J’Anitas at Rendon Inn
4501 Eve St.
New Orleans, LA 70125
Napoleon's Rating - ***/*****
J'Anita's has been a restaurant on the move, finding its way to three addresses in the four years it's been around. At each turn, though, it has put out a consistently good -- and persistently improving - product. It's all more or less based on barbecue, creative sandwiches, fresh sides and unexpected but intuitively delicious specialties. Now, J'Anita's is inside the Rendon Inn, a watering hole with a long history but a hard-to-spot address off a side street in Broadmoor.
The Rendon Inn has been around since 1933, and it's seen its share of changes through the years. Today, this bar is quite a different place than it was even before Katrina. The room is big, open, bright and dominated by a central bar stocked with a good selection of local beers on tap. This broad bar makes a good perch for dining, and there's also a ring of tables to spread out a bit more with your dining companions. Remember though: this is a bar, with video poker and the like, so be advised that customers must be at least 21 to enter.
You order with the bartenders, who know their way around the menu and can give good recommendations. This is a friendly, low-key place, though if it gets at all busy the eaters and the drinkers compete for the bartenders' attention.
While sandwiches dominate the menu here, the style of J'Anita's is set right off the bat by creative, and often dangerously delicious, appetizers. The best example is called "Buddha's Temptation," and this is a long skewer of apricots stuffed with blue cheese, wrapped in bacon and fried. Sweet, tangy, meaty and addictive. Three lamb chops arrive over a huge bowl of cheese grits in what is billed as an appetizer but could easily be a full meal. I'm not crazy about the "crunchy hog balls," which are croquettes of pulled pork mixed with cheese, but if the hour was late I could see them making stand-up bar snacks. You'll find the fresh guacamole with house-made chips listed among the sides, but this makes a good starter too.
When J'Anita's first opened at its original address is was primarily a barbecue place. Pulled pork and beef brisket remain staples, but both of these barbecue standards are at their best when worked into J'Anita's creative array of sandwiches. The "swamp Reuben" is one example, combining both meats with slaw and barbecue sauce on toasted sourdough bread. You can get a basic burger, but more in keeping with the J'Anita's approach is one cooked in wine and dressed with caramelized onions, pears, blue cheese and a balsamic reduction. The "St. Chuck Duck" is even more decadent, with wine-cooked duck meat, apples, two cheeses and currant tapenade pressed into a hot sandwich. Officially listing one item as the "Best Fish Sammich Ever!" on its menu sounds a bit immodest, but J'Anita's may well be on to something. This extraordinary sandwich combines a thick cut of redfish with bacon, feta, grilled onions, romaine and Caesar dressing on ciabatta bread. This is one of the growing number of places in town to find fish and chips, though J'Anita's takes the unusual step of using redfish in its dark-brown beer batter. There's usually a plate special, like red beans and rice on Mondays and chicken fried steak on Wednesdays.
This is not much of a dessert place, though the one reliable finale here is worth a shot: Nutella taquitos. These are fried tortillas filled with the rich, chocolate and hazelnut spread, topped with powdered sugar and berry sauce.
The Rendon Inn has a full bar with a few basic wines and a very good selection of local beers on tap.
Prices are right on the mark for good bar food, and when some of the items seem a little more expensive they prove worth it. That redfish sandwich, for instance, is one of the few items to break the $10 mark and it still seems like a good deal given the quality. Appetizers that ring in at over $10 are usually big enough to stand in as full meals anyway. Stick with soft drinks and lunch should run you about $12 to $16. Start partying and get the drinks flowing and the tab is anyone's guess.
Eating at a bar is easy, but rarely is it as good as what you get from J'Anita's. The food is solidly satisfying and more often than not it's done in unexpected and original ways. J'Anita's also serves late, with the closing time determined by customer demand, so it's a good place to keep in mind for late-night meals. You need to take a few turns off the main roads to spot the Rendon Inn, but for a memorable tavern meal it's well worth seeking this place out.