Neyow's Creole Cafe
3340 Bienville Street
New Orleans, LA 70119
Napoleon's Rating - **/*****
The name Neyow's takes a little explanation. It's pronounced "neo's," and it is the owners' tribute to their favorite dog breed, the Neapolitan mastiff, though with some to customized spelling. Two little mastiff statues flanking the door are the first clue to this. But the name is about the only unfamiliar thing about this place. Neyow's is, top to bottom, a New Orleans neighborhood joint, and though it opened late in 2009 it shares DNA with the classic casual Creole soul format. That means stewed and smothered meats, pork chops and chicken, lots of fried seafood, red beans, po-boys and a righteous gumbo.
There is a very good vibe in Neyow's. The building was once a branch of a local pizza chain that never reopened after Hurricane Katrina, and it has been thoroughly and thoughtfully renovated since the flood here. There are now big windows looking out to the oaks and neutral ground of Jefferson Davis Parkway. There are tables outside protected by an awning, and a large bar that's ideal for solo dining. A dog theme runs through the décor (and even on servers' uniforms), which is kitschy but tolerable. The crowd is refreshingly diverse, especially at lunch when you'll see craftsmen, truck drivers, NOPD brass, nurses and attorneys packed into the dining room and around the bar together.
The service staff at Neyow's are really on the ball, more so than at many other restaurants of this sort. Dressed in neat uniforms, they take an old school approach, courteous, coordinated and speedy. Neyow's seems to function at its best when it's crowded and everyone is clicking together.
Gumbo is the don't-miss dish at Neyow's, and you might as well have it first as an appetizer. The "cup" portion is quite large (the "bowl" is like a tureen). It has a dark, thin roux with assertive amounts of filé and red pepper, which is then loaded with several types of sausage and ham, crab and shrimp. Other starters, like crab claws and crawfish croquettes, are too expensive for what you get, and anyway the portions here are large enough to forego any first course besides the gumbo.
Naturally, the dishes at Neyow's with the most in-house preparation yield the best meals. You can order the reasonably good fried chicken as its own entrée, but the better option is to get the excellent red beans or white beans with chicken on the side. That's a classic and unbeatable combination from the Creole soul kitchen. Fried pork chops are pounded thin but are wide enough to cover the dinner plate (and then some) and they have well-seasoned, crisp breading. Avoid the BBQ shrimp unless you really want shrimp doused in sweet, thick barbecue sauce, which defines this unusual preparation. Pasta dishes are served in huge portions, but are less exciting than the smothered chicken or the smothered okra. Po-boys are pretty standard, and while the roast beef can't hold a candle to that found at Parkway Tavern & Bakery just down the road, the shrimp version features exceptionally large specimens. Go on Tuesday, and po-boys are on special for $6 each (except the oyster), making them excellent values.
It's nice to see a classic, straight-up ice cream sundae on Neyow's menu, though I'm partial to the bread pudding, which seems like the only option made in-house.
There's an open bar, and while this isn't the place to order a terribly fancy cocktail they do mix a strong drink.
Prices here are moderate and reasonable for a neighborhood restaurant. Stick with the list of daily specials and you're in for a serious bargain. Many of these dishes are under $8 and are very filling.
Neyow's is a welcome addition to the restaurant scene. We have plenty of well-known neighborhood restaurants that follow the Creole-Italian format, but Neyow's brings a new option for Creole soul and does justice to the standards of this down-home, utterly satisfying cooking. Hopefully, its central, crossroads location and smooth-running operation will help introduce or reacquaint many local diners to the pleasures of this style.