Chef Austin's Creole Kitchen
2005 N. Broad St., 940-5786
Lunch and dinner Mon.-Sat., brunch Sun.
Superb fried chicken and Creole classics
Anything that sounds sweet is likely to be overwhelmingly so
An homage to a late Creole soul food legend
Chef Austin's Creole Kitchen is a new restaurant tapping into an enviable legacy, but it also carries some unfortunate baggage.
The restaurant took over the address of Pampy's Creole Kitchen, which closed last year after owner Stan "Pampy" Barre was sent to prison in a City Hall corruption case. The new restaurant's name is a tribute to Austin Leslie, the New Orleans chef who died shortly after Hurricane Katrina. He worked at Pampy's in the last year of his life, the coda of a career that earned him renown as a master of Creole soul cooking.
The owner of Chef Austin's is Mike Jones, a Californian whose New Orleans family ties drew him here after he retired from the furniture business. He bought Pampy's, gave it a handsome renovation and opened the new restaurant in January. There's a well-dressed and diverse clientele here now, especially at lunch, which was Pampy's busy time as well. But Jones still frets some would-be customers avoid the place because of the cloud over its former owner, with whom he stresses he holds no affiliation.
Despite the restaurant's name, Jones says there's also no business connection between Chef Austin's Creole Kitchen and Leslie's family. But there is a definite link to his legacy. Jones hired many from Pampy's kitchen staff, including Sellers Johnson, the last chef Leslie trained, and he brought in the late chef's nephew, Leslie Nailer. Together, Jones says, they've hashed out recipes as close as possible to Leslie's originals.
That list starts with fried chicken, topped with Leslie's signature addition of pickles and persillade, a mix of garlic and parsley. This is no mere garnish, but rather a third element to the chicken above the juicy meat and crisp skin, and one that melds with the hot-from-the-fryer grease. Fortunately, the new kitchen also has mastered the seasoning and timing, so the chicken remains tender within its shell. The menu even lists "Austin's Famous No. 9" — two pieces of chicken served with potato salad and a stuffed pepper, a combo dating back to the chef's original restaurant, Chez Helene.
I never sampled Leslie's gumbo, but the version here is a triumph of unabashed Creole flavor. The rusty-brown roux, deeply imbued with gizzards, turkey necks, sausage and shrimp — and enough bone and gnarly remnants to divine a fortune at the bottom of the bowl — is the type of home-style gumbo most restaurants demure from serving.
I would have welcomed more seasoning on the blackened redfish, but it was still a good dish with its crown of parsley-flecked crabmeat and side of beefy dirty rice. Beware dishes that sound like they were dreamed up in a cooking class, like the sticky sweet "spicy honey wings," which tasted like candied chicken. But there is more than just shock value to recommend the deep-fried roast beef po-boy, stuffed with peppers and onions like a huge, fried cheesesteak.
The colorful dining room is dressed down a bit from the Pampy's days, and the prices are lower, with most entrees falling in the mid-teens. Chef Austin's Creole Kitchen is certainly not a complete facsimile of the late chef's hand in the kitchen, but it's an attractive place where the traditions he represented get well-deserved respect.