Partying along the parade route can be hungry work, though it tends to leave revelers in poor condition to enter a conventional dining room afterwards. For the tired and hoarse, the costumed and bead-laden, the merry and quite possibly buzzed, finding a casual tavern with a well-supplied kitchen on the way home can seem like a godsend.
Fortunately, New Orleans is enjoying a boom time for bar food, with fresher, handmade food replacing the typical packaged, processed fare at many establishments. J'anita's is one of the best of this pack, and it's also an accidental pioneer in the city's burgeoning bar food scene.
Proprietors Kimmie and Craig Giesecke first opened J'anita's as a stand-alone Uptown restaurant. After closing the eatery in 2009, they were invited to co-op the galley kitchen at the Avenue Pub. This business-within-a-business arrangement lasted 18 months before the Avenue Pub's rapidly growing reputation as a craft beer destination outpaced the tiny kitchen's capacity. When the Gieseckes left the Avenue Pub last year, they were again invited to revamp another bar kitchen, this time at the newly renovated Rendon Inn.
This backstreet bar isn't by any parade routes, but it's near that roundhouse of Broadmoor intersections where several New Orleans streets braid together before vectoring off to different neighborhoods. That means for many people it's on the way to and from the major New Orleans parades.
Open from lunchtime through late night, the Rendon Inn rendition of J'anita's has the best dishes from its earlier addresses and a few new tricks. The redfish sandwich remains a menu cornerstone, and after eating it periodically over the course of several years it remains one of my favorite fish sandwiches around. Airy, crusty ciabatta holds the unlikely but delicious combination of grilled redfish, crisp bacon, salty feta and tangy Caesar salad dressing. Barbecue is another mainstay, and while J'anita's mild-mannered pulled pork and brisket are serviceable on their own, they reach full potential when packed together between buttery-crisp sourdough under the savory influence of coleslaw as the swamp Reuben.
Once a special, fish and chips are now a fixture, and redfish replaces traditional cod for thick, dark-brown, beer-battered chunks. Also new and noteworthy are lamb chops embedded in cheese-strung grits, a buttery terrain topped with green onions and punctuated by an animal cracker, that idiosyncratic signature the Gieseckes add to many of their dishes.
Bar snacks like smoked Havarti on lavash and "hog balls," or panko-crusted croquettes of pulled pork, sound irresistible but each proved disappointingly dainty for the price. The rough-and-tumble of tavern eating is better served by dishes like Wednesday's chicken-fried steak special or the anytime indulgence of the St. Chuck duck, a grilled sandwich with duck, blue cheese, cheddar and an unusual sweet-tart ribbon of currant tapenade. Pair these with J'anita's universally excellent and generous side dishes — like a bowl of fresh guacamole, cheese grits or maque choux — and you have a bar meal for the ages. Finish it all and you may be ready for bed. But at least you'll be in better shape for the parade tomorrow.