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Dizzy, Delightful Coop’s Place

Hi ho, Go gos! Last Sunday was one of those days. We thought we’d have nice weather, and a pleasant stroll through the Quarter to some dreamy destination for brunch. Mother Nature had another idea. Rainy weather made us arrive nearly an hour later than we had intended (after noon), and since our theater tickets were for the 2 p.m. curtain, we didn’t have much time. The line was too long at Stanley; Cafe Amelie and its lovely courtyard wouldn’t work because of the rain; and Cake Cafe & Bakery was a little too far to walk. Reading this now, you can probably think of a million places to brunch, but at the time, we were flustered (and a little drenched). Desperate, I suggested Coop’s Place and off we went.

When we arrived, the place was packed except for a small two-top near the door. We claimed it quickly. We were immediately engulfed in Coop’s dive-y  atmosphere. Our growling bellies were distracted briefly by the flurry of activity. There’s no rhyme or reason to the service at Coop’s. Did someone see us walk in and sit down? Apparently so, because it was only a few minutes later that a woman emerged from behind the bar, and slapped a couple of menus on our table on her way to take another table’s order. On her way back to the bar, she asked what we wanted to drink; a Bloody Mary for me, a beer for Beez (my wife).

Coop's Place Seafood Gumbo
Coop's Place Seafood Gumbo

We each decided on a cup of seafood gumbo to start. Then, fried chicken for her, and jambalaya for me. The same lady brought us our drinks, and took our food order. She didn’t write it down. In fact, she didn’t write anyone’s orders down. How would she remember? How would the order get to the kitchen? I started to worry that our food would take too long, we’d miss the play and this disastrous day would win.

Amidst the clamoring crowd and my mini panic attack, our gumbos arrived in a flash. I was relieved. The knot in my stomach loosened. I’ve never had gumbo like Coop’s before. Unlike Donald Link’s deep, chocolate-brown gumbo that I normally prefer, this soup bowl was filled with a murky concoction of okra and shellfish. It reminded me of the Mississippi river; it even tasted silty. That was the filé, I think. Flavorful, authentic, but not too spicy, the seafood it featured was fresh and plentiful. Nearly every spoonful held a shrimp or a plump, juicy oyster.

Coop's Place Rabbit & Sausage Jambalaya Supreme
Coop's Place Rabbit & Sausage Jambalaya Supreme

My main course was the Jambalaya, a rice dish we’re all familiar with here in New Orleans. Lots of simmered onions and tomatoes. Lots of seasonings and spices. Coop’s Jambalaya Supreme contains rabbit, smoked pork sausage, shrimp and tasso (the last two ingredients are what separates Plain Jane Jambalaya from its Supreme Older Sister). This dish tasted a little dirty, like Louisiana blackened-dirty. I bet it was cooked in a great big cast-iron dutch oven, because I could taste that. It tasted scraped-out and cooked-in.

Coop’s Place is no longer an afterthought in my book. It’s a nice place with good food that feels very local, like home. We made it to the play healed and happy with time to spare. Enough time, in fact, to stop by Southern Candymakers for a couple peanut butter pralines. So, if you were wondering, yes, that was me with the crinkling candy wrapper at last Sunday’s performance of Grey Gardens at Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carre. Dessert.

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