review: mr. kowalski…

New Orleans, Louisiana

Chef Scott Boswell owns two restaurants in New Orleans. Named after the two lead characters in Tennessee Williams’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, A Streetcar Named Desire, Stanley and Stella! (yes, the exclamation point cleverly included) sit a few blocks apart from each other on Chartres (pronounces “charters”) Street in the French Quarter.

Having had nothing to eat all day except a bag of peanuts and two cocktails, The Hair was starving when we arrived at MSY in the mid-afternoon rain. Dropping our bags off at the hotel – conveniently, located between the two culinary Kowalskis – we met up with our friends Iggy and The Drummer, who had flown in the day before, and headed to Stanley for a snack to tie us over to our late dinner reservation at Stella! that evening.

I’ll get around to Stella! in a subsequent post.  In this one, I focus on Stanley.

Abita Amber
Abita Amber Ale
New Orleans, Louisiana

The circumstances under which Boswell opened Stanley are quite extraordinary.  Borne out of the post-Katrina quagmire, Stanley started as a humble burger outfit next door to Stella!  You can read more about Stanley’s wonderful story on its website (link at the end of this post; turn up your speakers and lace up your tapping shoes).

True to Williams’s script, Boswell casts Stanley in a workaday die.  Now occupying one corner of Jackson Square, this diner-meets-cafe is as tidy as its short roster of hearty breakfast and lunch items on a one-page menu.  Its food sustains.

Spartan and neat, I find the restaurant’s simply arranged interior immensely pleasant.  There’s a long marble-top bar lined with stools that runs along an open service area with a view of the (kitchen) line. Two rows of marble-top deuces run the length of the restaurant’s main dining room.  The ceiling is crossed with beams.  A modern-day Tudor would be proud.

But, whereas Williams’s Stanley is a brutish car parts salesman, Boswell’s version is more of a food-focused yuppie on his day off: laid-back enough for tees and denim (the standard-issue staff outfit), mindful enough to toss a cornmeal-crusted soft shell crab on his eggs Benedict. This Stanley knows how to eat.

P & J’s Louisiana Oyster Poor Boy
P&J’s Louisiana Oyster Poor Boy
New Orleans, Louisiana

We shared a “P & J’s Louisiana Oyster Poor Boy” ($11.50) and The Hair ordered a “P & J’s Oyster, Gulf Shrimp, Andouille Sausage, and Chicken Gumbo” ($9.50).

The cornmeal-crusted oysters in the poor boy – held together by a spicy remoulade and zippy cole slaw –  were plump and crispy. As juicy and well-battered as those oysters were, the dressing was the highlight of this sandwich. I wish there was just a bit more of it to soak into the bread, which though nicely toasted, was a bit too thick.

The gumbo was dark and flavorful and filled with shrimp, sausage and chicken, and just enough rice to make it a comforting meal in a bowl.

New Orleans, Louisiana

Iggy and The Drummer had breakfast here earlier in the day.  Iggy said that her “Bananas Foster French Toast” was the naughtiest breakfast ever; it came with ice cream ($11,50). It could be dessert. It sounds like a dream.  And so does just about everything else on the menu here. In fact, so hot and bothered was I over the all-ice cream dessert menu (yes, every dessert has ice cream in or on it) that I almost tempted myself into returning later in the week for the “Stella Uptown” – three scoops of rum raisin ice cream with carrot cake, sweet cream cheese sauce, whipped cream, walnuts, and a cherry on top ($8.75).

Despite its gruff namesake, Stanley gives good service.  The staff here is efficient and friendly. Hitting the restaurant at its lowest tide (late afternoon lull, right before dinner time), the food came out quickly.

Stanley is the type of place I’d love to spend a quiet weekend morning reading the paper, or a lazy afternoon reading a book over a cup of coffee while stealing glances out the window at the tourists, street-walkers, and fortune tellers in Jackson Square.

To see the photos from my brief visit to Stanley, CLICK HERE.

547 Saint Ann Street at Chartres Street
New Orleans, Louisiana

~ by ulterior epicure on January 22, 2010.

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