and industrial boat yards, it's hard to believe anything exists here, let alone an RV park with a marina, restaurant and floating bungalows for rent. But in an inlet off the Industrial Canal, tucked behind palm trees and tall beach grass, the Lighthouse Bar & Grill serves some surprisingly good food in a unique hideaway.
Part of Pontchartrain Landing RV park and marina, the restaurant functions as an eatery for vacationers staying in the RV park or renting villas and houseboats. Waterfront access also makes the restaurant and bar a popular spot for boaters and fishers, who stop by at the end of the day for a beer or frozen fruit daiquiri.
The airy restaurant sits in a wooden building elevated on stilts, and a wraparound bar overlooks a large deck that's open for dining. There's a stage in the back corner that hosts bands five nights a week, and a swimming pool with a built-in waterfall and hot tub overlooks the marina.
The restaurant menu reads like one you'd find at a typical New Orleans seafood joint, with the addition of a long list of barbecued items — a defining characteristic that puts the food at the Lighthouse a notch above common bar fare.
Meats are coated in a cayenne-heavy dry spice rub and are pecan-smoked on site. The sample platter includes ribs, brisket, pulled pork, chicken wings and two side items — more than enough for two people to share. An option to add the smoked shrimp shouldn't be skipped: The plump, succulent crustaceans get soft sweetness from pecan smoke and are coated with spices.
Of the smoked meats, the pulled pork is the best bet and is of the Carolinas variety — a tender, vinegar-heavy version thick with smoke and flavor. Chicken wings also are delicious. Dusted with crimson dry rub, their skin is crispy and fatty while the meat stays soft and juicy.
Ribs can be dry but are made better with a generous dollop of hot, molasses-tinged barbecue sauce. On a recent visit, my biggest qualm with the platter was the brisket, which was fatty and tough.
Among the sides, the over-the-top macaroni and cheese is the best option; the creamy mixture arrives capped with melting cheddar cheese and has a slightly tangy flavor. Some of the other sides fall short. Watery chunks of cabbage masquerade as coleslaw, and garlic fries could use more garlic and salt.
Despite the restaurant's pride in its smoked meats, the New Orleans classics held my attention.
Bright red shrimp and sausage jambalaya is heavy with tomatoes and delivers a satisfying stick-to-your-ribs feeling. Red beans and rice also is excellent, featuring smoked sausage and creamy, deeply smoky beans. Seafood gumbo features a light roux, and the pale brown broth holds juicy pieces of blue crab and shrimp and tiny orbs of smoked sausage, a winning combination that boasts a saline quality without coming off as fishy.
Besides the food, the draw here is the off-the-beaten-track vibe of Pontchartrain Landing, which feels a world away from New Orleans. The best way to cap an evening is to take a seat in one of the tall, Southern-style rocking chairs on the porch, have a drink and watch the evening sky slowly turn dark as a cool breeze floats in off the lake.