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Fish Out of Water 

Locals should consider remaining in Bucktown for the original version, but the French Quarter interpretation of DEANIE'S SEAFOOD should have visitors reaching for their bibs.

A bowl of hot red potatoes is the first thing that hits the table when you sit down at Deanie's. How you should manage this unconventional lagniappe is up for interpretation. You might use your front teeth, like eating an apple, or you might pound some into a mash on one of the plates provided. The most thoughtful technique I observed was when a friend cut his into two red-skinned cups, forked at their white insides to create potato fluff, nimbly folded in butter and salt and then popped them whole into his mouth like poor man's bonbons. Boiled the way that New Orleanians boil shellfish, in a rolling pot spiced something like Bloody Mary mix, the potatoes are the quintessence of Deanie's subtitle: "The Taste of Bucktown."

You should keep this slogan in mind while considering the Chifici Family's new restaurant, for a few reasons. To start, it's the sister restaurant to the Deanie's that has held court on Lake Avenue in Bucktown since the 1960s, but it bears no relation to the Deanie's on Annunciation Street in the Warehouse District, and it never has. If this gives you a headache, ask all the Deanie's owners how often they've met in court over the years.

Secondly, its dolled-up appearance in no way resembles the no-frills place with the dirty walls and the dank seafood odor in Bucktown. The new location shares the intersection of Iberville and Dauphine streets with two swank hotels, and its facade is so understated that I breezed past it the first time. You step into a bar area where diner-style stools set around tall, circular tables look like bongo drums with insect legs -- a smart corner for the loosened-tie crowd to grab a quick one. The adjacent dining room is a field of laminated tables situated amid a faux pressed tin ceiling with a belt-run fan system, an open kitchen, soft lights and warm mustard-gold walls. It's as if a warehouse, a diner and a cafeteria all decided to shack up and then discovered that they were indeed better off as a threesome.

A word to the city's visitors: skip this paragraph. The third reason that a local should keep the new Deanie's slogan in mind is to remind himself not to bother with it. The menu is an exact replica of the one found at the original joint, where the wall grime and waitresses who balk at being asked for a doggie bag are as much a part of the Bucktown experience as a fried softshell crab is. No one with a car should ever vie for parking in the French Quarter for a taste of Bucktown that still exists in Bucktown.

Tourists should resume reading here. Deanie's kitchen is well known for two flawless recipes. Whether by the power of suggestion or their supremacy, they are the only two dishes that would lure me back to either location. The New Orleans-style barbecue shrimp are served whole and firm with cartilage armor, antennae weaponry and all. Like at Manale's, you'll be happy for the bib around your neck when you wiggle your fingers into the piquant, buttery sauce, which stains with the bright orange of a hot iron poker and which borrows a pleasing, bitter perfume from simmered lemon wedges. Deanie's onion rings, which wouldn't look bad worn as golden-fried bangles, are perhaps the only onion rings I've tried that preserve a refreshing hint of the onion's sting.

Deanie's fried seafood is characterized, if not by being the best in town, by its clean seafood flavors. Sweet, fried crawfish tails indicated the high season two weeks ago despite the boring batter; it was nothing less than miraculous that butterflied shrimp wrapped in a brackish, dehydrating knob of crabmeat dressing nevertheless tasted perfectly like fresh shrimp.

The Italian Salad with briny black olives, salami, artichoke hearts and greens isn't bad, just disappointing if you're someone who travels to other restaurants in Bucktown for Italian salads made with green olives and iceberg. The seafood gumbo and Bucktown Boil Pizza, on the other hand, are bad. Both are mono-textured (the texture being squashy), neither has any astute flavor, and you should celebrate if you find more than six piddly shrimp in either one.

A section on Deanie's menu called "Potpourri" offers a handful of fancier entrees. It could be called Hit or Miss. Crabmeat ravioli are nice once you scrape aside the cloying Parmesan cheese sauce and nibble the edges off the bulky pasta squares (to be fair, these problems are consistent with many area crabmeat raviolis). Fried speckled trout covered in a light-rouxed crawfish etouffee was watertight and even worth the $14.95 one lunchtime, but the same etouffee ordered later as an entree was oddly gooey and tasted more like the Bucktown location smells than etouffee should.

I can't in good conscience recommend this new Deanie's to any local. But with Quarter-bound visitors now able to taste Deanie's interpretation of Bucktown, and with the Chifici Family now cashing in on the tourism dollar, this new restaurant is destined to forge its share of stable relationships.

click to enlarge Bethany Redd serves up the new French Quarter rendition of DEANIE'S SEAFOOD. - CHERYL GERBER
  • Cheryl Gerber
  • Bethany Redd serves up the new French Quarter rendition of DEANIE'S SEAFOOD.


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