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Review: Kingfish Grille 

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The menu at Kingfish Grille reads like an honor roll of specialty sandwiches developed elsewhere, yet at each turn, the sandwich shop in Old Gretna finds ways to make them its own.

  The Cuban sandwich features the traditional ingredients (ham, roasted pork, pickles, mustard and Swiss) but adds the masterstroke of juices from the pork's roasting pan and deploys the mystically light, crisp loaves from Dong Phuong Oriental Bakery, bread that seems to make anything stuffed inside it taste better. Caramelized onions and roasted red peppers enhance the Philly cheese steak in the same bread. And while the "Hu Dat," the Kingfish riff on the banh mi, is not quite the equal of the genuine articles served at Vietnamese restaurants nearby, its filling of pulled pork soaked by more of that roasting-pan gravy gives it unique appeal.

  These handheld hybrids are the work of Cornell Landry, a New Orleans native who managed Bourbon Street nightclubs before a stint catering for film crews. In 2009, he penned the book Goodnight NOLA, a local takeoff on the children's classic Goodnight Moon, and he used his royalties to help start Kingfish Grille last fall. Landry lives in Gretna, and he's friendly with the owners of other casual restaurants there, so rather than compete with their renditions of traditional New Orleans dishes, he devised a menu unlike anywhere else in town.

  Landry turned to Louisville, Ky., for that city's famous "hot brown," an open-face sandwich made with bubbling-hot Mornay sauce over sliced turkey. From the French he borrowed the croque monsieur, a baked ham and cheese creation also draped with Mornay. Landry's "weenie panini" will be familiar to those who experienced the pepper weiner po-boy, a scrappy mess of wieners and chili that once was a fixture at Domilise's.

  Eclipsing that exercise in excess is the Velvet Elvis, a special which belongs to the national trend of increasingly extreme burgers. The patty is cradled between two grilled cheese sandwiches, each filled with Velveeta and crumbled bacon. I tried the double (that's two burgers, three sandwiches), which I could not even begin to eat in the conventional way. I toppled it, after which it looked like a basket of beef, toast and cheese. The kitchen also will assemble a triple (three burgers, four sandwiches), which sounds more like a way to satisfy a dare than an appetite.

  The short list of salads is straightforward, but the fries are standouts. Cut in house, fried once and then fried a second time to order, they're spotted with parsley, garlic and salt, and they glisten with butter.

  "Kingfish" is a nickname for Huey P. Long, whose mug adorns this restaurant's logo, but inevitably some patrons walk in expecting to find a seafood house. I wish there was more seafood, if only to see what this creative kitchen would do with fried shrimp or grilled tuna. As it stands now, there's a soft-shell crab coated in ultra-crispy panko on ciabatta. It's small compared to a po-boy, but it's also only $8, which is the priciest item on the regular menu. In the land of the po-boy, Kingfish Grille has memorable sandwiches that cover the spectrum.

click to enlarge Cornell Landry presents Kingfish Grille's triple velvet Elvis burger. - PHOTO BY CHERYL GERBER

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