertheless so slammed that they opened a common door into the adjacent honkey tonk bar to handle the spillover crowd. The restaurant is counter service only, helping to keep the prices low, especially considering the quality of the food. And while the menu is casual, the food is carefully considered. “I’m trying to bring comfort food up to a new level out here,” Mullins says. “People don’t need to drive Uptown or go to the CBD to eat like this.” While the recipes are largely based on dishes he ate growing up, he brings a refinement in ingredients and technique that sets Ya Ya’s apart.
Take for instance his duck and waffles. “I wanted to do chicken and waffles, but everyone does that now,” he says. “I wanted to make mine different so I came up with this.” Fried duck tenders are tossed in a special glaze and laid atop a crisp Belgian waffle. The menu description – which cites strawberry – is a bit misleading as Mullins spikes his berry preserves with pepper jelly and Steen’s Cane syrup, which offer nuance that play well with the duck and the pastry pairing.
Duck and Waffles: Crispy pieces of hand-battered duck, fried to perfection, on top of a freshly baked Belgian waffle with a strawberry glaze.
Other notable breakfast choices include the French toast, made with Dong Phuong Bakery bread that is staled then soaked in batter before a dunk in the fryer. “The insides stay moist and the outside gets a nice crunch – it makes for a perfect textural contrast,” Mullins says. Sweet choices aside, savory dishes that sell best include his Latin-inspired El Jefe Omelet with chorizo, avocado, black beans and housemade pico de gallo.
His lunch menu is built around a core of poor boys – say ‘hello’ to the “Ya Ya’s Special” with pork belly and pimento cheese – along with a rotating array of daily specials. Tuesdays might offer a choice of pot roast, BBQ brisket or a catfish plate for example, all with sides. Make an effort to be there for his Duke’s Fried Chicken, soaked in buttermilk and crystal hot sauce overnight then fried to a perfect crunch. Other popular sand.wiches include “The Bubba,” fried shrimp tossed in a remoulade sauce. On weekends, try the cinnamon rolls, which are baked in-house by Mulllins’ mom. It is a family affair here, with both his mom and dad pitching in to help out.
Duck and waffles aside, at its heart Ya Ya’s draws a traditional crowd with traditional tastes. Conner serves plenty for these customers, and the attention to detail comes through in the humble dishes as well. “When you cook, there is so much love you put in the effort,” Mullins says. “It is hard to explain how good this feels but I love it.”
Meet the Chef: Conner Mullins
A former college football player, Conner Mullins later graduated from the John Folse Culinary Institute before returning home for externships at Commander’s Palace and Brigtsen’s. At Commander’s he learned speed, but at Brigtsen’s he met his mentor, Chef Frank. “He taught me everything,” Mullins says. “He’s the kind of guy that would give you the shirt off his back.” Mullins opened Ya Ya’s in Harahan to bring high-quality comfort food to his part of town. “I’m a sports guy and I really relate to the team aspect of the kitchen,” he says. “Everybody has a job and everybody needs to do their job for the restaurant to succeed.”
Ya Ya’s Comfort Food, 2317 Hickory Ave., Harahan; 575-3434; B, L Tues.-Fri., Brunch Sat. & Sun; closed Mon; Yayascomfortfood.com.
Breakfast of Champions
Another restaurant offering creative twists on breakfast and brunch staples is Surrey’s Juice Bar, with two locations along Magazine Street. Here you’ll find everything from bananas Foster French toast to boudin breakfast biscuits alongside a slew of vegetarian and health-forward offerings. The corned beef hash might not be vegan-friendly, but it is delicious.