you will have a wait when visiting a New Orleans neighborhood restaurant the week between Christmas and New Years. Everyone is home for the holidays and wants at least one meal at their local favorite. So it is no surprise that we had to wait thirty minutes for a table at our lunch at Joey K’s. Most of the customers were locals with a spattering of tourists who had seen this restaurant featured on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives along with four brave Atlanta Falcons fans wearing warm-up suits bearing the Falcons’ colors. Even though the Saints were to play the Falcons that evening, these four were greeted with courtesy—along with good natured jibes. “You’re going down.”
“A trip to Joey K’s for lunch or dinner is something like eating in your own kitchen. It’s comfortable, accessible, and the portions are huge. Many options are…well-priced…. Solo diners are a common sight, and they seem to get the same friendly, efficient service as everybody else. For some New Orleanians, Joey K’s evokes the laid-back days when many a corner was occupied by the same kind of low-priced, family-style eatery. There’s nothing exotic here: chicken-fried steak; spaghetti and meatballs; jambalaya; and a fried soft-shell crab dinner. Remember these words: “All you can eat catfish—every night…” (gayot.com).
“Fifty-seven restaurants have Magazine Street addresses, and Joey K’s is dead center in the greatest concentration of them. Most of its neighbors have forward-looking or ethnic menus, but Joey K’s is and always has been a throwback, serving the kind of food New Orleans neighborhood restaurants always have. Any suspicions that stuff is going out of style are laid to rest by lunch or dinner here. The place is always packed, even with the maximum number of sidewalk tables allowed by law….
“It’s a classic New Orleans casual menu, almost to the point of cliché, but they take all of it seriously and cook it well. The daily specials are particularly good, enough so that many of the customers know exactly which day to be there. Portions are almost grossly oversized…
“The restaurant is in a big room with big windows on two sides and some nooks and crannies here and there for added space. The place looks and is much older than the current restaurant. Although it looks like the kind of place where the main clientele would be cab drivers and cops, you see the entire assortment of New Orleanians here, including a surprisingly large number of Uptown ladies and businesspeople” (Tom Fitzmorris at orleanscitybusiness.com).
While sitting at our table, we marveled at the bustling and noisy scene. I am never sure if neighborhood favorites become so because of the food or because of the sense of community and continuity they provide. Even though service that day was slow, no one—including us—seemed to mind. The purpose of a Joey K’s is much more than food.
Our wait gave us the chance to study the fanciful and colorful artwork adorning the walls—all signed by a French-born artist by the name of Simon (Hardeveld). Simon is “one of New Orleans’ most iconic painters…a multi-talented artist whose studio is part museum, part music studio, and part menagerie—but all magical experience.
“’I paint New Orleans,’ Simon says. ‘I paint the flavors of the city. For twenty years now, she has been my inspiration.’ …(R)esident in New Orleans since the early 1990s, Simon has made a name for himself by capturing the essence of the city’s frequently informal, yet always piercing, wisdom: his signs, which he likes to call ‘Deja Vu Art’, offer reflections such as ‘Dieu Voit Tout’ (Ed Note: It think this means “God sees everything”) and ‘How You Want We Miss You If You Won’t Go Away?’” (Benjamin Morris at uptownmessenger.com).
We did notice Kitty Humbug studying one of Simon’s signs, but lacking cat eyes, we needed the advantage of the telephoto lens to see what attracted his attention. “Best of the World red beans and rice,” said Kitty. “I’ll be the judge of that.”
The menu touches a number of culinary bases. Creole options include shrimp remoulade, eggplant Napoleon, red beans and rice, jambalaya, and gumbo. Meat lovers can chose a grilled t-bone steak with baked potato. If you are looking for seafood, you can chose—in addition to the all you can eat catfish—broiled catfish, a fried oyster plate, a fried shrimp plate, a seafood platter (fried shrimp, oysters, catfish and hushpuppies), or grilled tuna steak. And on this day, you could chose between Italian (spaghetti and jumbo meatballs or veal, chicken or eggplant parmesan) and Irish, with one of the day’s specials being corned beef and cabbage.
Chuck decided to stay with his New Orleans favorite—the catfish poor boy with fries and a side order of the “Best in the World” red beans and rice. I must say that this was the best rendering of fried catfish that we have had since arriving in Louisiana. For once, the fish seemed to be fresh (never frozen) and under the cornmeal coating were large flakey pieces of sweet catfish. I thought that the fries were a bit dry as if they had sat under a warming lamp. And the red beans and rice, voted by Gambit Weekly readers as the “Best in New Orleans” seemed to be lacking something. Kitty was not impressed.
The Gambit Weekly readers also named Joey K’s as the “Best Lunch,” so I decided to order one of their daily lunch specials. My choices that day were: hamburger steak served with rice and gravy and corn; white beans with a fried pork chop; and corned beef and cabbage served with new potatoes. I saw the latter being served to another customer and the portion was so large that I knew I wouldn’t be able to finish. And I concluded that leftover corn beef and cabbage for breakfast would not be a good idea. The hamburger steak is—let’s face it—nothing more than a large hamburger patty under gravy. So, by process of elimination, it would be the white beans and fried pork chop.
If you think from the photo that the pork chop looks overcooked—you’d be right. It was rather dry—especially around the edges. But the beans were a different story. They had what Chuck’s lacked. They had a depth of flavor that came from discs of smoked sausage and were pretty close to Emeril Lagasse’s except for the substitution of white beans for red. Kitty Humbug approved.
This is another restaurant that I am glad we visited, but to which I have no burning desire to return and rate our meal no higher than 3.5 Addies.
To review the role of Adler, Kitty Humbug, and the Addie rating system, read the November 14, 2011 blog.