Old Arabi Eats
7005 St. Claude Ave., Arabi
THREE STARS (out of four)
New restaurants are turning up all over the New Orleans area, but it was still surprising to learn about this recent addition in Old Arabi. It's a fun, easy-going, moderately-priced cafe that's attuned to modern tastes, but set in an area where we don't normally find restaurants of this sort.
The restaurant feels like an old fashioned family diner that was taken over by the younger generation and redecorated with a mix of nostalgia and modern style. There are a few old booths and tables that could be in someone's country kitchen, while shelves of cookbooks and containers of fresh produced line the small bar. Lunch tends to be busier than dinner, and you see all types dropping in here for a meal.
This is a small operation run in a very hands-on style by its young owners. Service follows suit: casual and accommodating, knowledgeable and eager to make a good impression.
The menu is very short, and it normally starts with a couple of salads and a soup. These have been outstanding, including a wedge salad draped in tangy blue cheese dressing and spotted with radish slices and a heartier kale and butternut squash salad dressed with parmesan and lemon vinaigrette. They each crackled with freshness. The New England style clam chowder is quite an unusual find (in greater New Orleans in general, never mind St. Bernard Parish), but this is a textbook rendition thick but not gloppy, tasting of clams and herbs and black pepper.
The menu is just as short on main courses, but again the limited selection still shines. The star of the show is the roasted chicken, a half bird, bone-in, with a tawny skin and lots of juice inside. A savory sweet potato-pecan bread pudding, a side of dark green bok choy and a rich but thin jus completed the plate. A bowl of risotto was covered with a generous amount of good-sized shrimp, and proved very creamy and balanced. The right texture is not easy to pull off with this dish, but this one hit the mark. At lunch, pulled pork, slathered with dark, sweet barbecue sauce, was piled in great heaps on a sturdy roll for a filling sandwich.
There is a full bar, though it is very limited.
Old Arabi Eats is refreshingly moderate for its caliber of food, with first courses at $8 or $10 and entrees in the mid-teens. Two people can dine here well for $50.
A very welcome find, Old Arabi Eats combines earnest, down-home comfort and hospitality with the expectation that even straightforward dishes should be well sourced and well executed. It might not be a special occasion destination, but it should be on your map of good food down river.