Enjoying an Independently Owned and Operated Eatery on Independence Day

Mandina's, 3800 Canal St., New Orleans, Louisiana

By Patricia B. Mitchell, 2005.

They don't have a microwave on the premises, they don't take checks or credit cards, and they don't “put on airs,” though cloth napkins and a somewhat formally-dressed waitstaff add a pleasant touch of class to the venerable dining establishment, Mandina's of New Orleans (see their website). A family-owned and -operated business which was a corner grocery store and deli back in the 1920's, this pink restaurant has been pleasing patrons for decades. Locals flock to the family-friendly eatery to celebrate events and life in general. Just being in Mandina's and sensing the happy atmosphere is a pleasure. A customer parking lot beside the building and Canal Street buses and streetcars make it easy to get there. (And wouldn't it be a joy to live within walking distance?)

A bar with a brass boot-rail and Abita Beer (a fabulous brew from nearby Abita Springs), make it a nice stop for gentlemen on their way home from work. (Though “Please No Cigar or Pipe Smoking” is the house rule.)

Mandina's Homemade Seafood Gumbo

Mandina's Homemade Seafood Gumbo.

The waiters and waitresses take their jobs and the food seriously at Mandina's. They seem to have a respect for the restaurant's reputation and traditions. On our July 4th late evening visit, the eatery was less busy than sometimes, so our waitress spent more time with us. When speaking about her former restaurant employment, she assured us proudly, “… But I'm a Mandina's girl now.” In New Orleans, you know, working in a good restaurant is dignified employment.

My husband Henry and I started our meal with the salad of Tossed Greens, which I wrongly assumed would simply consist of lettuces. Actually it was a fresh and pretty mixed salad with lettuce, onion, and tomato. We also chose the blue cheese dressing, which was satisfactory.

Meanwhile our daughter, who had fallen in love with the (mock) Homemade Turtle Soup au Sherry a few days earlier, was enjoying another cup of that elixir. Buttered (or unbuttered, upon request) sliced French bread is served along with soups and salads.

Mandina's Red Beans and Rice

Mandina's Red Beans and Rice.

For my entree I ordered the restaurant's Red Beans and Rice, a Monday special. I could have gotten the beans and rice with Mandina's popular Italian sausage, a veal cutlet, or pork chops. However, I'd eaten a lot of shrimp at lunch, so I opted for beans and rice minus the meat side. (The beans are well-seasoned and have chunks of ham in them, so this is not vegetarian option.) Mandina's was the best rendition of red beans and rice I've ever had, and that's high praise! I think I could have eaten another plateful — as they used to say, “It really hit the spot.”

Trout Meuniere or Trout Almondine (both $15.95, including French Fries) are other popular Monday specials, which are actually offered, probably because of customer demand, every day. On Sunday you get a Tossed Green Salad, Potatoes & Vegetables, and Coffee and Bread Pudding with the trout for $16.95. That's a real deal!

Shrimp Remoulade is also a favorite choice. This classic New Orleans appetizer is available all the time (at least in 2005 or until the menu is changed) for $8.25.

Anyway, more about our specific meal. Henry ordered Homemade Seafood Gumbo as his main course (a cup is $4.75, a bowl $7.50). The soup was seafood-ladened, thick, and satisfying; its stock pleasantly fishy.

Mandina's Hamburger

A Mandina's hamburger.

Jonathan was ready for the familiarity of a hamburger (he is not used to nonstop “foreign” Louisiana cuisine). Of course, in New Orleans, seldom is anything ordinary. A bigger-than-average, cooked-to-order, delicious burger was brought forth. For $4.50 (plus $0.25 for lettuce and tomato), it was quite a fine dish. One can also order the burger on French bread, which would be an even more ample sandwich.

We all had been saving room for traditional New Orleans desserts — [Caramel] Cup Custard and Bread Pudding. Three of us especially enjoyed the generous serving of Bread Pudding, which we all shared around. It contained pineapple bits, however, to which Sarah is allergic, so she didn't eat any more after she discovered that. Nevertheless, she ate mostly the Cup Custard, and we other three got to feast on the warm, dense, sweet, well-sauced Bread Pudding. It contained raisins as well as pineapple. Perhaps the cook varies the recipe according to mood and supplies, just as a home cook might. It will be fun to see what the dessert is like next time, which I hope is soon.

As I mentioned, remember to take cash to Mandina's. (Or wash dishes?) And if you happen to be there on Independence Day, do as my son Jonathan and I did. Between 9 and 9:15pm there was a fireworks display down near the river, so he and I took a meal break and went outside the Canal Street restaurant, crossed over to the neutral ground (where the streetcar tracks are) and watched the fireworks. An absolutely unforgettable experience!