For months, the manicured dining rooms at Commander’s Palace have served as a proving ground for dishes intended to live in the wild. That starts with the crab boil hot fried chicken.
These test runs, quietly interspersed through specials, were conducted in preparation for Picnic Provisions & Whiskey. That's the new, separate Uptown eatery created by Commander’s Palace executive chef Tory McPhail, restaurant co-owner Ti Martin and their friend Darryl Reginelli, of Reginelli’s Pizzeria.
It opens Monday (Sept. 10).
It‘s a casual restaurant, at State and Magazine streets, in the former home of Noodle & Pie (which was, not coincidentally, the original Regnelii’s location).
The small, corner spot has been vividly re-imagined for Picnic Provisions & Whiskey. The dining room looks like a mid-century modern lounge, in wicker and gingham patterns. There's a tiny, four-seat bar with Art Deco contours. There's a Wurlitzer jukebox glowing and rocking away in a alcove custom made to fit it.
While it's an inviting setting, a cornerstone of the concept here is taking food to go. The kitchen opens directly to a pick-up counter for take-out and catering orders. It's part of the inspiration for the eatery that's also written into its name.
"This started with three friends getting together to do a restaurant and talking about the ways we all like to eat outside," said Martin. "We kept coming back to the idea of a picnic."
Sandwiches in the park, wine and cheese by the bayou, catered patio parties, maybe some tailgating - it all falls under that umbrella, and the menu (see below) was drawn to a correspondingly casual, social, party food format.
However, it's also a menu drawn up by McPhail, a chef accustomed to cooking at the peak of New Orleans cuisine. The partners here call the approach "fast fine."
“The idea is simple straightforward fresh all-natural foods,” McPhail said. "It’s doing everything down to the very last detail and caring about where the food comes from, but it's still casual food. Like the fried chicken, that’s a simple dish that we just shouldn’t take for granted."
The crab boil hot fried chicken at Picnic Provisions & Whiskey certainly is attention-grabbing, and it tastes precisely as advertised.
Traditional seafood boil spices go into the brine and also season the batter. The final touch is a salty, spicy sprinkling of pepper mash from the Crystal hot sauce production process.
Some examples sampled at a trial run had brittle crust and the multi-layered spice of a good boil - hot, but not just hot. You can get it in a sandwich or, for full effect, as a chicken basket, which comes with mushrooms and corn, garlic cloves and more seafood boil extras.
Underneath it all, the chicken itself is especially flavorful. The bird here is a heritage breed based on the French poulet rouge, sourced from Joyce Farms, a North Carolina-based purveyor known for high-quality, traditionally-raised poultry.
A chef's touch is evident across much of the seemingly casual menu, often in whimsical ways. The same meat goes into a chicken salad roll that is dressed with yogurt for a lighter edge, and then mixed with grapes that have been soaked in whiskey, for a boozy pop between the brioche.
The chiles for the pimento cheese are cooked in a hand-cranked roaster on the sidewalk. The sliced Duroc pork shoulder sandwich is dressed with liquefied headcheese. Quinoa is a toasty garnish sprinkled over just-seared tuna for a salad of greens and olives.
Smoked beef ribs, crab rolls dressed with green goddess ravigote, fish dip, chocolate cookie dough s'mores and straight up cheese assortments fill out the dine-in, take-out menu.
Still, the centerpiece here is bound to be that fried chicken.
While developing Picnic Provisions & Whiskey, McPhail field-tested many renditions of chicken. His research was thorough to say nothing of filling. It took in a circuit of fried chicken joints in New Orleans, including a number of gas stations known for their way around fried bird. It also entailed travel to other cities, including Nashville, where the sauce-soaked hot fried chicken has become its own regional flavor profile.
With crab boil hot fried chicken, combining two local obsessions, this new restaurant may be staking a claim to its own style.
741 State St., 504-266-2810
Daily, 11 a.m.-11 p.m.
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