We should know better than to judge any restaurant by its curb appeal, even when it’s slotted into a busy gas station and attached to a convenience store. If logging miles on the rural routes of south Louisiana has taught us nothing else, it’s that good eateries and handmade meals often share a roof with Big Oil brands at their service station outposts.
Still, Pelican Café (3901 Airline Dr., Metairie, 504-510-4367; pelicancafenola.com) snuck up on me. It’s part of a Chevron station by Cleary Avenue and looks like it’s been there a while. In fact, Pelican Café opened last month, and just last week owner John Roberts sent around a release announcing his new venture and introducing its consulting chef, Holly Diliberto.
Yes, she’s related to the late sportscaster Buddy D. But more to the point, she was proprietor of Blue Plate Café, which was in business Uptown from 2004 to 2013.
Diliberto is not serving her old Blue Plate menu here, but Pelican Café does dial into the same ideas of scratch cooking and creatively-conceived dishes, albeit in a different setting.
Pelican Café is a counter-service diner with self-serve fountain drinks, but also bottled beer (and a happy hour, Mon.-Sat., 3-7 p.m.). It’s a restaurant that serves on paper plates, but loads them up with creations like strawberry Brie French toast and pesto grits with vegetables for breakfast or, at lunch, an oyster and Brie wrap and a shrimp BLT po-boy with crab boil mayo.
That mayo was a flavorful touch on the shrimp and corn salad I tried, one dubbed the “roost salad,” a cool composition finished with remoulade and smokey chunks of sausage standing in for croutons.
This Pelican Café is a prototype of sorts for an expansion Roberts plans at some of his other filling stations. Later this year, he’ll open another at his Chevron station on Hwy. 59 in Mandeville (just off Hwy 12) and a third at an Exxon station in Chalmette, now being renovated for the role on Paris Road.
We could use more places like this — quick, casual, inexpensive but also creative and fresh. If crab boil mayo and sausage croutons are in your wheelhouse, you’ll want to steer in for a taste.
Pelican Café is open 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-7 p.m. Saturday, and 8 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday.
Follow Ian McNulty on Twitter @IanMcNultyNOLA.