Cajun tradition meets fine-dining chops at a delicious new find in New Orleans.
Work in the right fine-dining kitchens and you learn the precision and restraint to amplify what great food already has to say. Grow up in the right Cajun household, and you learn the rough-and-tumble of rustic cooking, with its ability to wring maximum reward from lower-born staples of the pantry and larder. Combine those two realms and you end up with Toups’ Meatery, a new contemporary Cajun restaurant by the streetcar tracks near City Park.
For a crash course in what chef Isaac Toups and his crew have been up to here, get the lamb neck. It almost sounds like a challenge — “neck,” after all, is a word in need of a culinary euphemism. And it arrives at the table as an anatomy lesson, a Jenga-like stack of vertebrae shedding peels and strips of meat between lustrous seams of melted marrow. But this wasn’t just ladled from the braising pot either. Minty chow chow relish crowns the top, black eyed pea salad moats the bottom and the overall experience sticks as fast to your flavor memory as it does to your ribs.
This is the approach at Toups’ Meatery all over, where the chef applies his formidable fine-dining chops to the traditions of Cajun country. Chef Isaac Toups worked at Emeril Lagasse’s local restaurants years, and he’s originally from Rayne, a small Cajun prairie town best known for its frog festival. Much of his menu traces back to his family’s meals, and it all provides a welcome relief from the usual Cajun clichés that prevail even in restaurants around Acadiana.
The restaurant itself, once home to the Mediterranean Café, is an easy-going place with two small dining rooms, some outdoor seating under an oak tree and a menu of cocktails, some of which are served by the pitcher.
With its meat mantra and contemporary Cajun calling card, his restaurant occupies a casual-but-ambitious sub-niche somewhere between Cochon and Crescent Pie & Sausage Co. For instance, you can spread a luscious disk of foie gras with jam, but also pass around baskets of fried sweet peppers stuffed with Honduran cheese and herbs. The steak is tri-tip, an obscure, lean, inexpensive part of the sirloin, aggressively seasoned and dosed with frothy hollandaise. And while duck legs usually get the classic French confit treatment, here that’s done to their poorer cousin, chicken thighs served over beans and greens.
Seafood is along for the ride too but it’s as clear as the sign over the door here that this chef’s real specialty is meat.
It’s the roasted half duck in citrusy jus, the plump meatballs covered not with red gravy but rather a ginger and lemongrass barbecue sauce, and a double-cut pork chop that’s so big it produce gasps, though it’s so juicy and smoky you’ll somehow finish it. The always-changing charcuterie boards have regional players like boudin and head cheese, but the selection can range from sliced lamb tongue to rillons, a relic that Toups dug out of an old cookbook that turns out to be a sticky, syrupy pile of candied pork belly.
The only dessert is doberge cake, the New Orleans classic. There’s one with peanut butter frosting and bits of bacon, but frankly once you make it to the dessert round at this restaurant you’ve probably had enough pork products for the day.
845 N. Carrollton Ave., 252-4999