Thanks to its proximity to the airport in Kenner, the seafood market Fisherman's Cove does a brisk business packing crabmeat, shrimp and other locally harvested delights for travel. At the restaurant next door, Harbor Seafood & Oyster Bar, people pack quite a bit of the same stuff into their bellies.
Fisherman's Cove and Harbor Seafood share a roof and an owner, and for more than 20 years they've been proving what such a cozy relationship can do. It must be convenient for a restaurant to have its most important supplier on the other side of the paneled wall. In Harbor's narrow, always bustling dining room, this translates into uncommon abundance.
It's not just that the portions are large here, it's also the variety. On any given night you might find six different finfish. There are five seafood soups, and most of the salads principally serve as backdrops for still more shrimp or tuna. Waitresses heave steaming trays of boiled shrimp, and by the end of November they'll likely begin serving some of the season's earliest crawfish, too. At the far end of the bar, an oyster shucker is kept too busy for much chat.
Cheap oysters have long been a hallmark of Harbor, and it wasn't too long ago you could get a dozen for less than $4 here. In these post-oil spill days, however, the dozen I had for $8 in late October still seemed like a bargain.
Harbor does the expected local standards well, including fried seafood platters and fat po-boys. But I'm happiest with the less common dishes. For instance, there is an alligator appetizer actually worth ordering, especially if you get it blackened. You can order calamari the same way, and each makes the case for replacing fry batter with crusty blackening seasonings.
Blackened also is the way I prefer finfish at Harbor, whether it's redfish, amberjack, cobia or something else. And even if the presentation is plain (most entrees automatically get a side of butter-soaked home fries and boiled corn), you can count on a generous slab of fresh fish. A little more effort to spruce up sauces and sides would really make the entrees stand out, but that's not really in the neighborhood style this place embodies so comfortably.
Listen to the dining room cacophony for a moment and you'll hear unmistakable New Orleans accents calling out for stuffed artichokes or more sherry for the turtle soup or another pitcher of Abita Amber. This is the type of authentic seafood joint locals know by heart and visitors dream of finding.
If Harbor was in the French Quarter, management would need a velvet rope for crowd control, and if it was nestled somewhere Uptown, visiting foodies would flock to its door. Instead, it sits along one of the area's least romantic streets and directly beneath the airport's flight path. That's fine, because this actually positions Harbor nicely for a last taste of home before flying off somewhere, or a first taste on the way back.