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Review: K-Paul's Louisiana Kitchen

Ian McNulty finds the French Quarter institution is serving up a great lunch deal for visitors and locals alike

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Run a restaurant for a few decades and you'll see some ideas come and go. After some time, you might even see some ideas come back.

  That's how lunch service returned to K-Paul's Louisiana Kitchen in 2009 — in time for the famous restaurant's 30th anniversary. From just a few days a week initially, lunch service has expanded to five days and has become one of the great and unheralded deals for a midday meal in the French Quarter.

  Executive chef Paul Miller, who has worked with chef and proprietor Paul Prudhomme since his tenure at Commander's Palace in the 1970s, says the restaurant resumed lunch partially in response to the poor national economy and its impact on tourism business. It's also a throwback to the early days of the restaurant, when it sold po-boys, plate lunches and butcher shop meats from a second-floor operation called K-Paul's Louisiana Grocery.

  Today, K-Paul's promotes lunch as "deli-style," essentially turning its ground-floor dining room into a wide-ranging Cajun-accented cafeteria. The menu changes weekly and most main dishes cost between $10 and $12. Diners order at the bar, seat themselves and a short time later a server hollers their name and delivers a tray. Everything is served on paper or plastic, and even condiments come in single-serve packets. This may reduce staffing, but it does seem an awful waste with the restaurant's dinnerware and dishwashing station sitting idle.

  The plates may be disposable, but most of the meals on them are keepers. This is lunch fare done by an upscale kitchen with no freezer and lots of hands-on technique. Lemon and anchovies practically leap from the dressing for Caesar salads (which is sometimes topped with fried chicken tossed with garlic butter). There might be Cajun-style smothered beef masquerading as beef Stroganoff, the meat cut from the same tenderloins used at dinner, the house-baked roll ready to sop up the gravy, the divider plate holding discreet portions of steamed vegetables netted under caramelized onions.

  As on the dinner menu, lunch dishes can travel far from traditional Louisiana fare. I didn't expect to find Brunswick stew on Chartres Street, nor a shrimp curry or a rice noodle salad, but they made excellent lunches. The penchant for excess that can sometimes muddle K-Paul's dinner menu often turns up at lunch, too. For instance, a recent "fried sunken eggplant pirogue," filled with pork in marchand de vin sauce, could have been deconstructed into two or three separate dishes.

  The best choices are usually the most straightforward, albeit with a few distinguishing touches. White beans came with a chicken cutlet that, under its crisp coating, still carried the aroma of the smoker it visited before the fryer.

  The lunchtime format channels some of the spirit of today's pop-up trend — featuring restaurants within restaurants and unorthodox but delicious food finds. But with such a long history and deep roster of recipes, K-Paul's can claim this lunch twist as something all its own.

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