The restaurant business can be unforgiving, not generally known for second chances. Second acts, on the other hand, are another matter. The former Fat Hen Grocery, an eatery known for barbecue and a beautiful view of St. Charles Avenue, shuttered last fall. Instead of repurposing it as something different, the spot's new owner, C.J. Williams Jr., kept much of the restaurant as it was, including the name.
Fat Hen Grocery has retained much of its previous look and feel. With a coffee counter on one side, a long banquette opposite it and tables in between, its dining room is a comfortable, casual place to linger over breakfast or lunch. On a bright day, with the light filtering in through large front windows, the scenery can't be beat.
The menu has taken a couple of steps forward, courtesy of chef Gason Nelson, formerly the personal chef for fomer New Orleans Saints player Reggie Bush. There are three new menus at Fat Hen: breakfast, which is available all day; lunch; and weekend brunch. Breakfast prices are slightly more expensive than you'd find at restaurants with similar fare. Eight dollars will get you a generous sandwich of eggs, cheddar, sliced ham, mayonnaise and tomato on grilled sourdough with a side of home fries or french fries, and the All-American breakfast is a combination of eggs, bacon or sausage and toast, biscuit or potatoes and is 50 cents more.
The breakfast and brunch fare at Fat Hen aims to be a cut above the neighborhood diner, and Nelson executes this well. A helping of shrimp and grits with andouille, served with a flavorful herbed shrimp sauce, hits the mark with large, fresh shrimp and creamy grits. It's a classic done properly. A Benedict variation also graces the menu, featuring pan-fried lump crab patties topped with sliced ham, poached eggs and Creole hollandaise. It's also a satisfying dish, though the ham doesn't seem necessary.
Fat Hen's New Orleans Rum French toast is another enjoyable option, even if the portion size is on the small side. An order of sausage, bacon, potatoes and grits will easily keep one from leaving hungry and, at $2 to $4, won't rack up the bill too much. But for a great side, the fluffy buttermilk biscuits aren't to be missed.
The house's signature burger is an uncomplicated affair (a 6-ounce patty on brioche with lettuce, tomato, red onions and mayonnaise) that's executed nicely. The beef is well seasoned and the brioche roll stands up to the burger's components. Diners can add avocado, cheddar or blue cheese or a fried egg. Other enjoyable sandwiches include a juicy chicken breast dressed the same as the burger and a pulled-pork sandwich with coleslaw, which is more chopped pork than traditional pulled pork, albeit still tasty. The Parmesan-garlic fries that come with the sandwiches, however, are a thorough disappointment, arriving limp and greasy. The outstanding Cajun-style chicken and andouille gumbo is served with a lump of cool, creamy potato salad.
It's heartening to see Fan Hen Grocery get another shot to win over Uptown diners and nearby university students. Given the solid breakfast and lunch options, as well as a great burger, it's looking like it won't need a third chance.