Not far from where Bianca grew up, the neighborhood of Jefferson Park had a heavy Creole influence back in the '50s, since dwindled to a few fish markets and sausage makers. Harold & Belle's came about in 1969 and remains a cultural locus.
The interior is elegantly airy with textured damask wallpaper, black chairs and an expanse of white cloth. The menu needs only a few pages. There are a few soul-inflected offerings like fried chicken, steak and crab cakes, but you probably shouldn't bother with these. Concentrate on what you are looking for when jonesing for Creole: jambalaya, gumbo, poboys, red beans and rice.
The service is friendly and crisp. Food and drink orders arrive in overwhelming succession: from behind you a waiter will bark, "Excyuse meh! I have here an order of filé gumbo?", reducing potential confusion to nil while you clatter dishes around to make room.
Speaking of Filé Gumbo, I knew there was meant to be a collage of ample ingredients, but there is a lot going on here: a single chicken wing, sodden with juice and falling apart. Cylinders of smoked beef sausage, intensely soft and moist, from Pete's Louisiana Hot Links down the street.
And crab, I cannot help but see. Soft-shelled and clicky and requiring some dexterity, the crab is less a source of meat than a lender of its essence to the gumbo. Oh, and shrimp. And ham. All merged in a deep, dirty, divine roux that might be the jus of the gods. A mound of just-sticky-enough steamed rice provides some absorption.
This is a small order, by the way.
For a main course--for I am foolish enough to have both the gumbo and a main course--the Shrimp and Crawfish Étoufée is a robust swamp of richly spicy crawfish gravy. Thick curls of shrimp are firm and springy, and the tiny, fiercely red-striped crawfish tails are luscious.
There is a heavy-handedness with the gravy, which leaves less texture to enjoy, but it's not like you aren't going to keep forking it into your mouth with rice until you reach the point of regret.
The Seafood Platter, aside from being an art piece, is a collection of breaded abandon, and not for the single diner. Fillets of red snapper are tender enough so that only their scratchy exterior holds them together. Shrimp and oysters are also fried, all heaped atop a highly effective platform of buttered bread. So much battered seafood gets to be a little much, but the tartar and cocktail sauces make this less of a hardship. The oysters are the best part of this dish.
Naturally in an eatery of New Orleans descent, we try the Hurricanes. These are fairly bitey and valiant, and will help keep you in your seat, but you will need two to induce that familiar lurching-along-Bourbon-Street feeling you want to recapture.
We are of course rendered useless afterward, chatting peacefully in an unconcerned euphoria, without a hope of trying dessert.
Harold & Belle's leans toward the pricy, most of its dinner items lingering in the twenty-dollar range. They're open every day until 9, until 10 on Fridays and Saturdays, and have valet.
Many sleepy thanks to Tuesday and Christian, who via the latter's birthday offered us a perfect opportunity to finally make it down here.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), American, Cajun/Creole, Mid-City/Crenshaw/Jefferson Park )
The decor, being so design-minded, sparked our fears of chainy ownership*, with its clean black booths, to-be-expected corrugated metal, and aquamarine ceiling fans that don't turn quite quickly enough. The red walls are spanned with prints of vintage crate labels with uneasy historical references. Your table will have a bucket with hot sauces (try especially the mossy-colored Louisiana Gem jalapeño sauce on everything).
Bourbon Street Shrimp obviously has an interest in bringing in the crowd that wants its sports and its happy hour specials, and attempting a dinner on a busy night will probably prompt an irritable Yelp review. On an empty Sunday, though, it's good times. The kitchen has more time to give some love to its pub-food-inflected Cajun menu.
The five-dollar Hurricanes are dressed up like pink lemonade with a switchblade hidden under the skirt. They're kicky, and you'll notice that they get empty real fast... wow! Gee whiz! I suppose the car will stay where it is for a bit, because I'm feeling like NOLA, tipsy before twelve-thirty.
The only problem with the half-dozen Blackened Shrimp appetizer is that you didn't order the full dozen. They're finger-dusting and habit-forming. The cocktail sauce is good, not gaggy, and there's a creamy pink aioli sauce which is great to keep around for french-fry dipping. Need moar of this.
Rather than a safe-as-houses jambalaya or gumbo, I always check out an étouffée to see if the kitchen knows its acute e's.
The roux is impressively thick, deep like a brown curry, and sticks to the rice. Onions, spices, peppers and tomato cavort around the shrimp like a bacchanalia. It's a big dish.
The Buffalo Fish sandwich is a fun departure. These fish used to be hunted on the plains for their hides, apparently, and this version is lightly fluffed, drippy and gorgeous despite the American cheese failing to melt on top.
Bianca: This is stoopid with two o's.
What is it about this species of food that we eat far too much? We're full. We don't need dessert. We won't order it. Let's just go and walk this off.
Homemade Bread Pudding. They took liberties with this performance; with a moat of caramel sauce, it's more like a flan than a crumbled, bready, raisiny mess one is used to, coupled with some friendly French vanilla ice cream.
Bianca: I'll be under the table. Then I want to go grab the chef, shake him, and yell, are you kidding me?!
Dave: I want to sleep on this like a number bed.
There are lots of daily drink specials, happy hour shenanigans, and colorfully chalked boards with discounts: $4 pints of Newcastle or Sapporo, 2-for-1 margaritas and well drinks, et cetera.
There's a side lot with valet, and metered street parking.
* However, there was only one other location, on the disinterested western end of Melrose, which has since been replaced by some annoyingly one-word-titled eatery.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), West Side/West Hollywood, American, Santa Monica/Culver City, Cajun/Creole )
Billed as a "Mardi Gras Steak & Seafood House," Michael's is more a themed party than a Louisianian transplant, so your aunt from Crowley may cluck at you for bringing her here* in search of the perfect cochon de lait. However, this is not a quest for authenticity--you need to go under the 10 freeway for that--but for mouth-filling syntheses of ingredients, a place to soak up something hearty and earth-colored.
If the dial of the Burbank sun isn't set to Broil, the patio stretching around the building is probably the best spot to sit and fritter away the day. Inside, under low wood-plank ceilings, there is a bar that is brawnier than the restaurant, with a karaoke stage grinning in one corner. TVs hang from the rafters. The booths are bandaged black vinyl under slickly framed prints of Mardi Gras festivities. The air is that of a serious-minded kitchen knowing it must cater to the modern American sports bar patron.
Sample a cross-section of the aforementioned kitchen with a Combo, a heartily American-sized arrangement of gumbo, jambalaya, étoufée, Shrimp Creole, etc. The Gumbo is thick and saucy with a good-natured bite; it has the gumbo holy trinity of celery, bell pepper and onion, but only a whisper of seafood in the form of a single curled shrimp. If I had a single wish and Michael's could grant it, it would be that the seafood be of greater quantity.
The best item here is the Chicken Étoufée. The chicken is tender, tearing itself apart and full of its own essence, smothered with dark juices from a spicy roux. A scattering of green onion gives color.
Next to that, the Jambalaya is almost a risotto, tomato-heavy and draped over a mound of white (rather than dirty) rice. Slices of mild andouille and another lone shrimp are its texture. Like the gumbo, it suffers from being so far away from the waters of its home parish.
The Po'Boys come on a soft, slightly buttered and toasted roll with lettuce, tomato and what they describe as a "cajun sauce". The Alligator Po'Boy is heavily fried, tender with a slight pull to the tooth. With melted mozzarella wrapped around it, it's sweetly attractive.
Other miscellany: their Red Beans are exuberantly juicy and full-bodied with a slight skin crispness; they go well with the rice, but could be rougher. The Spoon Bread is cheesy, buttery and likeable, like a dense cornbread, excellent for swiping around the plate and gathering any liquid the rice missed. The Sweet Potato Fries are crispy but seasoned, so the salt outweighs the sweetness. The Garlic Fries are fairly brutal. There is also a collection of steamed vegetables that make for a good palate cleanser between mouthfuls of stewed joy.
There's a free parking lot across the street, but otherwise pay attention to signage.
* Unless she likes karaoke. Even then, she will cluck at you because none of the songs will be by the Breaux Brothers, Dewey Balfa or D.L. Menard.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), American, Burbank/North Hollywood, Cajun/Creole )
Normally I get real suspicious of the word contemporary. When I hear "contemporary" bandied about I think trendy blonde-wood-and-chrome Scandinavian furniture, placid beige walls, and paint-spatter paintings pretending to have meaning.
However, combined with the words "soul," "food" and "joint" it creates a syncopation, a rhythm of scent and taste.
The building is an old Craftsman style home, kept homelike with mismatched furniture and dark hardwood floors. Some old-school soul and R&B plead from the speakers. The drinks arrive in mason jars, but you may find the homemade lemonade eye-crossingly sweet; ask for Americana root beer, sweet tea, or a bottle of Jamaica's Finest Ginger Beer.
Larkin Mackey has done his studying, stayed humbly aware of the roots of soul food, and somehow pulled it off. Larkin's is not like walking into a sultry, steam-shrouded hole in the wall somewhere in Georgia, nor is it a sellout offering "soul food with a California twist" or anything offensive like that. The food is offbeat, but fantastic. Your grandmother from New Orleans may grumble, though.
The Good 'Ole Fried Chicken is an odd bird; it seems to have been baked a bit first, due to the darkened skin underneath the crumbly, brown sugar tang of the fry batter, or perhaps it is oven-fried. The chicken retains a finger-glistening moisture, however, and is darned good. The hot links in the Hot Link Po'Boy are properly snappy and juicy, with a spicy growl.
The red beans and rice are different as well, the beans firm, the rice soaked with more than bean juice; there is a Latin flair somewhere inside. The Spicy Sautéed Greens are not the greens you expect, being collard greens mixed with tomatoes, red pepper, garlic and cayenne, so you won't get your yellowish-green Juice of the Gods at the bottom that all kids should drink to stay well. They are, however, quite flavorful--and benefit well from generous shakes from the bottle of Trappey's Louisiana Hot Sauce at attention nearby.
Hello, what's this? A deep-fried grilled cheese? Mercy sakes alive.
Larkin's is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, but otherwise is now, thankfully, open for lunch. There is a single parking spot in front, four in back, but otherwise the quiet streets of Eagle Rock should suffice.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Glendale/Atwater/Eagle Rock, American, Soul/Southern, Cajun/Creole )
I'm sure pretty much the entire swath of boulevards running down the southern west coast is now a series of trendmaking corporate party dives, made for denim skirts, drinks with poppy names, and saying "whooo!" very loudly.
Cafe Boogaloo is a little different, having been there for over a dozen years and bringing far better food and music. It has the drinks with the poppy names (the Cajun Martini has jabañero infused vodka, but I'd go with the traditional Hurricane), but brings a gourmet touch to its unpretentious atmosphere*.
If you're tucked into one of the small tables near the front, you'll have to yell at your dining partner over the blues, New Orleans soul, or zydeco played from the stage, but that's the charm of it. The sounds are great, and the food is incredible. (On our first visit, we nodded heads to T-Lou and his Zydeco Band, playing from their new-at-the-time album Super Hot. Bona fide NOLA.)
Louisiana cuisine is already ridiculous in how savory it is, and the Boogaloo kitchen takes it a step farther**. How about red beans and rice with wood-grilled Andouille sausage? Or cornmeal-crusted catfish with a chipotle remoulade? Those are sides. Dinner choices will have you chewing your fingernails: Catfish, BBQ chicken, or roast beef "debris" po boys. House-smoked duck, mushroom and Andouille sausage gumbo. Jambalaya, o'course. With roasted garlic mashed potatoes or grilled Texas cornbread.
By this point we're stupid, and while completely unable to devour more food, we toy with the idea of the key lime pie with Macadamia nut and coconut crust, or the flourless chocolate cake with berry coulis.
They have a Sunday brunch if you want to hurt yourself some more.
* There is a sign that says "Absolutely No Mustang Sally". Which is fine with me. Even B.B. King can't make me want to listen to it.
** I won't say "kick it up a notch." I won't.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), American, Soul/Southern, Cajun/Creole, Southwest/Beach Cities )