Joel Dondis, owner of Joel Catering, La Petite Grocery and Sucré, began saving recipes at the age of 12. But it was photos rather than food that spurred his latest idea for how to use them. While browsing a French Quarter gallery, he came across photographer Fonville Winans' 20th Century images of Grand Isle and instantly knew that the fishing camp atmosphere and traditional seafood dishes (think salty oysters on the half shell and mounds of fresh, boiled shrimp) of the Gulf Coast island could be a winning basis for a classic seafood restaurant. Dondis procured licensing rights to the name and photos, and last June he and partners David Pearson and Jeff Hof opened Grand Isle (575 Convention Center Blvd., 520-8530), the only local concept, locally-owned restaurant along Harrah's Fulton Street Experience, a two-block promenade in the Warehouse District that includes indoor/outdoor dining and live entertainment.
The look of the restaurant is as indigenous and classic as the fare, which is prepared daily by chef Jens Jordan. Pecky cypress walls, white bead-board ceilings with beams, an old-fashioned mahogany and marble bar with brass rails, ceiling fans and a tin roof, punctuated by huge prints of Winans' gritty, black-and-white photographs, provide the perfect backdrop for a menu that includes oysters Rockefeller and Bienvillle, turtle stew, Potted Crab (jumbo lump crab baked in a butter sauce), baked oysters, Shrimp Romesco (shrimp topped with a spicy blend of chilies, hazelnuts, tomatoes, onion, and garlic, served with spinach and Manchego cheese croutons), fresh Gulf fish grilled or sautéed daily, boiled and fried seafood platters and a selection of homey, southern sides.
'The menu's a compilation of recipes from my apprenticeship in cooking forward, and it's all my favorites," says Dondis, who created the menu, which also includes beef, pork and poultry entrees.
Open daily from 11 a.m.-'till, Grand Isle serves a steady flow of locals and tourists, who can dine inside or al fresco. Beginning this week, the Fulton Street mall will be home to 'The Miracle On Fulton Street," complete with Christmas trees, 'snow," twinkling lights, live music and carolers. And now through December, the restaurant will offer festive specials as well. Validated parking is available in the Harrah's Casino Parking Garage.
- Inspired by the historic Louisiana photographs of Fonville Winans, restaurant and catering entrepreneur Joel Dondis opened Grand Isle to serve classic coastal fare.