Guy Fieri, the Food Network’s star of “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives”, recently paid us a visit to indulge in some of Chef Mike’s incredible specials. Guy’s crew spent two days filming a segment for the show. They were treated to demonstrations and tastings of: the wivershack’s whasckily wabbit with spaetzle dumplings, braised lamb shank, peanut crusted soft shell crab, turtle soup and of course the New Orleans’ favorite, red beans and rice.
The episode premiered on June 23rd and will be replayed on the Food Network several times. Check the Food Network’s website for showings of: “Where the Locals Go”Back to Top
Shack Chef By: Ian McNulty 7-3-2007
If the Rivershack Tavern were any closer to the Mississippi River, it would have to be regulated by the Army Corps of Engineers. But people don't come here for the view, which is obscured anyway by the great green hump of levee just across River Road. They come for burgers and chicken wings, for bands on weekends, for a roadhouse ambience plastered with memorabilia, a proudly displayed �tacky ashtray� collection and lots of inside jokes.
But during weekday lunch hours these days, people also come for some exceptional, deftly prepared kitchen specials. There are usually two specials each weekday that read something like this: seared tuna with mango salsa, mixed greens and a green onion vinaigrette in a fried tortilla shell. Or Thai summer salad with red curry vinaigrette. Or osso buco, or roasted duck or lamb shank. While the specials are way out of line with expectations of the honky tonk atmosphere, the prices are usually right around $10.
The responsible party is Mike Baskind, a Chicago native and graduate of the Culinary Institute of America who made New Orleans his home 20 years ago. In the 1990s, he worked as the pastry chef at the Windsor Court and followed the hotel�s executive chef, Rene Bajeux, when he left to open Rene Bistrot. But four years ago, Baskind said goodbye to all that and took a cooking job pretty far off the culinary career path. He went down River Road to the Rivershack Tavern. Now he works five days a week, pulling the lunch shift only, with such enviable restaurant business perks as holidays and weekends off. The tavern owner gave him free reign over the daily specials and Baskind has run with it, coming up with different dishes one day to the next.
He has developed quite a few fans, and by noon on some days the supply of specials begins to run out. I personally snatched up the last chili relleno one day. This Southwestern rendition of the stuffed pepper was packed with oxtail meat as tender as barbecue and a molten mix of cheddar, Swiss and pepperjack cheeses, all sealed within a casing of crisp, fried batter with a roasted red ancho chili sauce. It was a deceptively simple dish with many different flavors combining for an exciting meal.
Another day featured a turtle soup so thick with meat and drunk with sherry that each spoonful was like a gamy venison chili. Then there was the mountain of food doing business as �Southern-fried whole Cornish hen� perched atop a mountain of mustard greens with at least a link of sausage chopped into it. Tender meat awaited under the brown, well-done exterior of the skin and the greens only got better as the bird�s juices were released into the salty potlikker.
The selection is unpredictable, so there�s no telling when the best dish I�ve sampled here will surface again. It was a seared redfish fillet balanced on top of a risotto cake. The redfish was cooked so well, so fork-tender within and crisp at the edges, I never wanted to have redfish fried again, while the risotto cake was both moist and earthy with chopped mushrooms and fried as crusty as a crab cake. What really set the dish off was a healthy dose of red wine butter sauce, tart with vinegar and herbaceous with ribbons of fresh basil.
One of the more elaborate mid-week specials was an upscale combo platter called the �Louisiana mixed grill,� which promised quail, fried frog legs and seared fish, with a choice of mahi mahi, grouper or red snapper. The kitchen was swapping in substitutions by the time I arrived (12:15 p.m.) but it was hard to feel disappointed with the replacements. Instead of quail there was a small steak with a thick hunter sauce of mushrooms and roast beef debris. The snapper I picked had a zippy ginger and carrot coulis over its cracker-crisp seared skin. Standing in for the frog legs were a baker�s dozen of oysters, and they were superb. Ladled with an emulsion of garlic, butter and parsley, they were like the second coming of oysters bordelaise, the specialty of Restaurant Mandich, a Bywater landmark done in by Hurricane Katrina. This was all $10.50.
The regular menu, served throughout the day and into the night, has good burgers, decent deli-style sandwiches and salads of the more-meat-than-vegetable variety. The Alligator sausage and fried green tomatoes are offbeat and the $13 rib-eye special with sides is a good bargain. But where this menu particularly excels is in Buffalo country, especially the Buffalo oysters and the Buffalo shrimp. The oysters have a nutty, crunchy crust and the shrimp have a snappy, fresh texture under their crisp, golden sheaths. Both are coated in a wet, thin sauce that tastes like Crystal hot sauce with butter and comes across a little bit spicy and a whole lot tangy.
Some homier fare still makes appearances on the specials board. Monday’s perennial offering is red beans and rice, and Baskind does this by the book. A special of meatloaf with mashed potatoes was as hearty and straightforward as it sounds, but then again the gravy was closer to a demi glace.
There isn�t quite a wine list here, but the selection is much better than average for establishments where the crack of billiard balls is audible between jukebox numbers. You can usually get a glass of Fat Bastard, for instance, or Ravenswood, though the 50-cent glass of Boone�s Farm Strawberry Hill, the vintage of choice in dorm rooms and sorority houses everywhere, is only listed as a joke.
No matter how goofy the decor may get, Raskind’s cooking is serious business.Back to Top
Flush with kitsch charm and hard-to-beat deals set to a rock 'n' roll soundtrack, the RIVERSHACK TAVERN makes it worth the dicey turn on River Road.
Heading out along the levee from Riverbend after dark is as close as I’ve come within a city’s limits to a countryside road cruise. Out there after a rainstorm, while thumbprint frogs puddle-jumped through potholes and the moon hung white in the West, I wished I had dug out that Born to Run cassette. I leaned into the dicey curve around SnoWizard headquarters, passed a hitchhiker outside Live Bait, and picked up speed by Mat & Naddie’s, which I once thought was the last place worth eating on River Road. At the crossing of Shrewsbury Road, a tuft of trees opened to the clapboard building of the Rivershack. As I stepped across the gravel lot, the last refrain of the Eagles’ “Take it Easy” snuck out with a handful of revelers clutching go-cups who pushed through the bar's heavy, French-styled doors into the swampy night.
It was a slow Sunday evening; I practically had my pick of the ‘Shack’s mannequin-legged designer barstools. One man sat astride a model clothed in Scottish plaid pants and golf shoes; his muscular friend was stuck with black lace panties, bare legs and blue jeans bunched at the ankles. I played it safe with rubber fishing boots and a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale from the tap, settling in with the Cody Stampede rodeo. A disco ball twirling between stained-glass chandeliers freckled the scene: the men down the bar rattled away in Spanish, the bartender (a philosophy student) pulled himself an espresso, and John Cougar Mellencamp’s “Ain't That America” reverberated through the sticky wooden room.
I asked the bartender why Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill, at 50 cents a glass, was the only wine “temporarily out of stock.” “You don’t know how many complaints I’ve had about that one,” he answered. And he wasn’t the only jokester in the room. At the bottom of the blackboard wine list, someone had chalked in “Complimentary lipstick served with each glass.”
And so it goes along every inch of roadhouse wall, inside and out. If there's a piece of memorabilia – local, political or pop culture – the owner hasn’t found, one of his customers will bring it in. Upon entering, Jerry Springer smiles dead ahead; Elvis and Alfred E. Newman got your back. An autographed O.J. in a Hertz shirt hangs between Paul Prudhomme and Tiger Woods. Painted advertisements for Luzianne Coffee, Dr. Pepper and Tabasco on the ancient building’s exterior were restored from its earlier existence as W. Teoulet's grocery-pharmacy-bar. Sheriff Harry Lee in his salad days is suspended in a life-size photo above the trees, exclaiming the day's specials in a chalkboard word bubble.
Enter the Rivershack’s edible dimension, which won’t be outdone by back-to-back Journey songs or the bar’s extraordinary collection of tacky ashtrays. Although the rumor mill favors the ‘Shack’s “boigers” (medium-thick, juicy specimens), deftly fried shrimp po-boys rocked the picnic table outside where friends and I passed a Friday evening. Buffalo shrimp “shack-a-tizers” outdid them both. Although the only cook clanged his tip pail in my face when I ordered more, he tossed the perfectly-crusted devils in mustardy barbecue sauce and speared the top few with cocktail toothpicks.
My teeth couldn’t match leathery pastrami in a “Ben D. Rules” sandwich, and I would have needed a flashlight to locate its sauerkraut. All trespasses were forgiven, however, when a pack of Hogs rolled in, when “Night Moves” swung through the front doors, and when a friend passed down half of her “Shank-You” burger. A mix of beef and hot sausage, it was charred to a lovely crisp and improved with a squirt of housemade remoulade sauce.
The ‘Shack’s food matches its surroundings: carefree, imaginative, unexpectedly amiable and offered with sass. Like the cheeky but choice special available three nights a week: 8-oz. spice-crusted sirloin steaks with 8-oz. draft beers and “8-mm.” salads (a.k.a. iceberg, mushrooms and cheddar cheese) for just 8 bucks.
At lunch, when all specials ($6 to $8) accompany one pint of beer and you’re likely to hear at least one Chicago tune, sunlight flaunts the homier angles of this pack rat’s paradise. A server in a gypsy headscarf and gold hoop earrings glowed when we ordered fried catfish strips with white beans that she had slow-simmered herself with fragile ham hock. She also approved the tomato-based shrimp stew with sausage and okra over rice that twanged like a courtbouillon. The ultimate plate comprised a chunky, pecan-battered catfish fillet that puffed cartoon-like steam swirls at the suggestion of a fork; the fish crowned a salad of baby spinach and roma tomatoes gleaning with oil and studded with andouille. Another server talked us into her chocolate-frosted chocolate cream cheese layer cake, evoking summer cookouts and unlimited black-bottom cupcakes.
So if you’ve ever lamented the sacrifice to homely surroundings that often accompany down-home, good food; if you’ve ever found yourself parched and penniless rollerblading along the levee, wondering bleakly if the Rivershack was roadhouse or mirage; if you’ve ever wanted empirical proof for how well Fleetwood Mac and Peter Frampton pair with Anchor Steam on tap, head to the Rivershack now.Back to Top