4402 Jefferson Hwy
Jefferson, LA 70121
Napoleon's Rating - ***/*****
Joe Sepie's Café is the kind of place where you can get the usual New Orleans dishes you know by heart, but where they're done so well they don't feel standard. Po-boys are the focus, then there's the familiar line-up of fried seafood platters and red sauce Italian dishes and plate lunches, plus some particular specialties like tamales.
Primarily a lunch place, the café also serves an early supper (until 8:30 p.m.) Wednesday through Friday. Clean and comfortable enough, this café still feels a bit shoehorned into its small space. The wall of windows faces a bus stop along Jefferson Highway, and the room has the vintage feel of a cafeteria you might expect to find in a bus terminal. The wall-mounted TV is usually on, and most tables are small, high rounds surrounded by bar stools.
You order at the counter, usually from the owner himself, who is efficient and can provide some helpful recommendations from the menu. Orders are brought to your table quickly.
The soups change frequently and they are always worth a look. Recently, a crab bisque had good smoky flavor from charred corn and peppers. The excellent French fries are cut in-house and come out hot and crisp, while onion rings are made with sweet Vidalia onions. One of the more interesting options is the muffuletta stick, which is essentially a collection of muffuletta filings bundled up in an eggroll wrapper, coated with breadcrumbs and fried. Bite in and hot cheese, olive salad and salami bursts forth. It's a novel and delicious treat.
Po-boys are the main act at Joe Sepie's and debris-style roast beef is at the top of the list. In fact, there are three different versions. The standard rendition is a fine start, though for the kitchen's "ultimate roast beef" the sandwich gets a dose of homemade steak sauce, sautéed mushrooms, cheese and shredded romaine. Then there's a BBQ beef cooked down with a semi-sweet barbecue sauce.
Burgers here are modest by design, weighing in at just three ounces per patty. They're called "splat burgers," allegedly for the sound the thin patties make as they hit the griddle, and they're like a throwback to the old, classic diner-style burger.
Joe Sepie's is also a place to find old-fashioned, New Orleans-style hot tamales. An order of a half dozen of these cigar-shaped tamales arrived in a bowl of their dark, salty juice and proved dense and vividly flavorful.
Creamy white beans and rice with fried catfish, the hamburger steak with eggplant casserole and the chicken parmesan are all good examples of plate lunch comfort food, but the crab cakes take things to another level. Hand-packed, meaty and well-seasoned, they'd be right at home at a much fancier restaurant and with a side of white remoulade a pair of them makes a great meal.
There's usually a pie, cheesecake or chocolatey creation waiting on a cake plate by the counter. If these are homemade then they don't get the same level of attention as the savory cooking. They'll get the job done if you're craving dessert but otherwise they aren't noteworthy.
This doesn't look like the type of place to wash down a $14 lunch with a glass of wine, but plenty of people do. The selection of 10 or so wines is thoughtfully chosen, with none of the usual supermarket brands. Otherwise, most people drink iced tea or soda from the self-serve beverage counter.
Seafood platters and some other entrees break into the double digits, but if you're coming here for a sandwich you'll find most po-boys priced under $8 and those thin burgers under $4. Get a side and a drink and you're looking at spending between $10 and $15 for lunch.
As any aficionado of our hometown classics knows, it's the seemingly little things that can make one rendition of such fare stand out. Joe Sepie's Café is a place to see this adage in action. You may know all of the selections on this menu well before ordering, but you might just leave with a new favorite.