Ever since I up and bought a house in New Orleans to celebrate my croning, I’ve been hankering to find a New York kitchen where I could get my fill of gumbo and po’boys in between US Air flights. So I was thrilled to get a call from my Texas girlfriend about the Delta Grill, located on the edge of the theater district. The Delta evoked by the grill’s decor is not the cast-iron balconies of the Big Easy, but the neighborhood joints where a step into the cool interior brings relief from the heat and you can get a Bloody Mary or a Sazerac at any hour of the day. Tin roofs overhang the bar and dining area, and the slowly circling ceiling fans overhead make even November’s chill seem sultry.
This was the central-casting Delta, but when I looked around, I spied a crowd of black and white folks happily scarfing down the food that made southern Louisiana famous. Then I noticed a framed letter from New Orleans mayor Marc Morial’s executive chef near the desk where you find out how long the wait will be at this no-reservations place. It proclaimed in effusive prose that these vittles were some of the most authentic renderings of the Crescent City’s food he’d tasted. This must be the place, I thought. Seated under a life-size statue of Satchmo, I ordered a Blackened Voodoo and gave the menu a squint.
The chef was right about the offerings—a range of Southern, Creole, and Cajun suspects had been rounded up. There was even the obligatory alligator ($9), too chewy and dense as usual, with any flavor it might have had overpowered by a red sauce that seemed based almost entirely on Tabasco. The blackened tofu salad with shiitake mushrooms and couscous ($7), which I ordered because that’s my job, was tastier than anticipated, a mess of baby greens little harmed by the removable strips of rubbery tofu. I even rather liked the sprinkling of couscous topping, but the heavy dressing was a disservice to the fragile mesclun.
Other Crescent City standards were up to snuff and then some. The closet Southerner in me knew that the fried okra ($6) was pure bliss: tender nubbins of mucilaginous pod fried to perfection with not the slightest hint of slime, crunchy with a crisp crust that crumbled in the mouth to mix with the pod’s softness. Fannie Flagg would have been proud to serve the green tomatoes, which were crisped to a turn and then topped with creamed chicken flecked with black pepper ($8). Yum, the daddy in the kitchen could fry.
A foray into Creole cuisine revealed that the chicken and andouille gumbo tasted slightly of burned roux ($5 cup, $8 bowl), but the burn was gone on a second visit, and I’ve been spoiled by vats of Ken Smith’s finest at NOLA’s Upperline. A blackened strip steak special ($22) was thick and juicy but strangely bland, requiring Emeril to bump it up a few notches. The light, flaky catfish po’boy with a tang of Creole mustard in its batter ($9) confirmed the chef’s mastery of bubbling oil, mitigated any disappointment, and kept me more than satisfied. I need to look farther afield for the Creole spot of my dreams, but when I crave a fried fix, I’ll just head on down to the Delta. The Delta Grill, that is.