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 )
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