In a neighborhood not known as a restaurant destination, a new family-run eatery presents both classic and original arguments for paying a visit.
New Orleans neighborhood restaurants can feel pretty quirky compared with the typical American chain diner or a strip mall eatery. But, be that as it may, they still tend to share some common character traits. There’s the architectural evidence of the corner grocery or barroom the building once housed. There’s Monday red beans and rice and a gumbo pot that works almost as hard as the fryer. There’s the occasional visit from a celebrity looking for the real New Orleans and the devoted regular ready to hold forth on why this particular restaurant is the best in town.
Café Dauphine has drawn deeply from the same playbook since opening last summer, but it goes farther. The open, contemporary dining room is an attractive space while the menu is strung with enough truly distinctive specialties to pin this restaurant to those mental maps of good food that we here in Louisiana all seem to keep.
That map is particularly important in this case, because Café Dauphine is in the middle of Holy Cross, a historic Lower Ninth Ward neighborhood that is just a drawbridge away from the now-buzzing Bywater scene but still far off the beaten path for restaurants.
Café Dauphine is a family affair. It’s run by Tia Moore Henry, her husband Fred Henry and his sister Keisha Henry. They have long roots in the area, but before opening Café Dauphine, they had no restaurant experience. Their plan for Café Dauphine was fueled mostly by a persistent hunch that their old neighborhood was ready for a full-service restaurant.
If that seemed risky, opening a restaurant in an area not known for them, down a side street customers have to seek out, the risk has so far paid off. Regulars receive greetings from the kitchen when they walk in, and tables are often massed together for large parties and lunch meetings. And yes, there have been visits from celebrities, both the local sort – like the legendary chef Leah Chase — and the global variety — the film director Spike Lee stopped by.
New Orleans eaters already know much of the menu by heart — po-boys, seafood platters, salads with equal parts protein and greens. The standout dishes, however, are more original. Lizardi eggrolls are plump, sticky-coated fried shells encasing shellfish and cabbage. Creole pepper shrimp are essentially BBQ shrimp made a little less messy, and the roast beef po-boy is made with ultra rich short rib meat.
The redfish Florentine at Café Dauphine holds its own against similar entrees at more upscale restaurants, but the queen of this menu is the fried stuffed bell pepper, another twist on an old standby. Crammed with a mix of crab, shrimp and just a little dressing, they eat like oversized versions of jalapeno poppers, minus the spicy bite. Conversely, the gumbo plays it straight, with that thin, dark, uniquely restorative roux that comes direct from the New Orleans black Creole gumbo tradition.
It takes a few turns to find this restaurant, tucked deep into its neighborhood. But with flavor and personality like this, a detour down Dauphine is an easy call to make.
5229 Dauphine St., 504-309-6391