When Neyow's Creole Cafe opened in November, it bore all the common marks of a brand-new restaurant, from fresh paint and fixtures to an empty bar waiting for liquor license approval. But even then there was a familiarity about the place that was as hard to miss as the hot sausage heating up its gumbo.
Although new, Neyow's taps an instantly recognizable neighborhood dining style and continues a restaurant legacy that was interrupted by the levee failures. Thin pork chops so large they lap over the dinner plate, Tuesday's spaghetti and meatballs special and even the unusually sweet barbecue shrimp were all hallmarks of the original Montrel's Creole Cafe in Gentilly, which changed its name to Milan's Creole Cafe the year before Hurricane Katrina. Chef Tanya Dubuclet was part of both operations, and she opened Neyow's last year using the same template.
The restaurant name, pronounced "NEE OHS," is a nickname for the owner's favorite dog breed, the Neapolitan mastiff. The building, located near the end of Bayou St. John, underwent a thorough remodeling to create an attractive place with broad windows and covered sidewalk dining. Servers dress in smart attire and are welcoming, and at the now-stocked bar, a woman with a heavy pour mixes basic cocktails in plastic tumblers.
The fundamentals of the menu are not so different from such neighborhood icons as nearby Mandina's or Liuzza's Restaurant. But while those places cook with a Creole-Italian accent, Neyow's draws from the city's black Creole tradition. This place satisfyingly demonstrates the axiom that the more types of meat going into the Creole gumbo pot the better. The result is a thin but robust deep dark filé roux pulsing with red pepper and loaded with hot sausage, smoked sausage and cubes of pork. The red beans or white beans come with enough fried chicken or pork chops "on the side" to constitute a two-course dinner. The chicken is blond-colored and underwhelming, though the pork chops have such a crisp, thin, well-seasoned breading that they could easily stand in for schnitzel on an Oktoberfest plate.
The menu has a few odd turns. The famous misnomer behind barbecue shrimp was evidently taken to heart with the addition of sweet, thick, mild barbecue sauce, which somehow makes it taste more Cantonese than Creole. Most sides are afterthoughts, like the bland macaroni and cheese.
Neyow's serves shrimp several different ways and seems to reserve the best of the batch for the fryer. Middling multitudes were poured into the thin shrimp Creole and into the "pasta on the bayou," the house name for penne with thick, wonderfully garlicky cream sauce and seafood. But the flaky-coated, light-colored examples on the basic shrimp plate were among the largest I've seen fried, and the ones filling a po-boy were so huge that a single curled tail propped up the top of the loaf like the raised hood of a car.
Specials follow a rigid weekly schedule and are good values with few dishes more than $10. Po-boys, even the big fried seafood versions, drop to $6 on Tuesday. It can't be a coincidence that this special arrives on the day Neyow's famous po-boy-making neighbor Parkway Bakery & Tavern happens to be closed.