Back in 2008, this publication had a less-than-enthused reaction to the recently opened Copeland's of New Orleans restaurant in the Shackleford Crossing shopping center. Being generally pretty dismissive of chain restaurants myself, I would have taken that review at face value and skipped the place altogether. Lucky for me, some family members tried the place and came back with a verdict that ranged from "not bad" to "pretty terrific," and after trying the place a couple of times myself, I've got to say that they must have settled into a nice groove since that initial review, because I found the food to be tasty, the service to be friendly, and the portions large enough to turn a lunch visit into a respectable dinner of leftovers later.
Of particular note are the two main catfish dishes available, the Catfish Acadiana and the Ricochet Catfish. The Acadiana is a basic fried catfish filet, large and moist with a firm crust that has just the right amount of spice. This isn't your average piece of fish, though, but rather a dinner-plate sized slab that makes up a larger portion than a three-piece at most catfish joints. Heartier eaters should go for the Ricochet, which takes that same huge filet, encrusts it with pecans, and throws a heaping helping of deep-fried onion strings on top. A tangy "Creole Meuniére" is served to the side for dipping — or for just drenching the whole plate as I did. The fish itself is tender and mild, and as a person picky about muddy-flavored catfish I was pleased with both plates of the river-bed dwelling fish I tried.
Perhaps the most interesting dish on the menu, however, is the Eggplant Pirogue: two slices of crisp-fried breaded eggplant over linguine topped with spicy Alfredo sauce, shrimp, and crab claws. Well, okay, to be honest, it was just one crab claw — even though the menu was pretty clear that there were going to be claws present in numbers greater than one. That’s my only complaint with the dish, though, as the eggplant was firm and sweet and the pasta was only just on the edge of being overcooked. The shrimp were flavorful and the creamy sauce didn’t overpower the dish but was great for sopping with the bread Copeland’s serves with all their dishes: a strange hybrid of a biscuit and a dinner roll that was interesting and tasty. I love eggplant, but I usually don’t order it because it comes out soggy and bitter — Copeland’s was neither.
If there's one thing Copeland's needs to work on, it's that the pasta in their dishes can be a bit overcooked, resulting in dishes that are excellent except for some gummy noodles. The seafood, sauces, and starters are all quite tasty, and even dishes from the pared down lunch menu are large enough to feed almost any appetite. Be sure to save room for dessert, though, because the Carrot Cake is a must-try. This mammoth slab of three layer cake was dense and moist, with an icing that was richly flavored with cream cheese. Add to the plate a heaping pile of whipped cream and what you have is a platter of cake almost too large for four people to finish despite working as a team.
It's always nice when a chain restaurant manages to break out from the normal mediocre food expected from such places. I don't mind eating my dismissive words when it comes to Copeland's — especially if those words are topped with fried onion straws and served up with red beans and rice.