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Tried and True 

FURY'S is that classic neighborhood restaurant where the customers know the tables by number.

Sunday evenings at Fury's are predictable in a most endearing, humdrum way. Couples pair off around the front dining room's bricked-in fireplace, drinking Scotch sours and buttering crackers. Smokers walled in by a sea of triangular pennants in the back barroom watch football and other seasonal games on television. Men still wearing church clothes duck in for family dinners to go in pizza parlor numbers. And the red-sauce special is baked manicotti, ruffled noodles tucked around Italian-seasoned ground beef -- just as it was last week.

The Fury family opened this Metairie neighborhood establishment 20 years ago, some time after shuttering their Lakefront restaurant, The Bounty. Few changes have transpired since; in fact, certain features may have seemed retro even back in 1983. The salad containing asparagus soft enough to chew with your lips, for example. Or the odd crabmeat au gratin coated with a bright American-cheese orange. Fury's served casseroles straight through an era when more contemporary restaurants wouldn't utter the word; truth be told, the spinach and artichoke casserole is a marvel of custard-like richness.

The recipe for Fury's good, old-fashioned okra and shrimp gumbo may very well predate the first edition of The Picayune's Creole Cook Book. And yet it would be telling only half the story to accuse the restaurant of fustiness -- experimental food simply would not fly here. A renovation might soil the air's delicate patina of remembrance. Like so many neighborhood restaurants, Fury's gathers strength in doing what it always has done, what its regulars expect.

This means consistently laying out some of the finest fried chicken ever to grace a white vinyl tablecloth. Servers warn of a 20- to 25-minute wait, since each piece is fried to order. People who find such a wait unbearable should bring a deck of cards, sit on their hands, alphabetize the pennants ... whatever it takes. The outcome is a crisp skin, thin and taught, fried a few shades lighter than an almond shell. The coating isn't seasoned much beyond salt and pepper, but its airy richness tastes so illicit that I presumed it had been fried in lard. (Peanut oil is the true culprit.) The moist chicken meat itself tastes like, well, moist chicken.

Like the restaurant, the fried chicken is everything it's meant to be, no more or less. For a trial run, order Monday's creamy, ham-larded red beans with three fried drumettes. A drumette is actually a wing cut to simulate a stumpy drumstick, according to one server. The weirdness of such a thing doesn't affect its goodness.

Other fried items elicited positive responses around the tables I shared. Flaky, light-colored onion rings were large enough to play horseshoes, though their weightlessness could debilitate the toss. Fried eggplant "chips" looked more like pucks; they deflated as forks passed through their nutty-tasting fried outsides. Every member of a fried seafood platter wore a greaseless, cornmeal-pebbled jacket and tasted like itself -- a good thing for the saltwatery oysters but not so for the unfortunately thick-shelled soft-shell crab.

One friend had the foresight to order her frog legs broiled rather than fried. With just a squirt of lemon and a scattering of parsley, the dainty limbs appeared as fragile as a moth's wing and tasted like sea breeze.

It's oft-repeated within Fury's dining rooms that all seafood is "fresh," meaning locally procured and unfrozen. I didn't exactly taste anything to contradict this claim, though I am puzzled by the lump crabmeat. Both when loaded on top of broiled speckled trout and covered in a brisk, reddish remoulade sauce, the crab appeared more translucent than I'm used to and was only faintly sweet. A slip of something like cartilage came attached to each monstrous lump -- all of which warrants mention if not a wholehearted complaint.

I dined at Fury's on three consecutive Sunday evenings, during which a preponderance of my fellow customers belonged to the generation that carries AARP cards. Many of them appeared as familiar as family with the menu, the much younger service staff and the dining rooms. One long-timer, tulip red from lip to toe, announced herself at the door by declaring, "I'll take table No. 7!" Why the elevated age range? My experiences suggest that it's less indicative of Fury's food than of the suburban popularity of so-called "neighborhood" chain restaurants. If knowledge of Fury's skips a generation, its low-profile location may also keep youngsters away: While Martin Behrman Avenue is just a block off the main drag that is Veterans Memorial Boulevard, one must still be convinced to make that turn.

One afternoon three generations sat at the table beside mine -- a mother, a daughter and a 2-year-old granddaughter. Several times throughout their meal the toddler scaled down from her grandmother's lap, waddled over to the cashier's desk and poked her fist into a jar of colorful hard candies. That little girl will suddenly remember that candy jar one day, say 20 years from now, as she barrels down the main drag. If she remembers to make that turn, my guess is that Fury's will be waiting for her.

click to enlarge Customers have their pick of FURY'S dining area: - the front with its bricked-in fireplace, or the back - with its bar and pennant-filled walls. - CHERYL GERBER
  • Cheryl Gerber
  • Customers have their pick of FURY'S dining area: the front with its bricked-in fireplace, or the back with its bar and pennant-filled walls.
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