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Review: Porter & Luke's

Ian McNulty on a new Metairie spot where Creole-Italian standards are the strong suit

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  The squiggles and strands of robustly flavorful meat are tender and laden with gravy but not sloppy with it. The top of the French loaf is crisp, while the bottom essentially becomes one with its moist contents. Eating this bundle requires a two-fisted effort. The techniques for lifting, maneuvering and holding it together are tribal skills shared by locals weaned on such po-boys, and you see them on display all around the busy dining room at Porter & Luke's.

  This Old Metairie eatery opened in the space formerly occupied by Zeke's Restaurant. But from office lunch outings to tables of kids wearing sports uniforms to retirees out for early supper, people knew precisely what to expect from Porter & Luke's from the start. That's because this restaurant is drawn from the template of the New Orleans neighborhood joint, with a neater, though blander, appearance and a few menu updates. Many of the new regulars were already acquainted with chef Vincent Manguno, who learned his chops at La Riviera (a Metairie institution of the pre-Hurricane Katrina era) and has built his career at similar Creole-Italian restaurants.

  Porter & Luke's excels at the local standards. Monday red beans with massive ham shanks, seafood gumbo, turtle soup and a sharp, lemony shrimp remoulade all ring as true as the roast beef po-boy. From there the menu goes far afield, and not always for the better. There's a something-for-everyone approach that leaves too much room for inconsistency. A chalky-dry fried flounder was an outright flop and although onion rings should be a calling card for this sort of restaurant, the batch I sampled were limp, as though they'd been prepped long ago. A frequent special of fried clams sounded exotic, but it proved dull and gummy.

  Much better results came from the closer-to-home oysters Barataria, which are baked under a uniquely tart, immensely creamy goat cheese sauce and heaped 10 at a time on metal platters. The Creola salad, one of Manguno's longtime specialties, boasts a generous haul of shrimp and crabmeat with bits of smoky andouille and tomato dressing as thick as aioli. Another good bet is the chef's eggplant Vincent — a hollow column of fried eggplant overflowing with shrimp, crawfish and buttery cream sauce.

  The restaurant has a large marble bar, spacious private rooms and a glass-fronted seafood boiling chamber, a holdover from Zeke's. It's used intermittently now, and while there's talk of making boiled seafood a permanent fixture, I don't expect this restaurant to become the next go-to for crawfish. Like someone negotiating that roast beef po-boy, Porter & Luke's already has its hands full.

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