Review: French Quarter Café
There’s been a lot of misfortune coming out of southern Louisiana the last few years, no? Hurricanes. Crime. The Saints. It’s a shame, because in our books the biggest news to come out of the Big Easy in years is Christina Barthels, co-owner and menu mastermind at downtown’s new French Quarter Café.
Christina formerly worked at Branson’s Chateau on the Lake and Big Cedar Lodge before deciding to open her own restaurant with husband Charles Barthels, and sons Corey Barthels, 23, Stephen Sullivan, 20, and Charles Lawson, 28.
“I’ve been making bengiets since I was 10 years old,” she explains. “I’ve tried some Cajun [restaurants] here, and noticed a lot of things wrong. I wanted to be able to cook it the way it should be.” That means N’awlins staples like King Cake and the bengiets, which one person we trust says taste almost identical to those at New Orleans’s famous Café Du Monde. Christina says many of the ingredients for her dishes are so authentic, local supplier Sysco doesn’t offer them; she has to have family from Gulfport and Materie ship them to Missouri.
French Quarter Café
320 Park Central East
You would never know French Quarter used to be Geekerz. Gold-painted walls and greenery, combined with tasteful wall decorations and Fleur-de-lis shapes (including the table napkins, which are folded that way) provide a festive effect without falling into cheesy Mardi Gras territory. The silverware and China are real, the black tablecloths clean. Best of all: No TV.
Christina and Charles hope, by spring, to have French Quarter open until 3 a.m on Thursday–Saturday (they’re also working on a beer-and-wine liquor license). They’re already open for breakfast; currently 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., Monday–Saturday, with plans to soon have the same hours on Sunday. French Quarter offers carry-out and delivers to downtown locations.
Before meeting the Barthels, I enjoyed a lunch with downtown buddy Jeff Jenkins. To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect. Jeff and I ordered a sampler basket as an appetizer, which came with fried oysters, hush puppies, fried alligator tail and fried shrimp. Everything was amazing. Though at $6.99 I didn’t feel there was a ton of food, it was still pretty reasonable.
Playing it safe, I ordered the shrimp po’ boy as my entrée. Local po’ boy offerings are, in all, pretty good. French Quarter’s is fantastic, loaded with fried shrimp, fresh tomato and lettuce, and a generous amount of spicy brown mustard. Best of all, it was huge—worth every penny of $5.99 and then some. The fries were equally good.
Jeff said his gumbo ($5.79) was the best he’s had in town. The chef didn’t skimp on the Andouille sausage, shrimp and chicken. Two crisp slices of garlic bread came on the side.
Jeff and I finished with an order of bengiets—three puffy, flaky, delicious, powdered sugar-covered pastries for only $1.79. Not each... total. We made a complete mess of the tablecloth.
I couldn’t help but notice what was being ordered at nearby tables. One older fellow ordered what could only be the $11.99 muffaletta ($6.99 half). To say it was enormous would be an understatement. Two thick slices of bread the size of a medium pizza crust, with meat, olive spread and cheese in between.
In true frugal Lemmon fashion, it was the price that amazed me: An appetizer, two teas, two entrees and a dessert, plus a 20 percent tip, for $30 on the button. For the quality and authenticity of the food, French Quarter is worth taking your shirt off for, but you’re not gonna lost it.
French Quarter is one of those rare restaurants that has a distinct mission and pulls it off with flying colors. We give it our highest recommendation.