If I owned my own restaurant, I’d care about my ingredients. (Or so I’d like to think). It doesn’t take a rocket scientist or, well, even a professional chef, to know that the upbringing of livestock and produce plays a key role in every intricate aspect of a delicious meal. The peculiar tastes your tongue starts to detect after years of eating out at mediocre restaurants are normally honed to a broadened, but bland array of flavors. So when you finally bite into that fresh, locally-caught crab meat or baby turnip plucked especially by the chief chef himself before hitting maturity, you know you’ve sunk your teeth into something unordinary–something that was, as generic as it sounds, made with love. When in New Orleans, you can relish in tastes like these. It’s a city of soul and soulful food will make your mouth water faster than anything soulless–that’s one thing I’ve discovered through my journeys that I hardly think can be debated.
Wild singing and dancing filled the street of St. Charles Avenue as a parade passed by and I tried to figure out just how one goes about crossing a street during a Mardi Gras parade. (As it turns out, the police unlock the gates every 15-30 minutes during parades to let the drunken Mardi Gras-ers parade themselves like cattle to the other side of a street). My destination, Luke, was across the street at 333 St. Charles Avenue. And when I broke free of the heavily-packed flow of people, I made my way into the restaurant.
Luke is a diner and old-south-inspired restaurant with an elegant, and thoroughly tasty, menu. A bed of freshly caught seafood chills over ice behind the hostess’ podium and two-panel pseudo-rusted fans spin above the boisterous crowd below. The seating on the first floor presents customers with a glimpse of the Big Easy’s famous St. Charles Avenue, but the second floor is where I dined and where I recommend you do, too. Just a few steps up from the main floor sits a dining area where the center of attention is, naturally, the hard-working chefs just beyond the glass walls of the kitchen. Although it makes for a drooling, annoyingly impatient mouth, there’s something charming about watching your food cooked before you, and there’s something even more charming about being served by people who are passionate about the food.
I had the pleasure of having several waiters, all of whom were well-versed in the history of the food. Yes, I mean it: the ‘history’ of the food. Luke is one of four John Besh restaurants in New Orleans. All four restaurants grow their own produce and raise their own livestock on a farm in La Provence, just outside of Covington–about 45 minutes from New Orleans. Everything raised and grown from their personal farm is done so organically–without a single hormone injection or pesticide. Some of the animals are even fed with leftover bread from the restaurants. And if the food doesn’t come from their own farm, they make sure to buy it fresh from local farmers–making a point to strengthen and support New Orleans farmers at every possible opportunity.
I started off by trying a little bit of each appetizer. As someone who doesn’t regularly eat meat, I expect it to be good when I do eat it. My friend and I looked at each other, wide-eyed, after simultaneously spreading the rabbit pate on our sweet bread. It was jaw-dropping delicious. The pickled watermelon was next, leaving a sweet and sour aftertaste absolutely worth trying. Tiny house-made pickles decorated our cutting board filled with other samples like marmalade, hog’s head cheese with radish, stone-ground mustard, duck livers and Louisiana rabbit pates, and a pate de campagne of wild boar topped with gelee (which is code for pate of the cheek of a wild boar, topped with Jell-O version of Vitamin water). We paired our appetizers with the Champagne Au Peche and it sizzled the way a fruity champagne should–in my mouth.
With a nod of approval from the waiter, we ordered Louisiana Redfish meuniere with crab and roasted vegetables for our entree. Baby turnips and green beans stood next to our impressive entrees and our potatoes were replaced with the famous house-made french fries served here. (I say ‘famous’ for no reason other than the fact that they are pictured on their site’s main page. That’s all the evidence I need to deem something famous).
The redfish was crusted flawlessly and topped with big chunks of crab–an undeniably perfect meal. Just when I was sure we’d had enough, we ended up opting for dessert. While waiting for dessert, holding our stomachs in hedonistic agony, we were sipping on new savory beverages: The Bloody Mary and the French 75 (a lemon juice, Cognac, and champagne concoction). Both were grade A, and considering we’re both seasoned drinkers, alcohol connoisseurs, if you will, I say our grading system is law.
Dessert was every good feeling you’ve ever had packed into a tasty treat. We had Brendan’s Bread Pudding with vanilla bean ice ream and a hot buttered pecan sauce and “Gateau Basque”–a vanilla cake with seasonal fruit and creme fraiche. They were comforting. They melted in our mouths. They were decadent. And they were in our to-go boxes when we couldn’t take another bite.
As I prepared to leave the restaurant, I stopped to take a picture of the gigantic photographs on canvas decorating the walls of Luke. Black and white images from New Orleans-past ornament the walls of Luke and, like everything else involved in the decor of this restaurant–it works. Wonderfully.
Would I recommend Luke? Yes. Hell yes. Even if this place didn’t have food, I’d recommend it for the sole purpose of mingling with the highly entertaining staff.
While in New Orleans, I also had a chance to check out one of the other four John Besh restaurants, August, and would also recommend it to anyone looking for an impressive classy chandelier-clad, fine-dining experience. Especially if shrimp and asparagus soup sounds good to you–because theirs was nothing short of phenomenal.
By: Elizabeth Seward