The chalkboard sidewalk sign outside St. Lawrence advertises an eye-catching burger. Inside, icy booze swirls in daiquiri dispensers behind the bar and the undersized kitchen pumps out the plates until 2 a.m. It might be any tavern in the French Quarter.
But on each count, St. Lawrence breaks away from the just-good-enough-if-you're-drunk business model that has long held sway for casual eats in the upper Quarter. Instead, St. Lawrence is cast in the gastropub mold, and while it's not the only such place around town now (Sylvain is another notable contender), we could use more of them.
Those daiquiri machines churn a frozen riff on the Pimm's Cup and a strawberry number with Sailor Jerry rum that's actually the color of mashed strawberries instead of lipstick. The burger combines duck cracklings, remoulade and a turducken patty, which ends up tasting like a turkey burger with unique dressings. Overseeing the kitchen is chef Caleb Cook, whose earlier gigs at Susan Spicer's fusion-friendly Mondo show across his menu.
Chicken and waffles gets a Chinese makeover, done with duck confit and hoisin syrup. Crawfish cocktail — with tomato, horseradish and tart citrus — is a Louisiana rendition of a Mexican classic. Cook's idea of bar food is steak tartare, in all its raw, red glory. It acquaints itself surprisingly well with a pint of Canebrake wheat beer.
St. Lawrence represents a welcome change, but that is not to say it's perfect. It's easy to spend as much here as at a restaurant offering more comfort and a higher level of service. The bartender often doubles as the sole server, and the strain sometimes shows. The kitchen misfires sometimes too, as it did with pallid rabbit lasagna with a watery and unevenly warmed filling.
But I was first sold on this place by the oysters Tommye, a deeply crusty square of savory bread pudding, with earthy mushrooms protruding, artichoke sweetness throughout and a clutch of poached oysters on top. Simpler but just as impressive is a split head of romaine lettuce transformed by light char and draped with a fillet of sheepshead and flurries of Parmesan for something akin to a grilled Caesar salad. Fulfilling but also light, green and fresh, it's just the sort of dish I look for when hot weather arrives.
The St. Lawrence name references the patron saint of cooks, and plenty of service industry people arrive late at night for post-shift meals and drinks. But whether you leave work at 5 p.m. or midnight, this is a place where you can let down your hair without lowering your expectations for quality food.