1031 Decatur St
New Orleans, LA 70116
Napoleon's Rating - ***/*****
Stanley is a chef-driven diner, which means there's a creative culinary approach applied to the casual, quick breakfast and lunch business. The chef driving it all is Scott Boswell, owner of the ultra high-end restaurant Stella just a few blocks down the street, which shares the same Tennessee Williams literary allusion in its name.
Some will remember this Jackson Square spot as a pre-Katrina location of the chain café La Madeline, which never reopened after the storm. Stanley took over after an extensive and beautiful renovation that installed a large, cool, marble-topped diner counter with swivel stools. Other seating at small tables can feel a bit cramped, and the place stays very busy through prime meal times or any time large numbers of visitors are in town. A prime asset of the spot is its window-lined walls, which give beautiful views out to the majestic buildings of Jackson Square and offer priceless people watching.
The pace here can seem hectic, as befits a quick-serve diner. The staff seems to manage the bustle effectively, though sometimes the wait for orders to come through can be uncomfortably long. Expect to find a sign-in sheet at the door and then cool your heels for a bit before a table opens up.
Gumbo is the great first course here, and it's a very fine rendition with a thin but very dark, intense roux loaded with oysters, shrimp and andouille. Onion rings are of the soft, puffy variety rather than the flaky, crisp style. Fries are forgettable.
The elaborate-sounding egg dishes are the best eating at Stanley, all the more so if they happen to include fried seafood or boudin. In the first case, eggs Stanley have cornmeal-crusted oysters, perfectly poached eggs and frothy, buttery hollandaise over an English muffin. In the second case, eggs Breaux Bridge balances meaty, spicy boudin patties over French bread rounds with poached eggs, more hollandaise, ham and the unusual addition of American cheese. The burger is straightforward and fine, though not very exciting. The Reuben is a better bet, with butter-crisped rye, lots of corned beef and crunchy kraut. The oysters and soft shell crabs used on po-boys and egg dishes are perfectly fried and vividly flavorful. Some unique dishes are better in theory than practice, like the eggs Benedict po-boy that instantly spills its eggs out the back when you try to bite in. The Korean barbecue beef po-boy is one of those culinary curiosities that beg to be tried once but don't seem destined for greatness. The meat is served cool, and it's dressed with kimchee, the tart, pickled Korean-style cabbage. I'm glad I tried it for the novelty, but have not craved it since.
As a diner that doubles as an old fashioned ice cream soda fountain, you know the desserts have to be good. Stanley's ice creams are made in-house and while there is nothing too wild on the menu it all benefits from the hands-on, small-batch production. These go into shakes, floats, waffle cones (again, made in-house) and sundaes, like the marquee Stella Uptown, with rum raisin ice cream, carrot cake, sweet cream and walnuts.
Stanley serves beer and eye-openers like bloody Mary's and mimosas and, being in the middle of the French Quarter, lots of people indulge. Others can console themselves with the refreshing Italian soda selection, like blood orange or pomegranate.
Some items at Stanley can induce sticker shock. A po-boy for $17? Yes, though that's the extreme example of the specialty Korean beef. You can find breakfast plates, sandwiches and salads for under $10 and those salads are particularly large and fresh. Still, prices overall are a good cut above what you might expect to pay at a diner, and it's easy to drop $40 on lunch for two here.
Eating in the French Quarter can present some challenges if you're not up for making reservations at a fine restaurant and unwilling to settle for the standard fare dished out at tourist-oriented eateries. Stanley fills the niche between these two bookends of the dining scene nicely. Though more expensive than a diner, it's also much more creative and satisfying and makes memorable New Orleans meals a casual, come-as-you-are reality.