If you’re ever puttering down Fern Avenue when your “check engine” light clicks on, you may be tempted to stop by a friendly-looking garage with green trim. Not too many cars there, you think, looks like there probably won’t be a wait. And look! It shares a parking lot with a sno-ball stand, which boasts an impressive list of flavors. Hmm…why haven’t you seen this place before?
Well, two things. First, you probably have, but ignored it. Until recently, the building was just another rundown garage, blending into the charming, tree-lined scenery where Broadmoor and South Highlands overlap.
Secondly, it’s not a garage at all. Well, not an operating one, anyway. It’s Marilynn’s Place, a new Cajun/Creole restaurant that features “organic when feasible, local when possible” food. It’s been generating some buzz among the under-40 set who seem to be drawn to quirky, locally-owned businesses with liquor licenses. “Out-of-the-way” is a spectacular understatement, and perhaps that’s part of its appeal. With no exterior signage or marketing to speak of, it feels like an indulgent secret–like only those “in the know” (perhaps accompanied by a misguided few who simply needed oil changes), have been lucky enough to darken the doorway.
I’ve been to Marilynn’s Place a few times, now, and though service is consistently good, the food can be iffy. The restaurant takes a “fast casual” approach: order at the counter, and either wait for your name to be called, or for an employee to bring it to your table. I’ve had both happen, so I’m not sure what the typical protocol is for them. The menu itself is kind of a mixed bag. Familiar south Louisiana specialties like shrimp creole and jambalaya share space with a vegan brownie and a slow-cooked pork po’boy accented with pineapple.
The pork po’boy is listed on the menu as the cochon de lait. The term cochon de lait is usually applied to a traditional Cajun pig roast. Perhaps that ritual is the inspiration for Marilynn’s sandwich, but, as the first item I tried there, it left a lot to be desired. I was initially drawn to the pineapple salsa aspect of it. Pork and pineapple are a classic Caribbean pairing, and I knew the flavors would work well. However, when I received the sandwich–unfussily wrapped in butcher paper and masking tape–it was a soggy wreck. I was able to take exactly one bite before the bread disintegrated and I was forced to tackle it with a knife and fork. By then, the remaining bread had become an unappetizing paste. I poked around in the filling, which, admittedly, was very good.
The pork was tender and juicy, and the pineapple brightened things up. But I wouldn’t go down that road again–I had to go spelunking in order to get a forkful worth eating. The price, $7.95 for a half sandwich only, felt like a ripoff when all was said and done. (As an aside, I’ve been told that sometimes po’boys are messy–that’s the idea. But, in my opinion, once the services of a knife and fork are necessitated, a sandwich ceases to be a sandwich, and should market itself correctly. Soggy bread really isn’t my thing.)
In an uncharacteristic twist, my companion played it safe with an order of curry fried catfish. This was catfish done right: its curry-kissed cornmeal breading encased flaky, tender catfish–no hints of freezer or dirt flavors to be found anywhere. (Seriously, we’re in a sad state when people start to associate catfish with freezer burn and mud.) It’s served with its standard accompaniments of hush puppies, fries, and slaw. And while $11.95 would seem a bit steep for a plate of fried food, the quality of the fish and the size of the portion makes it worth it.
On our subsequent visits, we also ventured into traditional territory–shrimp creole, crawfish etouffee, and jambalaya were all sampled, as well as a side of dirty rice (because, clearly, our meals just didn’t have enough carbs). The jambalaya and etouffee lean towards the Cajun method of preparation, with less of an emphasis on tomatoes and more on meat. The jambalaya featured big, generous chunks of andouille–quite a treat when compared to the glorified rice some places try to pass off as jambalaya. The shrimp creole was rich and warming. Though I got the feeling that the shrimp weren’t as fresh as they could be, it hit the spot nonetheless. Living 250 miles inland, I’ll take what I can get.
The dirty rice, with a light sheen of grease and the perfect amount of heat, was some of the most flavorful I’ve ever had.
A third companion chose the William Edward Joyce (WEJ) curried catfish po’boy. Now this was a po’boy I could get behind. The drier filling (the same curried catfish that comes on the platter) ensured that the bread stayed intact, and a thin layer of mayo kept it from entering cotton ball territory. The menu claims it’s “so good it needs a publicist!” Though I wouldn’t go that far, it’s certainly a damn good choice when you’re craving something a little more satisfying than a few Mrs. Paul’s popcorn shrimp tossed on a hoagie roll.
Other items that piqued my interest are the veggie po’boy, dressed with hummus (perhaps that vegan brownie would make a nice little playmate), the shrimp remoulade salad, and the Irish Channel po’boy–with corned beef and cabbage!
With a nice selection of beer and an atmosphere conducive to lingering (something tells me the deck out front will be very popular once the weather turns tolerable), Marilynn’s Place will no doubt be a hit with locals looking for decent, homemade food right in their own backyards–if they can find it, that is.
Marilynn’s, I implore you. Invest in a sign. Maybe you’re trying to be subversive, riding on the coattails of pop-up restaurants and underground dinner clubs. Or maybe you’re just lazy. I don’t know. But it would be a terrible shame to see a good business go under because they didn’t know how to market. Word of mouth can only do so much.
Although, so far, it seems to be working for Marilynn’s.
4041 Fern Avenue