Ok I’ll admit it, I grew up in New Jersey, home of the Greek run diner. I’ve been searching New Orleans for 12 years looking for something similar. I think I found it, if the “Parking for Greeks Only” sign hanging up in Jack Dempsey’s in the 700 block of Poland Avenue is any indication. It looks nothing like a traditional Jersey diner. There is no chrome to be found and no cozy booths, but the food and service seems to come pretty close to fitting the bill. I’m excited!
The exterior of Jack’s is nothing special. It’s an old white building that looks like it might fall down at any minute, but honestly most of the Bywater looks like that. The interior is comprised of the necessary video poker machines and the bar is off to the right as you enter. The dining room is lit entirely by the neon signs that hang on the walls advertising dozens of different beers. There are roughly 25 tables, all covered with red plastic table cloths and each table comes preset with a bevy of condiments.
The lunch menu is host to a variety of different fried specials including shrimp, catfish and veal cutlet. There are a couple of salads featuring more fried seafood and poboys as well.
The dinner menu is divided into fried and broiled selections. The highlight of the dinner menu seems to be the 16oz hand cut rib eye and several surf and turf choices.
I just missed lunch the other day, which runs from 11am until 2pm and I decided it was too early for dinner. I decided to order some appetizers as a good middle of the day meal. The portions are gigantic, which I was not really prepared for, considering how reasonable the prices are. I started with a cup of gumbo. The soup was dark and rich, exactly the way it’s supposed to be. The rice was perfectly cooked and all of the spices were in line: not too hot, not too mild. I could have ordered a bowl and stopped right there. I would have been more than happy.
Instead, I plowed onward with an order of stuffed mushrooms, the fried eggplant appetizer and a side of potato salad. I took more than half of it home with me. Or rather, I took it to my roommate at work for his dinner.
The mushrooms were stuffed with a breadcrumb and crab mixture and covered with mozzarella cheese then broiled. The result was a lovely browned top and a tasty center. The mushrooms themselves were enormous and the four that came with the order would have been enough for a meal!
The eggplant appetizer came out on a huge platter and looked like it was designed to feed a family of six. The eggplant was cut into this rounds, fried hard and topped with a sprinkle of mozzarella cheese. The twelve or so pieces came with a side of “red gravy” for dipping. I’m in love. I could eat this one every day and die happy. The red gravy was a much more traditional Italian marinara than is usually found in New Orleans Creole Italian cooking. It wasn’t spicy, or smoky. It just tasted like well cooked tomatoes and typical Italian herbs. YEA! I came nowhere near to finishing the plate.
Now about that side of potato salad. Honestly, I was stuffed at this point. I took a bite or two and tasted just the right amount of mayo, mustard, salt, and egg. It might have needed a bit more pepper. I boxed the rest up and the portion took an entire small to go box. This, again, was intended to be a family size portion. The other side options are french fries and baked macaroni. I’ll be trying that baked mac and cheese on a future visit!
Dempsey’s also offers a full bar and about 12 beer selections. I have to warn you that the wine list is sadly lacking. This would be a major criticism at dinner. The labels run to Yellowtail and Berringer. I cannot imagine sitting down to a hand cut rib eye steak without a decent glass of Cab . . . say one that costs more than $5 a glass. In fact, all of the wines by the glass are $5. I don’t remember seeing anything about a corkage fee. I’ll be sure to ask the next time I venture to the Bywater for a bite. If it’s allowed I would advise going to the next block and picking up a decent bottle at Bacchanal before dinner.
I’m very tempted to head back to Jack Dempsey’s on my next day off to try the surf and turf dinner. It will be interesting to see how it fares next to other steak houses in town!