It's not over the hills and through the woods, but the 20-minute drive from downtown New Orleans to Truck Farm Tavern, past cypress-lined swamp and lush green levee banks, feels like a getaway. It's a pleasurable jaunt, and the destination, inside the restored and revamped roadhouse once home to the historic St. Rose Tavern, is worth the trip.
Cowbell proprietors Brack May and Krista Pendergraft-May took over the building last year, and while the menu and concept are distinct from its Riverbend sister, there's no mistaking the husband-and-wife duo behind the operation.
The space's bright and airy farmhouse decor is complemented by salvaged materials, antique items and colorful art, including an impressive image of Havana, Cuba's harbor painted by William Woodward in 1921, which once hung in the United Fruit Company building in downtown New Orleans.
Then there are the colorful plates and playful approach of May's dishes, where classic comfort fare and Southern standards are tweaked and reimagined. The iceberg wedge salad seems straightforward — dotted with cherry tomatoes and dressed with blue cheese vinaigrette — but cane syrup-griddled onions, charred soft and sweet, make the dish stand out.
Fried chicken is topped with Swiss cheese, drizzled with honey and dressed with creamy jalapeno slaw on a golden brioche bun. Its sweet and spicy flavors pop, coalescing to create the perfect bite of sweet and savory, rich and crispy.
The menu carries strong regional flair as well, evident in a white wine-heavy shrimp and grits combination topped with earthy rabbit sausage and roasted garlic butter. Boudin-stuffed chicken is served with crispy potatoes fried with duck fat.
The size and heartiness of barbecue portions are a reminder of the building's blue-collar past. Smoky chicken wings are served with chartreuse-colored bread and butter pickles, and there are thick, blistering sausage links and caramel-tinged smoked pork ribs paired with briny green tomato piccalilli. May makes good use of the smoker, and silky smoked pork goes into onion gravy-soaked poutine in which fried cheese curds provide the final, indulgent touch.
The regular macaroni and cheese is fine, but it's the barbecued pork-jammed version with slivers of green chilies and a showering of buttery breadcrumbs that's the real star.
The food all has a bold approach, and the tennis ball-sized boudin balls are a good example. They're stuffed with spicy pork and dirty rice and served on smooth red pepper jelly.
Sometimes the kitchen's broad strokes come off too strong. On one visit, an appetizer of fried oysters topping a spinach medley and buttery toast points carried bright elements of lemon and a light Herbsaint aroma, but a heavy dose of salt masked some of the more delicate flavors.
A short list of rotating desserts has included buttery fruit galettes and baba au rhum cake, so sweet and boozy it can help make the trip home even more pleasant.
Truck Farm Tavern closes early — 7 p.m. on weekdays and 8 p.m. on Fridays — but with food this hearty and comforting, grabbing a late lunch or an early dinner never sounded so good.