Research for last week’s column on the enduring popularity of plain, traditional king cakes led me to McKenzie’s. Yes, that means the co-branded Tastee Donuts, which now has the McKenzie’s logo and recipes.
But it also brought me to the doors of the first two McKenzie’s locations. One serves a riff on king cake, though not actual king cakes. And the other is still technically a McKenzie’s by another name, though now it’s a spot for chicken, not pastry.
I know that sounds about as straightforward as a braided king cake. But I’ll untangle things below and share some tips for parade food at each spot.
The first visit was to the original location of McKenzie’s at 4924 Prytania St. Today it’s the ice cream parlor Creole Creamery, though the old bake shop’s name is stilled traced in neon on the facade.
In the freezer case, there’s king cake ice cream – vanilla mixed with cinnamon flavor, Carnival-color sprinkles and chunks of king cake. Which king cake? It varies. Creole Creamery chef Bryan Gilmore changes it up, though he prefers moist, sweet grocery store brands for the way they hold together through the ice cream-making process.
He also uses this to make an ice cream king cake – eight scoops of king cake ice cream shaped into a ring, with icing on top and a plastic baby chilling inside.
Creole Creamery is a few blocks off the Uptown parade route. When you need a break, a Carnival inspired scoop here could be just the thing.
From that first Prytania Street shop, McKenzie’s grew to 50 locations. The second opened in Gentilly in 1948. Four years later, this location, at 3829 Frenchmen St., was where the company introduced its McKenzie’s Chicken-in-a-Box concept, a take-out fried chicken joint.
There were supposed to be more, though they never materialized.
The chicken operation was always a separate company from the bakery chain. That’s why, after McKenzie’s shuttered in 2001, this little outpost remained. Situated on the high ground of Gentilly Ridge, it even weathered the Katrina levee failures with relatively light damage.
Today, you enter the front door under the old McKenzie’s sign and find a vintage bake shop with barren shelves and empty racks. It feels a little ghostly, until you spot McKenzie’s Chicken-in-a-Box burbling and sizzling away in back. It is still run by Gerald Entringer Jr., whose grandfather, Daniel Entringer, bought McKenzie’s in 1932 from its namesake, Henry McKenzie.
It occupies just a corner of the big old bake shop, though the menu has expanded lately, with po-boys and seafood plates, ribs and an array of extras (gizzards, livers, turkey necks).
Fried chicken is naturally still the centerpiece. It’s crisp, a little oily, liberally-peppered, economical (just over a $1 a piece) and, of course, boxed.
In other words, it’s good parade route chicken, especially if you’re headed through Gentilly…and particularly if you’re ready for a detour down memory lane.
4924 Prytania St., 504-894-8680
3829 Frenchmen St., 504-943-8908
Follow Ian McNulty on Twitter @IanMcNultyNOLA.