From several blocks away, I could see the line snaking out the door and spilling onto the street, where groups of people huddled under awnings to avoid the rain, clutching waiting-list buzzers and sipping from giant go-cups.
Once inside Neyow's Creole Cafe, it took about 10 minutes to reach the host stand, and even on a Saturday night, this felt excessive. It shouldn't have, though. But then, and at several points during my meal, I thought that at a time when many restaurants are struggling, there are still places that are doing just fine.
It was a comforting thought. Yes, there was a wait, and it took a while to get drinks and food, but once dishes started to arrive, all was forgiven, because the food was that good.
About those drinks: Those go-cups held Bow Wow fruit punch, a near-lethal rum drink topped off with bright red, sugary punch (order the Top Shelf Bow Wow and four types of flavored Ciroc vodka find their way into your cup). I'm not sure how anyone could drink more than one of these, but for those who dare, there's a disclaimer with a skull and bones emblem behind the bar.
Judging by the young man who fell out of his chair during one visit and the fact that many patrons were clasping the same bright red drink, I'm guessing I wasn't the only one having a good time.
In the far corner of the room, where large windows overlook Bienville Street, a chef holds court. Working over an open flame, he is a one-man show as he grills oysters, which are served dripping with garlicky, smoky, buttery sauce. Requesting extra bread is necessary. The liquid that pools at the bottom of the pan just begs to be sopped up.
The kitchen offers succulent fried crabmeat patties, with crab wrapped around crawfish tails served with a thick, tangy remoulade.
The crowded dining room confirms that this is a destination for many folks, a quintessential neighborhood restaurant with Creole home cooking at its unassuming best. A dark roux gumbo was as good as they come, with shrimp bobbing next to spicy wheels of andouille. Mounds of stuffed crab spilled out of foil shells, begging for a bite. The filling is thick and creamy, heavy with crab and light on breading. Barbecue Gulf shrimp arrive piled high, swimming in a bowl of buttery, slightly sweet Worcestershire-tinged sauce and served with crusty French bread.
True Southern comfort appears in the portion sizes (as in giant platters of creamy red beans topped with fried chicken or pork chops) and down-home sides, such as the pale orange mound of macaroni and cheese — a redeeming homage to the all-American picnic staple. This dish is the kind you're embarrassed to love but love madly nonetheless. The potato salad with its vinegary, mashed potato-like consistency fared less well.
A large square of bread pudding is topped with a thick white glaze. It doesn't look like much at first, but the soft pudding-like texture of the dessert almost melts in your mouth. It's the perfect way to cap an indulgent night out here. It might take a second to recover — or after a Bow Wow, even to remember — but you'll be pretty sure you had a good time.