Notes from New Orleans: Atchafalaya, Broussard's, Mena's Palace and Tableau

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You’ll find some wonderful Cajun and creole cuisine at this small corner restaurant in a neighborhood setting, but you’ll have to get past the host stand first. That’s not as easy as it should be.

My companion and I stopped in for brunch on Sunday and were both impressed with the food of chef Jacob Cureton.

Atchafalaya tomatoes

We started with an appetizer of Fried Green Tomatoes, which were the best FGT I’ve had in quite a while. The firm tomatoes were jacketed in a crisply fried, well seasoned breading, drizzled with remoulade and accompanied by simple, sweet crabmeat.

Atchafalaya eggs

For my main I had Eggs Treme, poached eggs with boudin sausage on French bread accompanied by breaded and friend crawfish.

Atchafalaya omelet

My friend had the Etouffee Omelette, made with a blond roux and dotted with cubes of tasso and chunks of crawfish, it sufficiently smothered the fluffy omelet underneath.

Atchafalaya sazerac

Almost as good as the food was the sazerac cocktail I sipped throughout my meal. That’s because it was made with rye that had been infused with duck fat, which gave it a wonderfully rounded mouthfeel.

One of the bartenders explained how he used the rendered fat supplied by the chef to infuse the rye over several days. I can’t wait to try it myself — just have to get myself some ducks to cook off first.

We had a pleasant chat with the bartenders because that’s where we ended up sitting, but not after an artificially long wait.

We arrived ahead of our 2 o’clock reservation and were told by one of three hosts at the front door that they would not be able to seat us early. That’s fine. We stood in the very small and very cramped space in front of the bar, which is also where the band was playing. It may have looked like we were dancing but we were just jostling to move out of the way of the staff and the customers going to the bloody mary bar (which featured green tomatillo juice).

Then two seats opened at the bar. We asked the host if we could sit there — we love dining at the bar. Sorry, he told us. It’s reserved.

Then two more seats opened up. Then, soon, all six stools at the bar were empty. No one was being seated there. Finally, one of the bartenders told us to take a seat, saying he would tell the host.

And this is what we learned at the end of our meal. It was the last day for the two bartenders. One was leaving to go to New York and the other was going to work at Ted Brennan’s Decatur restaurant, which will open this summer in the French Quarter (with Lazone Randolph, former executive chef at Brennan’s, in the kitchen).

I’d hate to think that the hosts were keeping the seats vacant just to spite the two departing employees and keep them from earning some final tips. Especially at the inconvenience of all of the customers who were also waiting for a table.

Atchafalaya is in a corner building that at one time was a grocery in a neighborhood known as Irish Channel, just a couple of blocks from the newly popular Magazine Street. It’s more casual than I expected it to be, but still has a pleasantly upscale casual vibe.

I hope it finds some good new bartenders.

Details at he Atchafalaya website.