The wraparound service counter is the first hint of what's offered at Bayou Breakfast, the restaurant opened in November inside the old De Blanc Pharmacy building off Esplanade Avenue. Friendly servers refill ceramic mugs of coffee, neighbors stop in to banter with friends and on Sundays, there's always a game on the TV. It's a diner in every sense of the word.
Under the helm of husband-and-wife team Derek and Idolka Villavaso, the airy space has been outfitted with bright pastels, colorful murals and large images of the couple's children. The eatery is kid-friendly, which fits the neighborhood setting.
Most of the menu covers familiar diner territory — egg dishes, hash browns, grits, po-boys — but there are elements that cater to a more health-conscious crowd, including a vegetable-laden vegan scramble and coconut milk-flavored pudding made with chia seeds topped with fresh fruit and honey. These items provide a nice-but-short detour from the rest of the menu, some of which hits the greasy spoon mark, while other items fall flat.
The most disappointing dishes are the Benedicts, as they inevitably fall victim to Velveeta-colored (and curiously flavored) hollandaise, which looks and tastes more like the processed cheese product than anything involving whipped egg yolks and butter. Sauce issues aside, some Benedicts fair better than others. A surf-and-turf version features juicy strips of sauteed steak and spiced shrimp, and the English muffins offer nice bounce and give. A crab cake version features a mass of green onions, lump crab and diced tomatoes instead of a cake, and while the flavors in the crab medley work fine together, on one visit I stumbled upon more than one piece of shell in the mix.
Omelets are by far the better egg option, each one sprinkled with green onions. Their unassuming exterior belies the indulgent combinations hidden within. The Nola fo'Sho is exactly what you'd want to eat on a bad morning after. It features mild and hot pork sausage, chopped bacon and two thick layers of melted cheddar and American cheese folded into the egg casing.
Chicken tenders are available on their own or with waffles and deliver a satisfactory, rib-sticking meal. While the batter doesn't deliver the thick, crunchy coating associated with some versions, the outside is light and crispy and the meat is tender and juicy. In the waffle dish, three or four tenders are served alongside several thick Belgian-style waffles, which arrive slightly dry but are saved by a dusting of powdered sugar and a splash of maple syrup.
Some sides don't fare well. Potatoes are dark brown and laced with caramelized bits, and although they had nice flavor, they were gummy in texture. On one visit, they were delivered cold. Grits tasted watery and needed flavor.
For the sweet tooth, there are deep-fried cinnamon rolls. Flaky layers of dough are interspersed with cinnamon and sugar and fried to a deep chocolate color. Some strips were burned, but the others offered a sweet treat from the glaze of syrupy-thick powder icing.
Ultimately, there are some hits and misses here. Bayou Breakfast is a casual and comfortable neighborhood spot where convenience and atmosphere come first and quality still has some catching up to do.