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Command Performance 

Previously good but confusing, the new, improved FOODIES KITCHEN is all grown up.

In a weekly newsletter called the Daily Dish that's circulated in reams at Foodies Kitchen, last February managing owner Ti Martin wrote, "As a young girl when my mother Ella Brennan said she wanted Commander's Palace to be the best restaurant in America, I thought she was really pushing it. Now I know where goals can bring you." This came at the end of an essay-letter in which Martin announced that Foodies had become a more user-friendly place and thanked customers for hanging tough through the gourmet-to-go grand central's bumpier times.

I admit it. I would be first in line if the Brennan family devised a way to bottle that empire-building self-assurance. And I saved the newsletter because that characteristic, refined air of cockiness seemed somehow responsible for my allegiance to Foodies despite the confusing check-out system, the underwhelming deli food and the unreliable carry-out packaging that's responsible for a red bean stain on the floor of my car.

I've frequently driven out to the Metairie "meals market" to buy absolutely nothing. After pawing at the samples, ogling the gourmet retail items like they were food pornography, and coveting a loaf of Chocolate Bon Bon bread, my foodie lust was satiated. So was my desire for the sensory overload of shopping malls, video arcades and big decisions: Do I want hot food, cold food or food to re-heat; do I want a vintage soda, a Coke, an exotic iced tea, a latte, a glass of wine, a wine flight or a half-gallon of milk; do I want to pay where I pick up the food, at the wine bar or on my way out? The typical restaurant outing also involves decisions, but at Foodies you're required to face your choices, not simply conceptualize them.

Arranged in tempting positions around the market, they're plated and displayed near the hot line, in the deli case, in open refrigerators, in the produce section, at the bakery and on shelves in the center of it all. Unless you enter with a plan, choosing a meal can demand a greater time commitment than cooking at home -- exactly the toil it aims to help lifestyle foodies circumvent.

Some restaurants grow like children, taking about two years to find their footing and then spending many more reinventing themselves. With enough charisma (say, freebies, superb bread, museum-quality displays and a superhero's self-confidence) a restaurant garners loyal customers who, like parents, willingly take giant leaps of faith until the establishment gets itself together. Foodies is finally together enough that, if it were my teenager, I would offer it the car on a Friday night. With a relatively new, streamlined process of ordering and checking-out, the place is indeed more user-friendly; now that customers and employees at least understand where to go, morale bubbles like San Pelligrino all-around.

Feeling more relaxed in the market than usual, I recently made a split-second decision to order a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon and dine in the restaurant's window-encased eating pod. In doing so, I was reformed from a disgruntled disciple of the gourmet-to-go lifestyle to a restaurant customer eating great amounts of quality food on the cheap. No matter how you slice the sausage, for me eating steamy red beans from a wide bowl just feet from their kitchen of origin is a more pleasant experience than eating the same red beans scraped from a plastic tub with a disposable spoon, or re-sizzled in the microwave at home. While $6.99 is a decent price for a quality takeout dinner, it's a downright deal at a restaurant, especially one where most entrees come with warmed, house-baked bread. On this particular Monday, the beans were spiced in Foodies' characteristic style of big flavors and salt and served with a log of andouille split in two like firewood.

Judging from the lines, not everyone agrees with my angle on the gourmet-to-go concept. In that case, there's a transcendent spaghetti with daube and a fine turtle soup that could withstand a second heating. The toffee-tinged banana Banoffi pie is fluffy as a lapdog inside or out of its plastic cage. But I've been most impressed with dishes prepared to order whose nuances wouldn't travel well. A pond of sour cream caressed the surface of Dean's Outrageous Bucktown Chili (outrageously meaty and rich) with the refreshing contrast that a scoop of ice cream offers when slowly melting down the sides of warm apple pie. Three handfuls of armor-battered oysters overfilled Foodies' grilled po-boy bread and cracked open to blistering juices. The salads I tried came tossed with the ideal lacquer of dressing (more than most of us allow ourselves at home); none would have remained crisp for a ride.

In the dining area you may also sit facing a television that replays cooking shows featuring a smiling Jamie Shannon, the Commander's Palace chef who sadly lost his life to cancer last month. His visionary taste likely was responsible for the meal you choose.

It's interesting that a second Foodies sprouted Uptown right around the time that the original began to achieve cohesion. The self-assurance of empires wastes no time.

click to enlarge The re-worked, window-encased eating pod makes it more tempting for customers at FOODIES KITCHEN to sit down and enjoy their gourmet-to-go meals. - CHERYL GERBER
  • Cheryl Gerber
  • The re-worked, window-encased eating pod makes it more tempting for customers at FOODIES KITCHEN to sit down and enjoy their gourmet-to-go meals.
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