New in midtown, Rue Bourbon is a New Orleans-inspired bar and grill featuring live music, plenty of seating, free billiards and darts and room to dance. The decor is fun and certainly evokes a sense of the Big Easy, though étouffée and filé gumbo will have to be found elsewhere.
At the top of the cocktail menu is a Sazerac ($10), typically made with rye whiskey, sugar, bitters and a hint of absinthe. Our server and bartender asked if I’d like, “well or top shelf bourbon.” I politely read their menu description of a rocks glass washed with absinthe, filled with rye and a “sweet and spicy house mix.” Looking confused, she replied, “OK, rye then.” Thankfully, what I received was not a bad example—served “up"—though a little on the sparse side and with no hint of the promised spice.
My dining companions and I ordered another pair of classic cocktails—a mint julep ($10) and a Pimm’s cup ($11). The julep was pretty strong, with lots of mint and ice. A copper mule mug was substituted for a silver julep cup. Pimm’s No. 1 is a gin-based liqueur with spice and citrus notes. This example of the famous cocktail based on it was properly mixed with soda, fruit and cucumber, over ice in a highball glass. It was the best of the drinks.
An order of Cajun swamp fries ($14) was described as being piled high with Cajun shrimp and house remoulade. There was certainly a pile of crispy seasoned fries drizzled in spicy sauce, topped with a pile of “kickin,” vaguely vinegary, bland coleslaw and five fried prawns. This was followed by a basket of gator bites ($15), boneless chunks of marinated alligator meat, deep-fried in seasoned cornmeal batter and served with cups of remoulade and slaw. Oh my goodness, those beautiful swamp monster bites were a treat. I was pleasantly surprised by how moist and tender they were compared to some previous encounters I’ve had with gator.
The muffuletta cold cuts sandwich ($13)—so named for its round, low-profile Italian bread—hails from New Orleans’ Central Grocery. Rue Bourbon uses the jarred original olive salad (proudly on display), with sliced provolone, capicola, sopressata, pepperoni and mozzarella. It’s served with choice of fries, slaw or Zapp’s Louisiana kettle chips. The bread was a little dry and could have used a bit more of the olive mix, but, overall, it was not a bad rendition.
Next we tried three “po’ boy sliders"—shrimp ($14), chicken ($10) and andouille sausage ($10). They come with the same choice of fries, slaw or chips on the side. There’s nothing better than a big ol’ crusty French roll po’ boy stuffed with goodies, so I’m puzzled how a halved six-inch sandwich on a forgettable cornmeal-finished soft roll equates to either a po’ boy or a slider. The bread was grilled, so there’s that. There were a couple shrimp per side on the shrimp version, and the Cajun sausage was very good. The sandwich with the most meat was the chicken po’ boy, though the meat itself was a bit dry and lacked seasoning. The dressing of tomato, slaw, onion and remoulade or aioli (depending) helped all three.
Beignets made with Cafe du Monde packaged mix ($6 for 3) were the thing we most anticipated trying. Served hot and dusted with plenty of powdered sugar, these, at first, seemed to be just the right thing. But instead of the expected light and airy doughnut, these were on the tough and chewy side. Perhaps the oil wasn’t hot enough, or the dough kneaded a bit too much. Either way, they were sadly not the beignets of my dreams.