James Beard award-winning chef Frank Brigtsen took over Charlie’s Seafood (aka Charles Seafood, as per the neon sign on the facade, 8311 Jefferson Highway, Harahan, LA, 504.737.3700) in 2009, and the 59-year-old place is kicking out mighty tasty fare, with a few interesting non-seafood twists. Witness the savory shrimp calas, an update on the traditional sweet calas idea; the dark-brown orbs taste like a ricely cousin of cajun shrimp boulettes (ground shrimp and grated potato fritters).
A bar runs down one wall of the compact front dining room, whose walls sport Mardi-gras-bead, Saints-themed wall art. The wait staff runs toward local high school kids, who are earnest, friendly, and accomodating. In short, it’s the sort of locals’ place everyone in south Louisiana loves, complete with Barq’s root beer in glass longneck bottles accompanied by 4-ounce glasses, in case diners don’t want to drink out of the bottle. (If only a basket of saltines, melba toast, and butter pats graced each table…or am I the only person who thinks that neighborhood restaurants should still pass out gratis butter & crackers?)
The least photogenic item on the menu turned out to be my favorite: the Dirty Boy. A deceptively diminutive sandwich, it packs a rich, meaty wallop. All of the “dirty” components of dirty rice–sauteed ground beef, ground chicken livers, onions, garlic, etc.–are stuffed into a pistolette roll. Aside from needing a hit of hot sauce, it was damn near perfect, as were the made-in-house meat pies and the fried oysters atop the Caesar salad. Best of all, Charlie’s uses Louisiana seafood, right down to the last shrimp, oyster, catfish fillet, and softshell crab.