Winter is the perfect time to explore the natural stone shelters where native Arkansans once lived
Making good on the familiar cliche, Maddie's Place proves the third time indeed can be the charm. Brian Deloney's Cajun-Creole bistro is thriving in the seemingly jinxed building that was the original home of Faded Rose but has struggled in two successive incarnations despite its seemingly advantageous location between the current Rose and Buffalo Grill on Rebsamen Park Road.
Since day one in late January, Maddie's, not surprisingly, has been packed. Our collective local dining public is always hungry for new choices, particularly when they're served up by a local chef made good — an Emeril disciple who earned his chops working for the ubiquitous TV chef in New Orleans and Las Vegas before returning home, his wife pregnant with twins, to help reopen the Capital Hotel.
Deloney's credentials help explains the early buzz, but the hordes persist because his food is fabulous — simple, sublime, creative, boldly flavored and very reasonably priced. Friends, particularly avowed foodies, all have raved. Only one colleague who got his food to go hasn't jumped on the Maddie's bandwagon, and we'll bet his tastes will turn.
Despite our better judgment and rigorous journalistic discipline, we committed a cardinal reviewer's sin — bopping in for lunch on the second day Maddie's was open. We were prepared to offer Maddie's a slab (or at least sliver) of slack, but none was needed. It was just meal three in the restaurant's hopefully long life, and the food and service were almost flawless.
Gumbo is the logical starter at any Cajun-Creole restaurant, and Maddie's chicken-andouille is front and center on the manageably sized menu. We had the cup ($4) and were thrilled with its rich and dark roux, shredded chicken and flavorful hunks of spicy sausage, the “holy trinity” vegetable base providing the backbone. A more unexpected delight was the roasted garlic and parmesan bisque ($3 a cup), the shaved parmesan providing a nice contrasting kick to the light but flavorful broth.
The po' boys scream “Nawlins!,” and what else would any sandwich lover want his shrimp, oyster, crawfish, catfish, sausage or even hamburger or smoked turkey po' boy to exclaim? The formula is simple, but it's so often messed up. Not here, at least on our sandwich: plenty of decent-sized, freshly fried, not over-battered shrimp served with a remoulade, mayonnaise (either or both), shredded lettuce and tomato wedged into a fresh foot-longish loaf of Leidenheimer bread. It's the New Orleans staple, the real deal — chewy with a bit of flaky crunch on the top. And at $9 it checked in at $2 less than our last one in the Quarter.
Our fish-loving friend raved about the grilled salmon with stewed okra and roasted garlic grits, a nice-sized, thick, flaky filet atop a still-perky okra melange with a side of grits that screamed garlic. It seemed a bargain at $13, and it's refreshing to see nothing over $15 on the menu.
Our waitress 'fessed up early on: she's not really a server but rather a baker who had been pressed into food-schlepping duty. She was friendly and attentive, but once we tried her pecan pie we understood that waitressing was not her highest calling. Flaky homemade crust (who does that anymore?) supported a generous dose of pecans and luscious, sweet, buttery wonderfulness. The bread pudding was gooey (our less-than-thrilled colleague called it soggy), saturated with whiskey sauce, a style we preferred over the dry, sitting-up-high versions we've had lately, definitely “bready” but undeserving of the “pudding” moniker.
Finally — and apologies for the out-of-sequence report — we saved the best for last: the oyster-studded spinach salad. If you want to pop by Maddie's and have a light lunch that might be the best $8 you spend in a while, go for this bowl of baby spinach leaves, dosed judiciously with a hot bacon vinaigrette that includes bacon pieces as meaty as pancetta, four plump, lightly battered oysters and two pieces of crostini topped with a thin piece of brie warmed to softness.
Our expectations were high, the place had been open for 24 hours, we treasure our New Orleans favorites — but even with all that threatening to compromise our first experience we were impressed every step along our first culinary journey at Maddie's.
1615 Rebsamen Park Road
The soups by the cup are dirt cheap and all fabulous. The gumbo definitely contends for “best in town” status.
11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday-Saturday.
Credit cards accepted. Inexpensive to moderate prices. Full bar.