If I could be a regular somewhere, you might well find me at Lagarde. Tuesdays, I’d fill up on half-price po’boys. Thursdays, I’d slurp $1 oysters. When I had a hankering for meat, I’d do the daube.
By the looks of things, since opening in late November, Lagarde has worked itself into the dining rotation of plenty of residents — of all ages — from Brookhaven and Chamblee, especially those who live near the Parkview on Peachtree work-play development at Peachtree Boulevard and Clairmont Road that this restaurant calls home.
Being a modern-day “Cheers” is part of the goal for this value-driven, neighborhood concept by chef Jamie Adams and Leo Moura, the partners behind Italian restaurant il Giallo in Sandy Springs.
Inside a new stand-alone building with its edgy slanted roof, bartenders shake hands with imbibers, ask their names (in that surprise moment, I decided mine was Anne; my dining partner was ready with Sam) and tell them they’re in for a fun night.
You can get dizzy without taking a single sip: just watch icy hurricanes, frosé and vodka-spiked lemonade whirl around in frozen beverage dispensers. (Order them only if you like your alcoholic drinks cloyingly sweet.) TVs will entertain as much as the constant shaking and stirring of cocktails or the strip of colorful murals painted high on a wall that depict Adams and Moura in their memory lane moments. If this lighthearted, high-energy picture reminds you of some jovial place you visited on Bourbon Street, well, that’s intentional.
Lagarde American Eatery is inspired by Adams’ memories, ones shaped by parents who were raised in New Orleans and who took him and his siblings there on many a visit.
The easygoing spirit of the Crescent City permeates the plate as much as it does the room, primarily in the form of unfussy, shareable dishes, plenty of which hail from Adams’ family tree but that are executed by a team culled from Adams’ and Moura’s extensive time in Atlanta’s dining circuit.
Crispy okra is a plentiful platter of whole battered and fried okra, its gelatinous insides replaced with a delightful, crunchy snap and a touch of heat when dipped into Lagarde’s Sriracha mayo. Deviled eggs of the day bring a half-dozen for a mere $6, although adding a few dashes of Crystal Hot Sauce over a standard yolk filling doesn’t deserve the enticing “of the day” label.
A better bar snack, especially for a swilling crowd that needs carbs, is a round of loaded tater tots. You can get your totchos topped with blue cheese and tasso ham or pimento cheese and ranch, but the ones with red beans, bits of andouille, scallions, melty cheddar cheese and sour cream were the messy, finger-picking, fill ‘er up I’d choose if I most wanted a taste of Louisiana.
Eating at Lagarde got me thinking about what New Orleans cuisine is about. How we often toss around labels like Creole and Cajun, perhaps lump it all into a box called “spicy food.” Which isn’t the case. In fact, each visit to Lagarde, I didn’t leave with a cayenne pepper-induced tingly sensation in my mouth. I did hope for more heat in a cup of runny gumbo, but at $4, I can’t say I was entirely dissatisfied.
To appreciate a half or whole pound of Lagarde’s New Orleans-style barbecue shrimp, you need to erase thoughts of smoke and heady spice. Head-to-tail-on jumbo Gulf shrimp — so fresh as to be buttery — are sauteed in a compound butter made with Abita Amber beer, garlic and Worcestershire. Following the recipe of Adams’ Aunt Elvie, salt and black pepper, lemon, cayenne and more beer are added, resulting in a sauce that is rich, layered and balanced.
Seafood and fish, sourced via Inland Seafood and Farmers & Fishermen, are what I most appreciate about this place where everybody knows your name — fake or real (I was recognized as Ligaya, once by Adams, another time by Moura, on the nights they were expediting). Oysters from James River were memorably fresh and clean. You can dab on the mignonette or cocktail sauce, squeeze a lemon or even ask for freshly grated horseradish, but these mild Chesapeake Bay babies didn’t whine for any of that. Grilled oysters topped with a shell of crunchy, buttery Parmesan breadcrumbs — and for the same price as raw ($12.50 for a half dozen, $23.95 for a dozen) — were nearly as good.
The po’boy is legit. Soft French rolls from Leidenheimer in New Orleans are toasted just enough to be a sturdy handheld for crunchy, battered and fried oysters or shrimp — or both, if you say “Shoyster” — along with shredded lettuce, tomato and a smear of remoulade.
An order of the catch of the day — salmon — was gorgeously blackened, flaky, and more than fairly priced at $14.
That’s the same price you’ll pay for the daube (pronounced “dohb” with a long O), my carnivorous choice here. This New Orleans specialty is basically a homestyle pot roast, of brisket braised for hours until meltingly tender. At Lagarde, the garnish of crisped onions is a fine counterpoint to the super-soft meat. There’s a burger on the menu. It wasn’t noteworthy. Plus, loads of restaurants have burgers on their menus. Not many have daube.
The menu at Lagarde isn’t comprehensive of NOLA classics. Rather, it’s a compendium of Adams’ family food memories, which weren’t shaped by icons like a muffuletta, etouffee, jambalaya, bananas Foster and beignets. Yet, I’m told that enough patrons have put in their request for these to be added to the playlist, and some will soon be sung. (Although I hope these additions don’t mean the removal of pastry chef Libby Muldawer’s chocolate chip bread pudding with caramel sauce.)
My “big picture” complaint about Lagarde’s nod to the Big Easy isn’t focused on what’s absent from the menu. It’s with the drinks. New Orleans is like the original American colony for cocktails. But from an Aviation to a Planter’s Punch to a Sazerac, cocktails tasted hollow, overly sugary and off balance. They also turned room temperature far too soon. There was an attempt to go off-script with another greatest hit, but the bar staff wasn’t equipped to make a Ramos Gin Fizz.
If Lagarde is going to be “Cheers,” it might consider that folks like Anne and Sam expect a satisfactory drink today as much as Norm and Cliff did in the 1980s.
LAGARDE AMERICAN EATERY
Overall rating: 2 of 4 stars (very good)
Food: New Orleans, with focus on shared plates
Service: Congenial and prompt
Setting: Modern-day “Cheers” in new free-standing building of live-play development
Best dishes: Fresh Oysters. New Orleans Barbecue Shrimp. Fried Oyster Po’boy. Daube. Crispy Okra. Totchos with Red Beans. Blackened Fish. Bread Pudding.
Vegetarian selections: Coleslaw. Crispy Okra. Pimento Cheese. Cheesy Grits. Hush Puppies. French Fries. Maque Choux. Totchos with Pimento Cheese & Ranch (other totchos can be vegetarian upon request). Various salads. Grilled Pimento Cheese sandwich.
Credit cards: all major credit cards
Hours: Kitchen hours: 5-10 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays; 5-11 p.m. Fridays (bar opens at 4 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays); 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Saturdays; 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sundays
Parking: free parking lot
MARTA station: Chamblee
Wheelchair access: yes
Noise level: above average but not obnoxious
Patio: open seasonally
Address, phone: 5090 Peachtree Blvd., Chamblee. 470-385-3533
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