There are an ever-increasing number of reasons for visitors to wander downriver from the French Quarter and into the winding streets of the Faubourg Marigny, where a burgeoning dining scene and ample architectural eye candy make for a fine day of lollygagging. While block after block of charming shotguns and quirky eateries fits the bill for some, the area has lacked a solid dining option for visitors looking to get a taste of classic New Orleans comfort cooking. Horn's — a new effort from the owner of the magnetizing Uptown diner Slim Goodies — has thrown its hat into the ring in an attempt to be a downtown destination for these old-line classics.
Located in the former La Peniche space, Horn's has succeeded in taking a cramped, dated dining room and morphing it into an open area that feels like a hip urban hunting lodge. The rustic wooden floors and wood-paneled walls are lined with horned animal skulls (get it?) and family photos that make diners feel they might really be in someone's bayou cabin. The service at Horn's teeters between aloof and smothering, with the glib, casual attitude of the dining staff occasionally resulting in lengthy wait times.
Horn's serves breakfast, lunch and dinner — a feat that's difficult to pull off if your restaurant's vision isn't crystal clear. Diners succeed at this because they understand that efficiency and rapid turnover are paramount and that prices should be reasonable. More formal restaurants operate under the assumption that a smaller menu means a greater deal of time to refine dishes. Horn's seems to have a muddled picture of what it's trying to accomplish, serving three rounds of meals a day with varying degrees of success.
Breakfast options at Horn's are largely holdovers from the Slim Goodies menu, with the same range of griddle top standards with punchy names. The Guatemalan is still a south-of-the-border twist on eggs accompanied with chewy, sweet plantains. The pecan waffle (called "heaven" on the menu) arrives dense and doughy, with a spray of canned whipped cream and lackluster sliced strawberries. Sweet potato pancakes (a Slim Goodies favorite) still pack the sweet and subtlely spicy flavor as their Uptown counterpart. It's disappointing, though, that given a chance to reimagine a more diverse range of morning-appropriate dishes, Horn's simply rehashed the familiar.
Lunchtime plates and sandwiches are the restaurant's most solid offerings, and perhaps the only dishes worth seeking out. The Creole Cuban is a properly zippy sandwich, with a juicy, Dagwood-like stack of pork and ham with tangy, house-made Creole mustard that adds an unexpected — but welcome — punch of heat. The hot sausage sandwich features sausage made in house, which is appropriately plump and juicy. The discrepancy in quality between dishes with ingredients that are made in house and those trucked in is glaringly obvious; unfortunately, the latter largely outnumber the former.
Dinner at Horn's is underwhelming at best, with prices that are far too steep for what arrives on the plate. Beef daube is a dry, stringy hunk of meat plated on thick, tubular bucatini noodles that prove to be completely bland. The accompanying green and yellow crescents of squash, doused in oil, are flavorless. Gulf fish amandine also is poorly executed, with the restaurant's pan-fried version of the dish arriving without any of the crunchy bite and lemony brightness that it should possess. Across the board, prices for dinner entrees hover above the $15 mark, making a night out at Horn's — with an accompanying cocktail and an appetizer — far too expensive for the quality of meal served.
With few exceptions, there's a lack of thoughtfulness about the dishes at Horn's that can be tasted in each bite, as if they were simply phoned in to fulfill a concept on the menu. In a city overflowing with restaurants where diners can eat beautifully crafted meals morning, noon and night — even on a budget — being a middle-of-the-road establishment is a tough row to hoe.