Dick & Jenny’s Restaurant
4501 Tchoupitoulas St., New Orleans
FOUR STARS (out of four)
Dick & Jenny’s has been a popular destination Uptown for a long time. Today, the look and, to a large extent, the feel remains the same. But the ownership has changed, and the menu goes in a significantly different direction, adding more flavors from northern Italy to the mix.
Housed in an old bargeboard cottage down by the river, Dick & Jenny’s has a laid-back vibe that’s colorful, a little bit funky and one of the prime examples of the casual fine-dining approach so popular in New Orleans. If it's been a while since your last visit you may notice first that the back room, which had been mostly a waiting area in the past, is now a full-fledged dining room, greatly increasing the capacity. In the main room there’s a small bar for solo diners though people do tend to come here with groups. Lunch is much more low-key than dinner and an easy time to get in for a new look at the place.
Many of the people who work here have been at Dick & Jenny's for a long time and seem very familiar with the menu and comfortable giving recommendations for the favorites and new additions. They set the tone for casual meals where the food is taken seriously.
The new direction of the menus is not so obvious up front, where the appetizer list still features many of the house favorites. That starts with fried oysters with remoulade and slaw, a great dish to share around the table, and the frog legs, draped in a buttery hot sauce concoction. Fried green tomatoes, the chilled beet salad and the thick, country-style gumbo are also familiar hallmarks. One hint of what’s to come with the updated entrees arrives with the hot Caprese salad, which is an Italian classic deconstructed and re-imagined with roasted grape tomatoes, a sharp pesto and generous gobs of burrata cheese.
If the appetizers still hew more Southern, the entrees go big for northern Italian flavors and dishes, while leaving some room for the style in which Dick & Jenny’s has long worked. For that, look to the bouillabaisse, teeming with seafood in a heady saffron broth, or the scallops, seared to a crisp edge, topped with a fennel and grapefruit salad and rippling with a spicy olive oil. The unusual salmon duo is also recommended. A roasted flank of the fish is wrapped in a layer of the smoked version over a base of creamy cornbread and roasted Brussels sprouts. Speaking more directly to the northern Italian edge here now are the veal saltimbocca – prepared traditionally with the tender veal wrapped in prosciutto with sage – and the borsette, a hearty, heavy pasta dish of small purse shapes filled with crabmeat in a rich fontina cream sauce. The carbonara is a fascinating mix of source materials, with broad, tender pappardelle noodles and smoky pieces of pork belly interspersed with Southern-style mustard greens and topped with large, cornmeal-crusted fried oysters.
Straightforward desserts like crème brûlée and house-made ice cream will do the trick to finish things off, but if a big meal here leaves you full you won’t miss too much by skipping.
Cocktails and the wine list have each picked up a more Italian bent. The “buffalo soldier,” for instance, mixes bourbon, bitters and limoncello for a strong but balanced cocktail to set the stage. The northern Italian reds are versatile enough for meat or the heartier seafood dishes.
For such a casual-looking place, the menu reminds you that this restaurant keeps upscale ambitions, with a number of entrees breaking the $30 mark. It’s possible to chart out a less expensive meal with the pastas and salads, but a couple should expect to spend about $120 for dinner with drinks.
The changes at Dick & Jenny’s are significant but not sweeping. That’s good news for its longtime fans, who will find plenty of familiar ground with the menu and ambiance along with the new avenues to explore. If you’ve never been, here’s an interesting option for distinctive northern Italian dishes where a pedigree for contemporary Creole and Southern flavor is still carried proudly.