Too many people too often settle for bland, boring food. We're not sure if they're merely unadventurous, enjoy the routine of their culinary rut or are of the "eat to live" vs. "live to eat" set. Anyway, we rarely choose the same-ol', same-ol' chain dreck or the overcooked bulk vegetables that are the sad hallmark of many cafeterias and home-cooking joints.
We like food that is boldly spiced — not just meaning "hot" — and takes a few chances. Emeril Lagasse is the poster child for "kicking it up a notch" with his cliched "BAM!" exclamation, and the Creole and Cajun cuisine of his adopted hometown of New Orleans is perfect for that treatment.
For almost three months, Redbone's has been dishing up some of the city's best Cajun and Creole food on President Clinton Avenue in the River Market District. They're in the building that long housed Flying Burrito and then died after serving contractually disallowed Mexican food for a couple of days as Harry and Jorge's.
Some of the things we've tried at Redbone's easily qualify for best-in-town discussions in a culinary field with only a few contenders. Others — not so much. But even those that didn't hit the mark were not damned by a boring concept.
Redbone's duck and andouille gumbo ($5 for a cup; $8 for a bowl) rivals the Flying Fish gumbo as our local favorite. Redbone's roux is not quite as dark as the Fish's, but it still has plenty of taste, and the mellow hunks of duck were a nice flavor accompaniment to the zesty sausage, Savoie's (www.savoiesfoods.com), a Louisiana-made sausage that you sometimes can find at Hestand's and other higher-end local grocery stores. Another star was the homemade pimiento cheese ($5), a huge double-scoop of dense, flavorful cheddar-based spread served with not-quite-enough Ritz crackers. Not as pleasing was the fried boudin balls ($6), decent quality pork and rice sausage that's rolled, battered and fried. It was fairly bland though inoffensive. Not at all bland is the andouille jalapeno dip ($7), though the sausage is so pulverized as to be undetectable. But there's nothing wrong with a thick and spicy cheese dip, which is the more apt description of this one.
One po-boy was a winner, the other was not. The fried shrimp sandwich ($9 with chips) is close to standard New Orleans quality, many crisp, not overcooked, lightly battered shrimp on a decent roll. Be sure to specify how you want it dressed. You can get it with lettuce, tomato, pickles, onions, mayonnaise and mustard or "Captain J Style" with Creole mustard, mayonnaise and coleslaw — very different treatments indeed. The debris roast beef po-boy ($8) was a major disappointment. The meat was tender and of decent quality, but it was drowned in a too-thick, somewhat pasty gravy vs. the traditional "au jus" style.
There are many intriguing lunch entrees for $9. The kitchen was happy to blacken at no charge our grilled grouper fillet, and it was just about perfect — a decent-sized, moist, flavorful slab definitely kicked up a notch (or two), served with one side — we chose the meaty, properly greasy dirty rice — and a four-inch-by-four-inch slab of outstanding cornbread. Again, it was just greasy enough, and there was no hint of sugar. Alternately is a large, yeasty roll that also is off-the-charts good. That's a lot of fantastic lunch for the money.
Same goes for the chicken and sausage jambalaya, which has the "holy trinity" — celery, onion and green bell pepper — as its base and features enough chicken to have it in every bite as well as 10 good-sized hunks of the Savoie's andouille. We were able to take half of it home for a great next-day lunch, along with about half our Corn Macque Choux, corn niblets dosed with chopped tomato. If you're into the sides, know you can get three of them for $7; we opted for the gooey mac/cheese, cooked down green beans and the red beans and rice, all high-quality versions.
We haven't gotten around to the shrimp creole or the crawfish etoufee ($5 for a cup, $8 for a bowl), and we'll be back at dinner to try a couple of the dozen entrees served only after 5 p.m. We've heard good things about the Black and Mac ($11 for macaroni and cheese served with strips of blackened chicken) and the shrimp and grits ($14) and are intrigued by the bacon cheeseburger meatloaf ($11) and alligator sauce piquant ($14).
We did manage to work our way through most of the gooey, boozy, creamy bread pudding and the homemade blackberry cobbler, which was very tasty but needed more and crunchier crust.
Redbone's is a warm, inviting place, and our server, Leah, was excellent. Prices are very reasonable, and the menu a large enough variety of extremely well done New Orleans classics to keep us — and hopefully many others — coming back.
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