Brick walls displaying backlit vintage New Orleans newspaper covers and a blown-up photo of reporters banging away at typewriters in the early 1900s set a nostalgic scene at Picayune Social House in the Central Business District. Chris DeMers opened the restaurant in May, and the design — by local collector Joseph Makkos — fits the setting. The building once housed The Times-Picayune, and the street was known as Newspaper Row.
It's an intriguing design, and one that prompts curious diners to leave their chairs to peruse the space, which in some ways doubles as a history gallery.
The "social house" theme is mirrored in the restaurant's focus on the bar, its lively atmosphere and the casual and friendly waitstaff. The space can get loud with groups of tourists from nearby hotels and happy hour revelers getting off work from surrounding offices and gathering at the large U-shaped bar.
While the decor pays homage to the city's storied newspaper, the menu looks to the future with a global approach, which finds varying degrees of success.
Naan flatbreads, dips and small plates designed for snacking anchor the casual, bar-friendly menu. The eclectic list of dishes has Indian and Middle Eastern influences and nods to regional standards.
There's a daily selection of "boudin balls," although I didn't notice anything besides their shape that tied them to the Cajun dish. Instead, these were more reminiscent of their Italian cousin, arancini — cheese and risotto balls fried to golden brown. On one visit, there was a delicious version filled with lump crabmeat, but it lacked boudin's characteristically earthy flavor.
The boudin balls were among the most successful of the smaller plates. Hummus was of the grainy variety, drizzled with olive oil but rough nonetheless. A dish titled "For the Love of Crab" was overly buttery, heavy on cream cheese and topped with a panko crust that was burnt in places.
While the menu is shaky when it approaches some culinary themes, the section devoted to tandoor oven specialties is consistently good. One of the most interesting and delicious flavor combinations is found in the tamarind- and chipotle-flavored lamb T-bone steak cooked in the tandoor oven. It arrived tender with a heavy, flavorful crust draped in a creamy, tangy and smoky sauce. Side items — fresh and snappy tabbouleh, blistered tomatoes, lemony tahini and fennel seed-flecked rice — all worked well with the lamb.
Tandoor-baked naan is available multiple ways — on its own or as the base for flatbreads. On some occasions, the bread was stale and tough, while on another visit a toasted version carried nice flavor and soft and chewy bounce. Blue cheese and prosciutto flatbread was successful, topped with an apple puree that complemented the sharp tang of the blue cheese, crispy strips of prosciutto, chiffonade of basil and syrupy balsamic. It seemed more like a dessert, but it worked.
The gastropub setting makes Picayune Social House an enjoyable place to go for a drink and a bite. The menu covers a lot of ground, with some hits and some misses, but the kitchen is on the mark with its tandoor oven.