Leigh Peters, co-owner of Dick and Jenny's (4501 Tchoupitoulas St., 894-9880; www.dickandjennys.com), describes one of her favorite menu items as a "fancy po-boy": "It's on that nice banh mi bread from Dong Phuong (Oriental Bakery)," she says. "Also, we'll do crazy things, like put on fried green tomatoes, shrimp remoulade and shrimp ravigote. I call it fancy comfort food."
This theme — upscale cuisine tempered with down-home comfort — is reflected throughout the restaurant. A former grocery store, the 19th-century bargeboard structure is bedecked with practical touches that belie the sophistication of its menu: Soft drinks come in mason jars, white cotton tier curtains soften the light and oilcloth covers the tables. Paintings by Richard Benz, one of the original owners and the "Dick" in the restaurant's name, still hang from the walls.
An employee of Dick and Jenny's since 1999, Peters and her husband William took the reigns from Benz and his wife Jenny immediately following Hurricane Katrina. "Jenny said, 'If you want to run the restaurant for us, you could potentially buy it, because we think we're going to stay up here (in New York),'" Peters says. "I've always loved this place, but given the path I was on before the storm (marketing for hospitals), I probably never would have ended up owning a restaurant."
Peters says her job is "a lot of fun and a lot of hard work." Upon taking ownership of the restaurant, one of her biggest challenges was placating restaurant regulars who feared Dick and Jenny's would lose its je ne sais quoi. "It freaked a lot of people out, but we felt comforted by the fact that we had been here forever," she says. "But we were super nervous, because people in New Orleans tend to not like change a whole lot."
The restaurant offers a seasonal menu heavy on Gulf seafood. Chef Stacy Hall is a New Orleans native who cut her teeth in local kitchens and as sous chef at an Alaskan island resort. "She has a ridiculous ability to cook fish, which really helps when you're in such a seafood-driven city," Peters says. Peters says while her favorite dish is the Abita-braised short ribs, the fried oysters are the most popular menu item. "The secret is all in the fry," she says. "It's all corn — cornmeal and corn flour — which makes it crispy on the outside and delicious on the inside."
There are many regulars among the mostly local customer base, some of whom have been coming since the restaurant opened. "They've been around so long, some of them even have pull with the menu changes," Peters says. In fact, the longer regulars stick around, the more the distinction between staff and customers fades.
"The way I started working here was, I was a regular," says server Kirsten Gustafson. "I came in so much that ... eventually I got a job. It's good people here. Good hearts, very family-run, and fancy but casual."