Pin It
Favorite

Charlie's Seafood 

A veteran chef reinvigorates a neighborhood stalwart

<
click to enlarge Chef Frank Brigtsen (center) is serving fresh seafood to another - generation of customers at Charlie's. - PHOTO BY CHERYL GERBER
  • Photo by Cheryl Gerber
  • Chef Frank Brigtsen (center) is serving fresh seafood to another generation of customers at Charlie's.

Frank Brigtsen says family dinners at Charlie's Seafood as a child during the 1950s were his very first restaurant experiences. But Brigtsen's culinary career followed quite different lines than Charlie's bedrock of boiled and fried seafood. In 1986, Brigtsen and wife Marna opened their namesake restaurant in the Riverbend, and his contemporary Creole cuisine has earned high-profile accolades, including a James Beard Foundation Award.

  The Brigtsens were not looking for a second restaurant venture, but when Charlie's Seafood closed last year something clicked. Driving past the shuttered family favorite on the commute to their own restaurant began pulling at their heartstrings, and by May they signed a lease for the vintage Harahan eatery.

  The Brigtsens didn't just reopen Charlie's. They have reinvigorated its casual seafood joint concept with a lighter approach, one that brings local seafood's fundamental goodness to the forefront, while still offering the old reliable dishes.

  Charlie's remains a place with high chairs stacked in the corner and where customers have three choices for wine — white, red or blush. A pair of enormous boiling pots stand ready in the back room for the onset of crawfish season and for now, boiled shrimp and crabs (on the weekends) are the focal points at many tables.

  Yet people familiar with the far more ambitious Brigtsen's Restaurant will find the chef's style manifest across this menu. The shrimp remoulade is essentially the same at Charlie's as at its upscale sibling. Catfish strips coated in mustard and cornmeal batter is a mainstay appetizer at Brigtsen's, and at Charlie's the same preparation becomes an entree over a dense pool of cheddar grits and a thick, tomato-base Creole sauce. The "un-fried seafood platter" with grilled drum, baked oysters and a stuffed crab is a stripped-down version of a similar combo that has anchored the Brigtsen's Restaurant menu in one form or another for years.

  Brigtsen's hand in the new Charlie's also is evident in the quality of the seafood. You don't run a restaurant like Brigtsen's for 24 years without cementing good relationships with purveyors, and this chef's passion for Louisiana seafood has given him a line on outstanding local product.

  The shrimp we were served during different visits could not have been more beautiful, whether they were used for the remarkable remoulade, in etouffee with thick, brown roux or crowding a beer tray, boiled in a mild, lemony seasoning. When the menu promised crabmeat, the white lumps and strands came piled as generously as pulled pork on a barbecue plate.

  The restaurant's name should be fair warning that there isn't much land-based fare here. A few daily specials fill this role, like the lushly smoky white beans on Thursdays. Otherwise, non-seafood options are limited to a few appetizers, including excellent meat pies and po-boys such as the thickly-sliced roast beef version.

  Fiddling with a neighborhood classic is risky business, but Frank Brigtsen's long personal history with Charlie's gave him the confidence to thoroughly recast things here. A new generation can be glad he did.

click to enlarge cuis_lead-1.jpg
Pin It
Favorite

Speaking of Charlie's Seafood, Frank Brightsen

Comments (6)

Showing 1-6 of 6

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-6 of 6

Add a comment

Latest in New Orleans Restaurant Reviews

More by Ian McNulty

  • Gambit’s 2015 Big Bar Guide

    From craft cocktail emporiums to dive bars, places to get your drink on
    • Nov 23, 2015
  • Review: Basin Seafood & Spirits

    Ian McNulty on a shakeup at a classic New Orleans seafood house
    • Aug 25, 2013
  • Gyro meets muffuletta at revamped Vida’s Bistro

    The former Courtyard Grill branches out from traditional Turkish and Persian food with gyro cross-over dishes.
    • Aug 21, 2013
  • More »

Readers' Favorites

Spotlight Events

  • Jim Jefferies @ Joy Theater
    1200 Canal St. http://www.thejoytheater.com

    • Sat., Dec. 10, 7:30 & 10:30 p.m.
  • Close Me Out @ Hi-Ho Lounge
    2239 St. Claude Ave. http://www.hiholounge.net

    • First Saturday of every month

© 2016 Gambit
Powered by Foundation