New Orleans Day 5: Bams! Bloo Bloos and A Tale of Two Diners without Having Flashing My Man Boobs.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…bloo bloo bloo bloo bloo bloo bloo.  Remembering anything after the first line of A Tale of Two Cities, the famous Dickens novel, reminds me of Dr. Evil trying to remember the lyrics to  Joan Osborne’s “One of Us”.

My last few days in New Orleans still involved a few mandatory pit stops.  From a celebrity chef perspective, I still hadn’t travelled down the road to Emeril’s and I still had a few DDD to conquer to meet my predefined quota of 6 for the trip. I also wanted to swing by the Sazarac bar in the Famous Roosevelt hotel for the namesake cocktail.

Honestly, I didn’t have Emeril’s on my mandatory list but I certainly didn’t turn down the chance when I got invited to lunch.  I figured it would be best to sample a bit of classic Cajun cuisine with a bit of  fancy in the form of soup and salad (more specifically gumbo and lobster salad).  The dishes couldn’t have been different.  The gumbo was rich and thick and full of regional flavours and flare. The salad was crisp and refreshing.  I was pleasantly surprised by both and quickly forgot the annoying Bams! that made me angry for years before.  I did, however, read that the Bams! were a way to keep his staff awake.  While filming his show, we would do at least half a dozen  back to back in only a few hours and needed to scare his staff into staying attentive. The service was above average..for New Orleans anyway.

Emeril's New Orleans Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

After the conference sessions of the day were over, I became an aristocrat for 45 minutes and sipped a sazarac in the bar at the historic Roosevelt hotel.  Once a cognac based drink (in fact it still can be), since the 1870’s it has been more commonly served with rye whisky due to the fact the phylloxera epidemic in Europe devastated the vineyards of France and made cognac an endangered species.  Foodies probably also appreciate the fact that the sazarac starts with a herbsaint rinse.  Herbsaint is a locally produced anise-flavoured liquor which replaced absinthe when it was banned in the early 19th century due to its potential hallucinogenic properties.  The substitution may also be one of the first documented examples of locavorism. God bless America.

roosevelt-sazarac
Sazarac

For dinner I hit the French quarter to try the old coffeepot restaurant which could be the oldest restaurants on the illustrious and lengthy diner drive-in and dive list.  Established in the 1894, it didn’t take me long to realize that it likely still served some of the original patrons in 2016.  The decor was a cross between a museum and nursing home cafeteria.  Keeping in mind it was a Monday night, I didn’t think it would be packed but the huge space had only two occupied tables which soon became one when the one couple got tired of waiting for the rather apathetic waiter to make his rounds.  One thing I did appreciate was the Triple D combo, which allowed me to sample everything Guy had on the show in one dish. Although I knew this was going to be my order, I asked the waiter what he recommended and he nonchalantly told me he hasn’t tried anything on the menu. The danger with a preset Triple D menu that it usually allows the restaurant to inflate the price for the convenience and this was no exception.  Twenty-five bucks got me  jambalaya, green bean casserole, and fleur de lis chicken (with crab meat stuffing and topped with gulf shrimp) slopped onto a plate and garnished with a bit of parsley and paprika. It wasn’t the worse thing I have ever eaten but it seemed to be reheated as opposed to made to order.

coffee-pot-triple-d
Old Coffee Pot Triple D combo $25

As far as Triple Ds go, this one is among my least favorites.  I guess the Old Coffee pot restaurant is a bit synonymous with a good part of the French Quarter; tired and touristy.  The decor is desperate to reminisce on the glory days of the big easy and  the laissez-faire attitude of the staff  tainted the experience further. Finish it off with average food and I’m afraid the pot’s coffee left a bitter taste in my mouth.

Food- 2.5/5 Guyz

Decor- 3/5 Guyz

Vibe-2/5 Guyz

Total: 7.5/15 Guyz

The Old Coffeepot Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

I could have called it a night at this point but I had an ashtray I had to get rid of. I’m a sucker for a good gimmick and the Rivershack Tavern in Jefferson was right up my alley.  It’s tag line is “Home of the Tacky Ashtray”.  Essentially, if you bring in an ugly ashtray you get a free drink. In the past, I figure I’ve had to work a lot harder for a complementary beverage so I dropped by my local Value Village on my way to Detroit to find the perfect  mantelpiece for a bar 1645 km away.  After perusing through the shelves of donated knick-knacks, I laid my eyes on the prize…a rather ugly homemade chunk of ceramic which faintly resembled an ashtray.

A colleague and myself grabbed an uber and took the rather long drive out of New Orleans to the suburb of Jefferson.  We were quite entertained by the driver who told us story after story about her trails and tribulations about being a female driver in New Orleans while complaining about  the slew of WWE fans who poured into the streets outside the Superdome after the end of Monday Night Raw.

It was quite late when we arrived so it was far from busy but we were greeted by a friendly bartender.  We pulled up to the bar and sat on another of the bar’s gimmicks; the Bar Legs stools.  These homemade works of art have been part of the Rivershack’s decor since 1992.

Luckily, the kitchen was still open and offered bar food and burgers.  We ordered mushrooms and onion rings ($6.75 each) and a burger with jack cheese for $9.75 which were the perfect accompaniments to my free pint.  The food was far from gourmet (I did find it odd that the cheese on the burger wasn’t melted) but the batter on the snacks was seasoned nicely and the price was right for what you got.  While sitting on somebody else’s legs, I imagined if I lived in the area I would use my own legs to stroll down the road and catch a band at this rural eatery on a regular basis.

Although my visit was a little artificial given it was late on a Monday night, I did like the waiter and the gimmicks at the Rivershack.  The food was decent as well.  Plus, I can’t help feeling oddly proud about the fact that a little ceramic ashtray which was destined to collect dust on a Value Village knick-knack shelf in London is now permanently enshrined in the “Home of the Tacky Ashtray”.  It almost brings a tear to my eye.

Food-3.5/5 Guyz

Service-4/5 Guyz

Vibe-4/5 Guyz

Total- 11.5/15 Guyz

Rivershack Tavern Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

My Take

My last day in New Orleans was a food network extravaganza highlighted by lunch at one of the pioneers of celebrity chefdom’s establishments  and visits to two very polar Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.  It did remind me a bit of a Tale of Two Cities but instead of peasantry vs aristocracy ( I feel I experienced both in 12 hours), my tale is one which parallels the tired tourism of New Orleans with a shack on a rural road where one can come and hang with the locals, ashtray in hand, and get a free beer without having to expose his man boobs as a consequence.

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A Tale of Two Steakhouses: La Castile vs Jacobs and Co…What the Dickens!

It was the best of prime, it was the worst of prime…. it was aged and toothsome, it was aged and scrumptious….

Ok..that is an atrocious parody of one of the most recognizable paragraphs in the history of British literature but it may be the closest I will ever get to literary beauty of Charles Dickens.  I read an interesting blog post from Tori Avey, who did a beautiful job summarizing the attention to detail that Dickens penned in many of his famous works, especially when it came to his description of scenes in which food and drink were the central theme.

http://toriavey.com/history-kitchen/2012/12/charles-dickens-food-and-drink/

The steakhouse has a long tradition in dining folklore.  Although a steak is a ubiquitous item on restaurant menus,  making it the focal point of an eatery has a history as old as Dickens himself. Traditionally, there are number of key and consistent characteristics which make a steakhouse what it is:

  1. Mandatory dim lights and oversized tables, presumably to create a more relaxing environment and help with ugly dates.  In all seriousness, an interesting study was done by Cornell university in 2012 that demonstrated that dim lighting, white table cloths and soft music resulted in patrons ordering  just as much, rating the food higher, eating less and taking longer to finish which could mean more booze.. which can also help with the ugly date.
  2. A staff trained to remind you everytime…like a stewardess showing you how to buckle a seatbelt, when you order a steak that medium rare is bright pink in middle…every time.
  3. A menu which includes sleepy items for those who go to a steakhouse and don’t order steak.  This usually means chicken, some kind of fish and a token meatless dish in event a hapless vegetarian is in the mix.
  4. A steak menu which typically doesn’t include anything with the steak (except maybe one of those roasted tomatoes with the bread crumbs on top).
  5. Sides which include asparagus, mushrooms, creamed spinach and if you’re lucky…brussel sprouts.
  6. A place where shrimp cocktails and wedge salads never go out of style.

Despite this blueprint, there exists a huge spectrum ranging from old school to modern. In the last month I have gone to two steakhouses which represent both ends of the gamut.  On one side is La Castile, the Mississauga landmark which describes itself as “the place to see..the place to be seen”. Toronto’s Jacobs on the other hand, is probably actually the place to see…the place to be seen.   Let’s review:

The Website

When you go to the La Castile website, you will be serenaded by “In the Mood” by Glenn Miller while watching a slide show highlighting every nook and cranny of the large and twisted mansion.  Jacobs on the other hand, offers a silent review of its modernized menu without the need for background music from 1940.

The Piano Bar

Both have a piano bar tab.  La Castile offers  plush red velvet, dimly lit chandeliers, private alcoves and stained glass windows.  This creates a mystical ambiance offering live music from Wednesday to Saturday complemented by rumours of the odd Russian “escort”. Jacobs, on the other hand,   simply lists the Tuesday to Saturday lineup on the website and adhere to a bring your own escort policy.

The Decor 

La Castile is quite easy to find.  Located along Dundas St East near the 427, the best instruction is to “follow the light” as it next to impossible to miss the flames shooting out of the brick structure surrounding the restaurant.   Parking is abundant.  Jacobs, on the other hand, is in downtown Toronto on Brant Street right off of King. It’s grey, boxy exterior is rather subtle which is a sharp contrast to the fireworks of its suburban counterpart. Parking is scarce although you could opt for $20 valet parking if you don’t want the hassle.

La Castile has the classic steakhouse setup.  Walking in, you’re not sure whether or not you are at church, a funeral home or a museum.  Dated carpets, stained glass and plush chairs let people experience what first class in the Titanic would feel like.   A dress code is in effect of course which probably includes chain mail armour since I would not have been a bit surprised if I was seated at a table next to Peter Dinklage and served wine in a metal goblet.  Jacobs is a lot sleeker, abandoning the white table clothes  in lieu of bare modern wood tables and sleek chairs which omit the royal red plush.  The concept is much more open and much less distracting.  As the dress code, they don’t have to announce it…people just know.

The Service

La Castile opened in 1968 and I would be very surprised if the staff weren’t exactly the same as back then.  Of course,  they have aged since Woodstock but can now easily be referred to as grumpy old men in tuxedos instead of grumpy young ones.  Jacobs, on the other hand, has a much younger staff who, instead of looking like they are in a wedding party.  are dressed a bit more casually but still quite chic. They were far less grumpy as well.

The Food 

Steakhouses are like brunch; there is a unwritten permission to elevate prices slightly to much higher than the norm. This is somewhat the case with La Castile but the ceiling is somewhat limited by its stingy suburban patrons and the fact that most of the regular clientele still think it’s the 1970s.  Jacobs, on the other hand, takes advantage of its urban locale to price things in the stratosphere.  Twenty dollar Caesar salads and fifteen dollar sides surround steaks that are often $100 and can hit $700 if you want the really good stuff.

La Castile welcomes you with a sectioned silver tray filled with feta, dills and olives (and lots of water poured by Mr. Chucklelopolous to wash down the accompanying sodium).

La Castille Pickles
La Castille Pickles

At La Castile, I had to go for the french onion soup ($9) which fittingly came in a fitting medieval metal goblet/urn atop the same doily I used to slap on side plates when I worked in the restaurant industry in the late 80’s and early 90s.  There was no shortage of cheese and the broth was thick with onions.  All in all, it wasn’t bad but after the pickles and the soup, I was desperately searching for a diuretic which I was confident  one of the many waiters would have had in their pockets along with a nitro pill and maybe a Cialis.

La Castille French Onion Soup ($8)
La Castille French Onion Soup ($8)

For the main, I resisted the urge to insist to share the Chateaubriand with my table mates and  instead opted for the peppercorn steak, which was “deliciously sharp and served with wine sauce”.  Now, I’m unclear as to the sharpness but it was nicely seasoned and cooked a tad above a  proper medium rare but as a bonus also served with a California mix of vegetables also reminiscent on my 1980’s doily days.

La Castille Peppercorn Steak $44
La Castille Peppercorn Steak $44

Jacobs, on the other hand, started with their famous complimentary popovers, which are a mild twist on the classic yorkshire pudding (and set the stage for the general theme of a steakhouse with a modern twist). They hardly needed the butter given the fact they had a really rich flavour.

Now, I missed the table side assembly of the $19 caesar salad (I was a bit late getting to dinner) but it was waiting when I got there.  I’m missing the picture but I assure you it looked, smelled and tasted like a caesar salad.  I will go as far as saying it was one of the best one I’ve had in a long while.  The double smoked bacon was thick and delicious and the dressing was heavy with garlic.

The steaks are about quality, not quantity (not to mention the fact most are triple digits in price) so the table shared a local Ontario 12 oz Ribeye ($60) and an 18oz Nebraska bone-in striploin ($81) complemented with sides which included brussel sprouts and walnuts, duck fat fries, mushrooms and sauteed rapini (~$15 each). Upon request, they will slice the steak for you to avoid butchery or fights at the table. I failed to get a picture since there was a mad rush once the steak was placed on the table.   I did, however, snap the cornucopia once it was on the plate. The steak was cooked perfectly and was exceptional in flavour.  The sides were well prepared as well but I would hope so for the staggering price.

Jacobs steak and sides including mushrooms, rapini and duck fat fries
Two types of Jacobs steak and sides including mushrooms, rapini and duck fat fries

Even the offerings at the end of the meal  are indicative of the differences between the two restaurants.  While Jacobs brings a small plate of after dinner confections (cookies and chocolates) as well as a sinfully delicious packaged muffin for later to the table, La Castile sets a bowl of jelly beans (reminiscent of the ones I used to beg for out of the vending machine at a grocery store when I was 6 years old) by the door so one can grab a spoonful on the way out.

My Take

Although steakhouses across the board share numerous similarities, I think La Castile and Jacobs represent both ends of the spectrum.  La Castile comes in with a “if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it” mentality even though nothing has been fixed since 1968.  Whereas some may call the decor nostalgic (of medieval times perhaps), I call it tired but I suppose it works well for suburban johns with a fetish for Eastern Europeans.  Jacobs, on the other hand, focuses on aged steaks as opposed to aged decor, offering sleek surroundings in the heart of downtown Toronto and a  variety of special occasions steaks that fall well outside a lot of standard dinner budgets.

In the end, any steak house across the board including the many chains including  the Keg, Ruth’s Chris, Hy’s, Chop  etc, will follow a similar blueprint and inevitably cost you a small fortune.  That said, if you want to experience the extremes of this cuisine,  I think La Castile and Jacobs represent opposite ends of the spectrum whether it be urban vs. suburban, modern vs. traditional or a desire  to hobnob with the cool kids vs cosplaying  as Robb Stark in the red wedding scene from Game of Thrones. Something tells me if Dickens wrote “A Storm of Swords” instead of George R.R. Martin, then the description of the butchery of the meal would have been much more detailed than that of King Robb Stark and his ill-fated army.

Jacob's and Co. Steakhouse Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

La Castile Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato