4200 Magazine St
New Orleans, LA 70115
Napoleon's Rating - **/*****
The name of his casual Uptown café is of course a reference to the comic hero of the great New Orleans novel "A Confederacy of Dunces," and, like the character of Ignatius J. Reilly himself, this place seems obsessed with sticking close by home. For a restaurant, this means a menu and décor that screams "New Orleans," sometimes a bit too loudly but usually in a way local diners should appreciate.
Ignatius shares ownership with the Rue de la Course coffee shops, and it even shares the same dark wooden chairs and tables. The defining feature of this rather narrow, bright spot though are the efforts to make it resemble the corner grocery it once was. Shelves above the tables are lined with New Orleans staples like Camellia red beans, bottles of hot sauce and jars of spices.
Service is very casual, but generally sweet. Most of the staff is fairly young and look as though they could instantly switch shifts with anyone working the counter at the owner's nearby coffee shops. But they're all nice enough and keep pace with the busy lunch and brunch rushes. There are some unusual service touches here though. Bread and even the beer bottles are delivered to the table in brown paper bags, perhaps a nod to the grocery store theme.
There's a pretty short list of first courses at this place, including a very good boudin link and shrimp remoulade. The soups are the really winners though. There's a thin but very dark roux in the chicken and sausage gumbo and the crawfish, corn and potato soup has the flavor of a whole crawfish boil locked up in a bowl. Entrees are generally filling enough, so you can dive right into these without an appetizer, especially is you're aiming for a semi-light lunch.
Despite the "everything New Orleans" vibe here, the menu finds room for some good additions from nearby Cajun country, and in this vein makes a major specialty out of boudin. The love-it-or-leave-it rice, liver and pork sausage is broken out of its casing and mixed into meatloaf. This started as a special but has found a permanent place on the menu, which is a happy development since it's now one of the best dishes here. It also gets mixed into an omelet on the brunch menu, which makes a particularly good choice. Skip the jambalaya, which was scrawny and dry. On the other hand, the crawfish etouffee is creamy and spicy and loaded with crawfish tails that really stand out rather than getting washed out in the stew, a common pitfall. Crawfish Ignatius is clearly the kitchen's send-up of crawfish Monica, the famous Jazz Fest dish, though here it's made with fettuccini and lighter cream sauce and with more crunchy vegetables. The roast beef po-boy is one of my new favorites of the genre. The meat is of the tender, pulled strand type rather than chunks or slices, and the seasoning and the gravy are both top notch. Ignatius is another place making a case for shrimp remoulade as a suitable po-boy filling. You get big doses of mustard and horseradish over the plump sweetness of the shrimp, all inside the crisp French bread.
The bread pudding or the pecan brownie a la mode are decent finales if you have a nagging sweet tooth but aren't particularly special.
Bottled Abita beer or iced tea (also bottled) appear to the house drinks here. I was surprised to find a wine list that went beyond "red or white." Not surprisingly, given the relation to Rue de la Course, the coffee is very good.
Prices are moderate but can sneak up on you given the casual atmosphere. Entrees are between $10 and $18 and most po-boys are over $10.
People from out of town might imagine that New Orleanians eat nothing but our famous local dishes, and if they came to Ignatius and saw the intensely local menu they might take it as proof positive. After a few meals of the faithful local flavors here, I found myself wondering why we don't dine on Creole standards more often than we actually do. If the New Orleans theme is laid on a bit thick at Ignatius, the food generally delivers a reminder of the great wealth of flavor we can sometimes take for granted living here.