It's becoming easier to find boudin in New Orleans with grocery stores like the Rouses chain stuffing its own version of the delectable Cajun sausage, fried boudin balls playing prominently on Cochon's menu and even a few gas station/deli combos selling links of the stuff by the cash register, like at Kid Creole on Airline Drive. But I never expected to find boudin in my meatloaf. Yet there it was one day at Ignatius Eatery, boudin meatloaf, chalked up as a special. It was revelatory and stunningly simple all at once. Remove some good boudin from its casing and mix it in with ground beef to make a loaf with moist bits of rice, parsley and pepper seasoning, the sweetness of pork and a mellow backbeat of liver flavor. It was genius.
The boudin itself comes from Poche's Market in Breaux Bridge, a destination for those of us willing to organize Cajun country road trips solely around boudin sampling. Ignatius regularly serves its boudin by the link as an appetizer, and I've also had it here at brunch as the stuffing for an omelet, another inspired creation with the unsheathed sausage acting like a particularly rich hash inside an egg jacket.
This boudin sideline is a rare but welcome departure from the modus operandi at Ignatius, which is otherwise dialed-in to the greatest hits of New Orleans comfort food. Jerry Roppolo opened the place in 2006, naming it for the main character of the great New Orleans novel A Confederacy of Dunces. Roppolo also owns the local Rue de la Course coffeehouses, which explains the familiar tables in the dining room and the quality coffee going into the mugs.
There are some dishes I would not order again, like a jambalaya that was short on meat and practically overdosing on dry seasonings. But what Ignatius does well, it does extraordinarily well. The boudin meatloaf is one example and so is the crawfish etouffée, with a spicy, creamy stew and plentiful crawfish tails. Another is the roast beef po-boy, which I would put up against any other in town. The strands of meat are exceedingly tender, well-seasoned and seem more bound together by the gravy than soaked with it. If your taste for roast beef po-boys runs to the Parkway Bakery or Parasol's classics, add Ignatius to your list of standbys.
Another great sandwich here is the sautéed shrimp remoulade po-boy. This started as a weekly special but it is always available if you know to ask. The reason why shrimp remoulade is such a successful and long-lived part of the classic Creole menu is the same reason why this po-boy works so well. The creamy pungency of the sauce with its mustard and horseradish nicely sets off the sweetness of the large shrimp.
The chicken and sausage gumbo has a dark, country-style roux that is smoky and quenching. Also satisfying is a crawfish, corn and potato soup that tastes like a crawfish boil in a bowl with a little cayenne and a whole lot of garlic.
Igantius is filled with plenty of quirky touches. Were these found at some 80-year-old vintage restaurant, people might chalk them up as the idiosyncrasies of an old business, or else celebrate them in blogs, guidebooks and food columns as emblems of the joint's eccentric appeal. But when they manifest at a new restaurant like Ignatius, they sometimes cross over from homey to outright hokey. Nothing is so egregious that it should get in the way of your meal here, but having your Abita served with the bottle wrapped in a brown paper bag in the time-honored fashion of curbside alcoholics gets old after the first time. This affectation, the staff explains, is 'Camp Street style," a reference to the bad old days in the Warehouse District when Camp Street was better known as a skid row than as today's collection of art galleries.
It's also a little strange that you can't get an ice cube in this place. The short glasses for beer or soft drinks are chilled and come to the table with a frosty fog clinging to them, but Ignatius does not put ice in any of its drinks. This might be the only sit-down restaurant in the subtropics where a glass of ice water is out of the question. Still, the carafes of water placed on the table for self-service are nice.
The décor in the narrow, sunny café is given over to staples of the New Orleans pantry with boxes of rice mixes and sugar, bags of Camellia red beans, bottles of hot sauce and jars of spices lining the shelves like a Who D'at version of Andy Warhol's Campbell's Soup Cans painting. The kitchen uses these local brands, and they are also available for sale. Ignatius doesn't exactly function as a grocery store, but diners sometimes do buy a jar of Zatarain's Creole mustard or Boscoli olive salad on their way out the door, perhaps inspired by the solid classics they just sampled.
- Cheryl Gerber
- McNulty Ignatius Eatery serves Creole favorites and lines its walls with familiar local products.