3116 I-10 Service Road East
Before starting for New Orleans this week, I spent some time poring over the list of the top restaurants in the city, hoping to pick maybe half a dozen places to try. I ended up with 19 on my list, including this place, which I found nestled into the parking lot of my hotel.
The customer comments that got this place onto my list mentioned things like crawfish and andouille sausage, blackened chicken sandwich, duck and sausage gumbo ... things you'd find in a diner only in South Louisiana. Having now been here, my first take on the place isn't particularly favourable.
I went around 8pm; the place was all but empty when I arrived at this converted Denny's. (I assume it was a Denny's, because it's in a La Quinta parking lot; and everybody knows "La Quinta" is Spanish for "Next to Denny's.") The place is clean, and simply decorated. The seats are in good repair, always a concern at places like this, where maintenance tends to get put off when money gets short, and the walls have a few good, nicely framed photos of typically Orleanian subjects, to make City Diner feel a little more like New Orleans and less like ... well, Denny's. (There's also an LED sign at the far end of the dining room, advertising specials and features, and occasionally flashing blindingly and disturbingly bright.)
There were two people in the kitchen and two on the floor when I arrived. Since I was the only person there you'd think I could have gotten quick, attentive service. I did, until another guy walked in and ordered toast and milk to go. I kid you not. This episode absorbed all the attention of the wait staff. Fortunately, the interchange with this new customer was sufficiently entertaining to keep me amused, and only then did the waitress bring my drink. ("Do you have sweet rolls? How about muffins? No, not English muffins. Cake? No, not ice-cream cake." I finally called out to the waitress that she should sprinkle some cinnamon and sugar on buttered toast for the guy. He settled for plain buttered wheat toast.) And a couple of other groups came in later, to keep me company.
I went for the evening's special: red beans and rice with sausage. It was exactly the same order I'd had back home, at the Big Easy Café, three days ago, so I thought it'd be an excellent opportunity to compare New Orleans' signature dish in Old Metairie with what I'd gotten from a family of Katrina refugees. The dish at the City Diner comes with sausage or pork chop. When I asked the waitress (who is from New Jersey and has only been here two months) if it was andouille sausage, she didn't know. It was smoked sausage, or I could have spicy sausage patties, or the grilled pork chop. I took my chances with the smoked sausage, and yes, it was andouille, and moderately good andouille at that. (She also didn't know what swamp water was, but mixed up a pretty good one when I told her how.)
|Louisiana restaurant inspections have been|
removed from the State's web site
for "technical reasons."
You know how everybody thinks New Yorkers are rude? They're actually not, they're regular people, but their ways grate on my Southern sensibilities, and after a little while I grow uncomfortable in their continued company. This little group of Orleanians impressed me the same way. From their reactions, I could tell that they were all perfectly at ease with each other; but the words that come to my mind to describe their way of dealing are "attitude" and "lip." It was exactly that way when I lived here, as an adult, back in the mid-80s, and I thank God I had the good fortune to move away as a child, in time to learn a less sarcastic and caustic way of dealing, even if I don't always use it. These restaurant employees were all perfectly polite in dealing with me and the other customers, but if I'd've worked there I'd've popped somebody in the mouth before too long. Probably that smart-ass blond guy in the kitchen.
Once I was finished with the red beans and rice (which, by the way, was better than at The Big Easy Cafe -- much more like what I remember from my youth, with a creamy thick sauce), I decided to try the bananas Foster ice cream cake that had been offered to the guy with the toast. A sign on the diner's door advertises Blue Bell Ice Cream, so I expected it to be pretty good. There was banana ice cream and pecan chunks topped with whipped cream and served over a sliver of generic cake and what appeared to be pie crust. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't as good as it looked, nor was it as good as I'd hoped.
To be entirely fair, the City Diner seems to have built its reputation as a top restaurant largely on the strength of its breakfast fare. So maybe I'll come back one morning before I leave, and check that out.
Accustomed as I am to prices back home, I expect that the prices at City Diner are considered low by the locals. They're not bad. Maybe they're good enough to get excited about, if you live in a place like Metairie.