I’ve eaten a lot of places in New Orleans. Most places have been at least good if not spectacular. Over all the years I’ve only had one truly bad meal in the city (involving chicken bones and bread pudding, but that place is long gone) but I have had a few mediocre ones… a couple of meals that were just close to completely uninspiring.
I don’t write about the really bad ones (well, not here) and I rarely write about the typical ones, but in this case it’s gotta be a public service. I have to tell you about Felix’s Restaurant.
*Note: Felix’s Restaurant in New Orleans is not to be confused with Felix’s Fish House in Mobile, AL -- which I adore.
Now, the restaurant will tell you the place has been around since 1900. I can believe that. The menu also says the place has been family owned and operated for more than 70 years. I’ll believe that, too.
I first wandered into Felix’s back in March 2008. It was a Monday night, it was late, we were hungry and it was open. It was just a block away from the Hotel Monteleone and it was about 11 p.m. Its location on the corner of Bourbon and Iberville seemed opportune, and we figured we’d eat and then see what was going on along the Walk of Decadence.
The place was about half deserted, being a Monday night. We were lead back past the bar into the empty backroom, where Paul and I played with the condiments and the camera until we could get service. And maybe that was a good thing -- since this particularly iconic shot has become for all intensive purposes the shot people recognize me by.
Fortuitous as far as that shot goes, not so much for the food. We both ordered sandwiches of a sort -- he went for the Crawfish Po-Boy (now $9.95) and I got the 1/.2 Po-Boy and Side (now $12.95) with the crawfish etouffee. We also ordered fries, which we discovered come on the side separately for $3.75, big pencil-sized yellow fries sprinkled with salt and parsley. That’s about all I can say for the fries.
And for the Po-Boys? Not much more than that. The crawfish was passable but not enlightening, salty but not spicy, with the world’s saddest mealy tomato very thinly sliced on top. The crawfish etouffee was decently good but not spectacular, with a yellowish roux and plenty of rice.
I’m not saying the food was bad, I’m just saying it was nothing to write home about. And so I didn’t.
Nearly three years later, I’m with Paul and four of our friends in the Quarter on a Friday night, 8pm, hungry and waiting in line at ACME Oyster House across the street. We’d called and asked how the line was just 10 minutes before we left the Hotel Monteleone, and were told there was no line. That wasn’t the case when we got there.
A half hour passes and we’re all getting hungry and irritable. I was standing there wishing Mike Anderson’s was still open on Bourbon, but alas it’s long gone (the remaining restaurant is in Baton Rouge, you should go). The line into ACME hadn’t moved. We had an early start the next morning. I warned our crowd that Felix’s Restaurant wasn’t all that great the last time I tried it, but we went anyway.
We saw a group getting up from a table near the front and went and perched by it but were shooed into the back of the place by a waitress who saw us come in. We did have to wait a few minutes before we got service, but the place was hopping with hungry people and that was to be expected, I guess.
Our waitress brought us menus and beverages -- mostly iced tea all around -- and departed while we looked. She came back for orders and we did what friends do -- yap at each other around the table.
A couple of our friends had ordered up some sweet potato fries ($4.75) -- and received a big plate of thick Sharpie-thick planks with a nice crust. They were of the crispy, meaty variety and were served with ketchup, which did get the approval of one of the partakers who complained how they usually come with cinnamon butter or honey at other places. Ketchup got a kudo.
The hubster and I had ordered up a half dozen Oysters Bienville, thinking we’d split what we had that night and enjoy it that much more. They came out on a bed of rock salt -- unfortunately, I didn’t notice that off the bat but I realized it well when I did my usual thing and attempted to eat one straight out of the shell. My bottom lip was covered and I needed half my tea and a moment of hacking to get back to the half-shells.
That being said, the Oysters Bienville ($9.95 half-dozen, $16.95 a dozen) were good… the oysters were salty but not rubbery, the cheese and the bits of shrimp, pepper and onion underneath balanced nicely. In fact, if I had only ever had the Oysters Bienville I think I’d adore this place. Yes, there was a shard of shell in one of them, but that’s about average. I really liked them.
I just wish I’d liked the next dish better. Each of the couples at the table had ordered the same thing, the Fried Seafood Platter ($17.95), thinking it should be big enough to share and enjoy. Well… well. Where to start? I guess I need to start with the coleslaw. It was weird. It had pickles in it. Pickles. In coleslaw. What? I suspect that instead of mayo they used tartar sauce. It wasn’t terrible, to me -- but most of my other tablemates hated it. Except the hubster -- who thought it was refreshingly tasty. He ended up eating the slaw from most of our plates.
Then there was the catfish… I am a catfish snob, but when I get a good piece of catfish I really enjoy it. This was not the case. I took one bite, recognized a muddy flavor and rinsed my mouth. I thought maybe I wasn’t being fair about it so I tried it again and got the same muddy flavor. I didn’t touch it again. But the hubster ate it all.
Then there were the shrimp -- and those? Those I liked. They were golden fried in a flour batter and they were tasty. I should have just ordered a shrimp platter in hindsight.
And then there were the fried oysters, and once again I got this impression. The oysters, though not the best fried oysters I’ve had (that honor goes to Mobile’s Wintzell’s Oyster House, in case you were wondering) they were nicely seasoned and a little crispy and meaty. Again, wish I hadn’t ordered the catfish with them.
The fries were… fries. Decent. Good with ketchup.
We were all about done, but one of my tablemates insisted she wanted Red Velvet Cake. It sounded wonderful to me but I had eaten plenty during the day and didn’t think the sugar would be a good idea. She offered to let me try it when she got it. And when she got it…
Again, weirdness. Because I have never seen a Red Velvet cake that’s reached quite this color before. Honestly, it was almost a day glow red, bright and scary looking. It was topped with a thick layer of cream cheese frosting dotted with red dessert sugar, with a layer of almonds across the back. It just didn’t look quite right.
And the flavor -- very cherry-ish. The frosting was quite good, and the addition of the red sugar crystals was unusual but fine. But still… it was just weird.
We walked out of there after settling up, thinking it just wasn’t the sort of place we were going to visit again. There was disappointment involved, which is just not what you should experience after any French Quarter meal. You just shouldn’t.
But I’ve had time to reflect since then, and I really wonder. I’m thinking Felix’s benefits from two things. One is its fabulous location a block off Canal on Bourbon. All those people who flood into the Quarter off the streetcar come past this street, and I’m sure there are many others who have given up on the lines at ACME and headed on over. Location is good.
If there was anything I’d ever go into the restaurant again for, I think it’d be to sit at the oyster bar and have myself a half-dozen raw. Maybe I just have high hopes for the oysters, or maybe it was the rascally gentleman behind the counter who’s flirted with me both times I’ve entered and exited the restaurant. Made me feel like we were sharing a secret I had yet to divulge, you know?
You’ll find Felix’s Restaurant at the corner of Bourbon and Iberville in the Quarter. Check out their website or call (504) 522-4440.