it was the pig.
I had checked out two restaurants in Bywater. One was a BBQ place that had been visited by Guy Fieri on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. The second was a neighborhood place—they seem to sprout everywhere in this city—that had gotten good online reviews.
On our walking tour of Bywater, we came upon a white frame building adorned with numerous colorful signs.
Then I looked up and saw the sign:
“Real Food Done Real Good.” And then there was the flying pig which reminded me of a Christmas ornament I had seen in a New Orleans store window. The ornament was a pig and written on its side were the words: “Pigs Flew,” “Hell Froze Over,” and “The Saints Won the Super Bowl.”
Chef Bryon Peck at elizabeths-restaurant.com explains: “’Real Food Done Real Good’ was a slogan that was brought to Elizabeth’s with the first owner, Heidi Trull. I really liked this slogan and decided to keep it. My personal mission was to make everything from scratch. This means bringing in great product and treating it with the most care and creativity that it deserves. We do this, while creating a comfortable low key atmosphere with plenty of neighbor-hood funk…a place for everyone that is approachable and reliable....”
Fodor’s describes Elizabeth’s as “a real down-home Southern joint where the vinyl-print tablecloths look just like Grandma's, and where breakfast is the most important meal of the day. The menu offers everything from traditional poor boys…to a stellar seared duck to crispy fried chicken livers with pepper jelly. The fried-oyster poor boy is huge and irresistible. The staff is spunky, and so is the Bywater neighborhood clientele.
“The average tourist may not head over to the Bywater because, well, because it's not the Quarter. That's too bad—not only will they miss a true N'Awlins ‘neighbahood,’ but they will also miss experiences like Elizabeth's. Forget paying huge sums for average and goopy breakfast food. Here you eat…real cheap. Food such as Creole rice calas (sweet rice fritters), a classic breakfast dish that is nearly extinct from menus around town. Food calling for health advisories, such as the praline bacon (topped with sugar and pecans—‘pork candy,’ the shameless chef calls it; you must not miss this....) Out-of-the-way or not, this is one of the city's best restaurants (frommers.com).
The small dining room is awash with color. Some came from the four different patters of plastic table covers. Some came from the giant mural along one wall. But most of the color came from the art of “Dr. Bob.” “Self-taught outdoors artist Dr. Bob is a fixture in the Bywater, and you’re sure to recognize his signature work—the ‘Be Nice or Leave’ signs that appear in restaurants and bars around town. Dr. Bob’s work also turns up in the House of Blues and museums throughout the South. In addition to the signs, he’s known for his alligator carvings and sculptures of assembled found objects. Garbage-can lids, bottle caps (see the borders of the signs in the photos), pieces of junked musical instruments, and essentially anything that strikes Dr Bob’s weird sensibility is turned into art. His gallery is really a fascinating junkyard of art, with a sculpture garden comprising spray-painted lawn ornaments” (lonelyplanet.com).
And, of course, no artist can avoid at least one reference to “Who Dat”—a slogan most closely associated with the New Orleans Saints. “Who dat? is an English idiom originating from New Orleans for over a century. First referenced in poetry, the phrase was a common dialogue element between the performers and crowd at traveling minstrel shows in the region…. More recently, the phrase 'Who dat?' has become a chant of team support. It's most widely used by fans of the New Orleans Saints.... The entire chant is: ‘Who dat? Who dat? Who dat say dey gonna beat dem Saints?’" (wikipedia.com).
When we arrived at just after 11:30 a.m., the restaurant was full except for two tables for two with the diners equally divided between breakfast and lunch eaters. Chuck was intrigued by a breakfast menu item called the “Big Bun” but instead decided to order the Strawberry Stuffed French Toast with a side of home fries. I was tempted by the house-cured pastrami with Swiss cheese on rye, but when I saw it served to another diner, I decided that the meat looked a bit fatty. So instead (Did I say I was worried about fat?), I chose the B.L.T. made with crisped hog jowls, chopped tomatoes, fresh spinach, onion, blue cheese, and champagne vinegar on ciabatta with a side of grit fries.
As soon as our server left with our orders, I look across the room and saw a staff member writing the day’s specials on a chalk board. This being a Wednesday, the specials were Chicken Fried Steak or Meatloaf with mashed potatoes and green beans. “I’m going to see if I can change my order” Chuck said as he left the table. He returned with a smile on his face “Mission Accomplished.” It would be the meatloaf special.
And what meatloaf this was. The thick slab was juicy with a minimum of filler and had just a hint of spice. We surmise that the delicious gravy was made with a red wine reduction, but aren’t entirely sure. The potatoes were real mashed and came with complementary small lumps. And the long-cooked Italian green beans were amazing and were cooked with some chopped tomato, and again, I suspect, a hint of vinegar.
My choice was somewhat less successful. Yes, the hog jowls were crisp. (They are “the ‘cheek’ of the hog…taste and cook similar to thick cut bacon.... Hog jowl is used to season beans and peas or fried and eaten like bacon. On New Year's Day, hog jowls are traditionally eaten in the South to ensure health, prosperity and progress” [Amanda Galiano at littlerock.about.com]).
The spinach was abundant and fresh as were the chopped tomatoes. The ciabatta roll was appropriately crusty. But the dish was almost spoiled by the over application of an overly vinegary dressing. I understand that some acid was necessary to offset the richness of the pork, but so much dressing was used that the roll rapidly disintegrated into mush.
My sandwich came with my choice of sides and always--within reason--wanting to try something different I chose the grit fries. These were made by spreading cooked cheese grits on a sheet pan, letting them set, cutting them into strips, and deep fat frying. Had I been cooking the grit fries, I would have let them fry a little longer, but they were still delicious, although very filling.
So while I was less than thrilled with my choice, Elizabeth’s is still a keeper and earns 4.0 Addies. If we get the chance to return we’ll have to make it on a Wednesday and I’m going to order the meatloaf.
To review the role of Adler, Kitty Humbug, and the Addie rating system, read the November 14, 2011 blog.