Thursday, March 29, 2012.
Fried Chicken And White Beans.
An index of how the habit of dining out has grown (and the restaurant community with it) is that one can now find good restaurants in Gentilly and Harahan. Both areas historically have been puzzlingly poor in restaurants. My weekly restaurant review column--which in its first year ran in The Driftwood, the student newspaper at UNO--focused on Gentilly. By the end of the column's first semester, I was out of places to write about, and was down to awful subjects like Burger King and Luigi's. Dining in Gentilly would get still sparser as the years went by. It seems to be getting a little better lately.
Harahan was even less promising. I grew up there and in River Ridge. The only restaurants of any significance along that part of Jefferson Highway were Charlie's Seafood and a really great maker of roast beef poor boys called Joe's Tavern. The latter was gone by the 1970s, and nothing else took its place. It wasn't until the 1990s that a few restaurants started opening in the Hickory-Dickory-Dock northern tip of Harahan, but even then the core of the town still was without much in the way of even very casual dining.
Relative to those days, things are really popping in Harahan now. It might be possible to make a top-twelve list of Harahan restaurants. Wait, let me check that. . .
. . . okay, I'm back. Yes, I could compile such a list. However, most of the twenty-four (!) restaurants in my listings are either 1) quite new, b) in Elmwood rather than Harahan (a fine distinction), or iii) unpromising. I'll hold off on the list until the current batch matures a little.
In the meantime, it's safe to say that Nuccio's will be in the top dozen. It's open about two years on Jefferson Highway, across the street from the imposing St. Rita's Church. A glowing dot marks that point on my mental map of the world. I attended St. Rita's School for three fondly remembered tween years. I'm favorably disposed to Nuccio's just for that. Also, I've taken a lot of on-air touts for this place. People really seem to love it. Even discounting the big portions-little prices aspect (which always gets a certain number of people going on about a restaurant, even when the food is awful), these reports held promise.
The first time I ate at Nuccio's, I liked it okay but was put off by the chef's gross overuse of cheese. Too much cheese is the sign of a chef who doesn't know what else to do. But since that time, Vincent Manguno has taken over the kitchen. I don't remember ever having met him, but I do know that he's the guy largely to blame for the original menu at the Creole Grille (formerly Mr. Ed's Creole Grille) on Veterans near Green Acres. That place was (and is) exceptional in its New Orleans and Creole-Italian food, without getting fancy about it.
Nuccio's is a much smaller restaurant. Once past poor boys, basic pasta dishes, and seafood platters, its menu is about tapped out. What Vincent brought to the table was a range of daily specials. These do not appear to run on a schedule (the Liver And Onions Every Tuesday phenomenon), apparently because Vincent has too many specials to work in.
Tonight, the waitress strongly urged me to get the fried chicken with white beans. That wasn't at all what I was thinking about for dinner, but I've found it profitable to listen to earnest servers.
This is fried chicken the way fried chicken was meant to be. Four pieces: breast, thigh, drumstick, wing. Lightly crisp, greaseless, thin crust with visible herbs. It took twenty minutes to appear, as fried-to-order chicken must. It was lip-blisteringly hot. When I cut in, the steam came out in miniature billows. (Some of that may have owed to the restaurant's gelid air conditioning, which almost sent me out to the car to get my jacket.) It was at least as delicious as any fried chicken I could remember.
It was preceded by a side salad that could easily have served as a light lunch unto itself. The chicken's plate was filled out with a pile of white beans and rice, again enough to make a meal. (With a piece of hot sausage, yet.)
Now the punchline. All this was $9.95. With the iced tea and tax, $12.94. No wonder the place was almost full when I got there. I would gladly have paid the same price for half as much food. Maybe even twice as much for chicken this good.
Nuccio's. Harahan: 7105 Jefferson Hwy. 504-305-1014.
It's over three years since a day was missed in the Dining Diary. To browse through all of the entries since 2008, go here.
|< Prev||Next >|