Most national cuisines tend to focus on one or two key ingredients. Thai cooking has raised the lowly peanut to an elevated station; Middle Eastern cuisines infinitely refines the chick pea; and if you’re not careful in France, even a glass of water will arrive with butter in it. In America, we have wisely chosen beef.
We have plentiful grass to feed cows, ample natural gas to cook them, and top-notch research hospitals to help us recover from them. In other parts of the world, beef is a luxury or a flavoring agent, but here it’s a starting point. Housewives of the 50s didn’t wonder what they’d fix for dinner, they wondered how they would fix that day’s beef. While beef can be prepared in myriad ways – as usual, the only limit is your imagination – two classics stand supreme: the steak and the hamburger. These are the crown jewels of American cuisine, as simple and timeless in their way as the pyramids.
New Orleans’ Port of Call recognizes the importance of these two meaty monuments. This Esplanade Avenue watering hole (and feeding trough)’s menu consists, essentially, of four items: burgers, steaks, baked potatoes, and side salads. You can get variations on these, of course, but the basic concept is simple and elegant: choose a meat, and choose something to accompany the meat. The meat is, at the risk of sounding overenthusiastic, wonderful. Steak or burger – doesn’t matter. They use good meat and they cook it right. It’s as simple as that, but the result is amazing.
Portions are shareable, especially if you choose as your meat accompaniment one of their enormous baked potatoes, decked out with literal heaps of fixings. In keeping with the nautical theme of the décor, if not the menu’s reliance on land meat, the drinks menu is a pantheon of vividly colored, multi-ingredient cocktails with evocative names like “Monsoon” and “The Red Turtle.” Resist the temptation to look manly and order a beer: colorful or not, these cocktails are very, very good, and no one will judge you for ordering one. You are, after all, about to eat beef.
A word of caution: go for lunch or an early dinner. The line after about 7:00 p.m. is invariably out the door. It’s worth the wait, though, and you can order drinks (in souvenir cups!) while you wait.