When Donnie Thomas purchased The Rivershack Tavern (3449 River Road, Jefferson, 504-834-4938; www.the-rivershacktavern.com), his plan was to change the business from a kitschy bar that served food into a kitschy restaurant that served drinks. Eight years later, the establishment is a success, and Thomas says it's all because he made a few changes.
Letting chef Mike Baskind be creative with the menu was one of Thomas' first changes. Baskind still prepares New Orleans cuisine including boiled seafood on Monday and Friday afternoons in the spring and whips up late-night bar food, but he offers more sophisticated daily specials like shrimp simmered in pineapple-coconut broth and soft-shell crab served over arugula, tossed in ginger vinaigrette. "Other than the red beans and rice on Monday, which is the everyday fare across the city, I don't tell him what to cook," Thomas says. "He comes up with his own food, whether it's a duck dish (or) osso buco."
"I have a lot of creative flexibility, but we also have our familiar favorites so you always have your choice of whether you want something fancy or something like white beans or catfish," Baskind says. "Everything has a lot of love in it and almost everything's done in house as far as specials go; the seafood is breaded to order."
Thomas and Baskind agree the turtle soup is one of The Rivershack Tavern's standout dishes. In fact, Baskind prepared it — along with red beans and rice, gumbo and Wivershack's Whasckily Wabbit with Wabbit Gwavy — for Guy Fieri on an episode of the Food Network's Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.
As for the bar, the margaritas and Bloody Marys are customer favorites. Beer enthusiasts enjoy the array of 20 tap offerings, including Louisiana beers and Germany's Franziskaner Weissbier and Warsteiner Premium Dunkel.
The bar is also known for its bar stools painted to look like golfers, shrimpers or cowboys from the waist down. "I have to give the previous owner Jimmy Collins the credit for the tackiness of the place and the bar stools," Thomas says. "A lot of the stuff that's signed up on the walls, he had signed it to go with the tacky decor and I've never wanted to do anything to change the funky decor other than add to it."
One thing Thomas did change was the smoking policy. Rivershack Tavern is now smoke-free. Other than the wacky decor, the smell of smoke was, for many patrons, one of the most striking aspects of the self-proclaimed Home of the Tacky Ashtray. Thomas says business stayed the same after the Jan. 1 change, but he noted that he's received a lot of compliments. "We still give you a free drink equal to the tackiness of any ashtray you bring in," Thomas says. "We still want to be considered Home of the Tacky Ashtray."