Jan 22, 2013

A Commoner Reviews Coop’s Place, New Orleans

This is less of a review and more of an affirmation of my love for one of my all-time favorite places to eat and drink in New Orleans – Coop’s Place on Decatur Street in the French Quarter, right by the entrance to the French Market.  Look for this sign …

So, what makes Coop’s Place so special?  Let’s start with the atmosphere and the drinks. 

The interior is everything you’d expect from a French Quarter dive bar.  Brick walls, wood-beamed ceiling with creaky ceiling fans whirling, video poker machines (which is why you must be 21 to enter, even if you’re just eating here), a mish mash of tables and benches of various shapes and sizes for seating, and a large round bar in the middle where the locals congregate when they prefer to drink rather than eat there (although you’ll find quite a few people dining at the bar as well).  The hours, typical of New Orleans, are 11 a.m. to “Close” – whenever that may be.  

The bar is well stocked, and the pours are customer-friendly.  And their bloody marys may be the best I've ever had.  In fact, Coop’s bloody marys are why I always have spicy pickled green beans in stock for a garnish.  The drinks are also reasonably priced.  The beer selection is decent.  You’ll find every Abita product here, of course, but you may also be surprised to find anchor Liberty Ale here as well. 

The service is surly but by no means hostile.  If you ask politely, you’ll get an upfront answer on what’s recommended to eat or drink on any given day.   Try not to act too much like a tourist, and you’ll be welcomed, especially if you go along with any ribbing that comes your way. 

Now, the food … Let’s just say the menu, which you’ll find on a large chalkboard on the wall, is nothing short of extraordinary in both its size, scope and reasonable prices.  And remarkably, they do it all exceptionally well.  I have never had an ordinary tasting meal here.  Everything has been outstanding.  And if staring at the chalkboard doesn't get you salivating, the smells of whatever they’re cooking out back on the smoker probably will (they make their own tasso on the premises, by the way). 

If you’re having trouble deciding, you won’t go wrong with a Coop’s taste plate – a sampling of seafood gumbo, shrimp Creole, fried chicken, red beans and rice, and their famous rabbit and sausage jambalaya, all for $12.95 or so.  The fried chicken is among the best in the Quarter, and the jambalaya is literally becoming world famous.  It’s regarded by many as the best in New Orleans, and I have to agree. 

Want more proof?  Look at what all the locals were eating the last time I was here … 

That’s the jambalaya supreme, which in addition to the shredded rabbit and andouille sausage has shrimp, crawfish and their homemade tasso.  I had to have a full bowl myself. 

If, however, you want to try something a little different, locals and critics alike rave about Coop’s smoked duck quesadilla or the marinated lamb ribs (Coop’s makes its own red pepper jelly for dipping).  Or, my personal favorite pasta dish there, Pasta Opelousas – boneless chicken, shrimp, tasso, Creole green beans and mushrooms all in a garlicky Cajun-style alfredo sauce.  It’s less than $10 and will make your taste buds dance with joy. 

And, if you’re stumbling by Coop’s for a late night breakfast (they aren’t open early enough for “regular” breakfast hours), you must try the hangtown fry omelette – fried oysters, bacon, green onions and cheese.  It’s a great safeguard against the next day’s hangover. 

My only quibble about Coop’s … it’s become so darn popular that it’s always crowded.  The last time I went there was with my friend Ken on election night last November.  At 8:30 p.m. on a Tuesday night, the place was still packed with as many people dining as drinking.  And the place has no room to expand (and I wouldn’t want it to; it’s part of the appeal).  Plus, they don’t take reservations.  But hey, there are worse things than being a victim of your success. 

At any rate, Coop’s Place is always a must-stop any time I’m vacationing in the Big Easy.  And yes, the food is worth the wait.  Just stand by, have a few drinks and take in the atmosphere. 

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