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Beebe's: Jazzing by the Floodgates 

A supper-club vibe and lake breezes set a casual café apart in West End.

The days of dining with a great view on the New Orleans lakefront may be over, with places like Sid-Mar's, the ancient Bruning's and Jaeger's Seafood and Beer Garden wiped off the map by Katrina. They joined countless other lakefront restaurant names lost to history years back. But a meal at Beebe's still can summon some of the old West End appeal.

You can't see the lake from Beebe's, but you can certainly feel it if you snag one of the many tables on the deck or concrete patio up front. The mast tops of sailboats at berth nearby are visible over the West End floodwall, and at sunset, the glowing clouds pushing over the lake make magnificent, moving murals in the background. The regulars appear at easy leisure in shorts and golf shirts, dining from a menu with high points of casual comfort food done with unaccustomed care.

Brenda Mac, a jazz singer who made a circuit of gigs in local restaurants for more than 20 years, opened Beebe's late last year in the former location of Wolfe's. Music is not a sideline element wheeled in for brunch here; rather it is a major component of what makes the place tick. Dine on a Friday or Saturday night or go for Sunday brunch, and there is no missing the fact that Beebe's is as much about live music as it is about food.

The proprietress herself performs Friday nights, and her son, drummer Charles Brewer, leads his own trio on Saturday nights. Other local musicians frequently sit in. It makes for a lively lakefront scene, but it also means music nights at Beebe's are not the right time to attempt an intimate dinner. The music is loud, the restaurant is small, and you must shout to be heard across the table during a set. Lunch and the dinner shifts on Wednesday and Thursday are more serene.

The chef is Kristen Olsen, who trained in Napa Valley before coming to Beebe's. Nothing on her menu sounds too ambitious, but the care in preparation and selection of ingredients is evident. Simple dishes are done better than you might expect and are found in eclectic company.

Salads are exuberantly fresh and refreshingly light. In the heat of the recent tomato crisis, thick, local " safe " Creole slices beefed up a bed of dark lettuces and provided a juicy foil to clumps of fried goat cheese. The chicken and sausage gumbo had what could be called a 'tweener roux " rich and dark, but also thin and wet. It achieved that back-of-the-throat satisfaction that is the mark of good gumbo.

Some of the appetizers are glorified bar snacks, but they show how good these can be when glorified. The potato skins, for instance, are elevated by great, smoky bacon pieces and seem to be handmade, rather than shaken out of a bag into the fryer as is the norm in the potato skin's standard bar-and-grill habitat.

One of the more unusual entrée choices is pad Thai. Olsen's version is traditional, but she does it better than the examples churned out at many of the local Asian restaurants. She uses a generous amount of chicken and shrimp, which retain their crucial snap, plus crisp strips of lettuce and a subtle peanut and lime dressing to accentuate rather than drown the nutty-flavored noodles.

For something completely different, there is a burrito stuffed with diced pork and soft cubes of potato and topped with chunks of salty, white farmer cheese, slices of avocado and a spicy green chili sauce. This is a knife-and-fork burrito, and it was memorably good. By contrast, one of the more conventional dinner items, a roasted pork loin, was dull and dry.

Pasta at Beebe's has the light texture and luminous mouth feel of fresh, handmade noodles. Broad sheets of it were mixed with wild mushrooms and translucent slices of parmesan. Tapenade was spread on mahi mahi for intense, salty bursts over the mild, meaty fish flesh. It was a pleasing combination, and it paired well with the underlying ratatouille of squash, smoky eggplant and onions. Fish tacos were decent, but at $18 for a plate of three, they were a clear reminder that the dinner service must underwrite the live music. The pricey wine list furnishes other reminders, though with most of the entrees well under $20, diners can certainly choose their own fate.

The brunch menu sticks to a more contemporary style. Wild mushrooms in an omelet offered alternating texture and musky flavor against the buttery fluffiness of the eggs. Smoked salmon with avocado, black caviar and creme fra”che were arranged on thick slabs of toasted brioche and served like a pair of open-faced sandwiches. Flavorful grits were loaded with herbs and dressed with truffle oil.

If an appetizer course of potato skins sets a casual pace to a meal, dessert at Beebe's can go a step further. One of Olsen's specialties is a chocolate chip cookie " served irresistibly warm and with a glass of milk " which lends an aromatic hominess to this cottage-turned-supper club.

click to enlarge Brenda Mac entertains at her Lakefront restaurant Beebe's. - CHERYL GERBER
  • Cheryl Gerber
  • Brenda Mac entertains at her Lakefront restaurant Beebe's.
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