From the outside, MeMe's Bar & Grille looks like many restaurants that dot the winding stretch of strip malls along Judge Perez Drive in Chalmette. But the unassuming facade belies the warm welcome, casual ambience and contemporary Louisiana cooking that awaits diners inside. Owner Rae Ann Williams greets customers at the door, groups of diners gather over beers and platters of freshly shucked oysters at the oyster bar, and couples cozy up at tables in the main dining room, where low ceilings and dim lighting set a steakhouse atmosphere.
One of the best things about the food here is the way chef Lincoln Owens' kitchen takes classic New Orleans dishes and Southern fare and elevates them with subtle but skilled hands, so that the final result is something akin to fine dining comfort food.
The kitchen takes simple dishes such as fried chicken livers and gussies them up in a decadent starter: The golden craggy-edged livers are served on a bed of stone-ground grits with sweet pepper jelly.
Char-grilled oysters arrive swimming in butter with garlic and Parmesan. But the bivalves also are available in varying states of dress: raw on the half-shell, topped with creamed spinach in a Rockefeller-style version and — my favorite — drizzled with sweet and fiery Sambal Oelek chili sauce (ask for "Bangkok" style).
Classic New Orleans-style barbecue shrimp arrive swimming in a peppery butter and Worcestershire sauce that's so good it took every ounce of willpower for me not to pick up the bowl and drink straight from the vessel. Servers will bring baskets of garlicky, buttery French bread to help sop up the sauce.
The restaurant's menu has a strong steakhouse vibe and offers a healthy selection of cuts, but there also is a long list of pasta dishes and chicken and seafood entrees.
A large grilled veal T-bone was served atop garlic mashed potatoes, which retained the meat's juices. The steak itself was cooked to a beautiful medium rare with a dark, salty crust, draped in a lemony butter sauce and served with wilted spinach with sauteed champignons. Also great was a bourbon-glazed, double-cut, bone-in pork chop, served with a flavorful jalapeno-corn rice that balanced the corn's sweetness with a pop of peppery heat.
Diners would be remiss not to order a piece of coconut cream pie, which tasted like the dessert version of Girl Scouts Samoas cookies: Chewy bits of toasted coconut topped with a decadent coconut cream and drizzled in sweet and salty caramel sauce.
While dining at the restaurant a few weeks ago, 15 women dressed to the nines arrived to celebrate a birthday dinner. One by one, the women greeted the owners while the servers topped off wine glasses and replaced empty martinis. Everybody knew each other, and it served as a reminder of what makes MeMe's a success. At the end of the day, it's a really great neighborhood restaurant.