Natives of Harahan and River Ridge know Charlie’s Seafood (or “Charles,” for those who go by the sign outside) as a neighborhood restaurant which served casual seafood dishes for 50 years before being shuttered by Katrina. Chef Frank Brigtsen grew up in the neighborhood and often dined there in his youth, so he and his wife Marna were undoubtedly thrilled with the opportunity to reopen the restaurant this past summer.
Regulars of the old Charlie’s will still find their favorite seafood platters on the menu, albeit now executed with a bit more pizzazz. Oysters and shrimp are fried flawlessly in an herbal cornmeal crust, while the catfish is first bathed in mustard before receiving the same treatment. All of the above are also available in 12-inch po-boy or 8-inch po-baby form, along with roast beef and gravy made from scratch or pulled pork slow roasted for five hours.
While the classics remain, the new and more adventurous selections show that this is not yo’ mama’s Charlie’s. “The Dirty Boy” appetizer tucks the seasonings and meat of dirty rice inside a pistolette slathered with butter. Think of it as a Sloppy Jeaux. With the stuffed eggplant, Brigtsen and crew show that their hearts are in classic New Orleans seafood while their heads sometimes veer to fine dining. Two disks of crunchy fried eggplant sandwich a rich filling of shrimp, oysters, and crabmeat in a luxurious cream sauce.
A few dishes miss the mark overall because of a misstep in one aspect. The Cane River Meat Pies have a delicious, flaky crust, but the filling could have been bolder, while the fried oyster Caesar salad failed from a dressing which lacked acidity and a minuscule confetti of bacon. A better choice would be one of the daily specials, especially on Thursday when $8.95 gets you a superb plate of tender pork grillades in a creole sauce with creamy stone ground grits.
The location and sign are still the same, and the array of fresh seafood which comes forth from the kitchen helps keep this neighborhood joint grounded. But an expanded menu plus a few coats of paint and polish showcase a different, perhaps better, restaurant reincarnate.
8311 Jefferson Hwy. 504.737.3700. Mon-Sat 11a.m.-9p.m.