Creole Comforts: Saint John

Chef and restaurateur Eric Cook breathes new life into a historic, French Quarter space with the launch of Saint John, a Lower Decatur Street restaurant offering “haute Creole” cuisine.

Only a few months ago, local chef and native New Orleanian Eric Cook announced the opening of his second restaurant Saint John in the historic French Quarter. Gris-Gris, Cook’s first restaurant in the Lower Garden District, has garnered great acclaim both locally and nationally since it opened in 2018. Launching a second dining destination was the obvious next step.

Cook’s new venture at 1117 Decatur Street was once home to the beloved Italian spot Maximo’s, it closed in 2015 after almost 30 years in business. Then, after a million dollar renovation by local investor Hugh Uhault, the restaurant became Trinity with Executive Chef Michael Isolani leading the kitchen, but unfortunately the concept only lasted three years and was forced to shutter.

Gulf shrimp and fried green tomatoes with a warm remoulade butter and a cool, tangy pickled okra, corn, and tomato chow chow at Saint John

Diners familiar with the Decatur Street location are still able to feel Maximo’s vibe as the layout is essentially the same. The front room bar has lengthened and switched sides and a large, stunning skylight in the rear dining room offers a lot of natural light, a rare commodity in what was formerly a dark and moody space. Slate tiles and ceramic flooring made to look like wood have replaced the carpeting, and a unique art collection, one that’s wholly New Orleans in theme, decorate the walls.

Right across from the bar, a huge three dimensional piece of folk art created by the Deurty Boys (Jeremy Hebert, Rev. Varg Vargas, and Jason Jones) depicts a French Quarter scene, featuring the St. Louis Cathedral, Cabildo and Presbytere with a sky filled with angels overhead, all named after dearly departed New Orleans chefs. Saint John Restaurant is also represented with Cook and his wife Robyn standing next to it. Colorful paintings (also by the Duerty Boys) made to look like stained glass hang above intimate booths in the back dining room, and the “Guardians of the Groove” that line the stairway were created by local artist Jay Setchim (@kudrabeetz) which features beloved local musicians including Louis Armstrong, Dr. John, Kermit Ruffins and Pete Fountain.

The most significant change to the Lower Decatur Street restaurant is undeniably the food. Cook’s distinct style of offering Southern family favorites in an elevated, yet still totally approachable way is as apparent in Saint John’s menu as it is at his flagship restaurant Gris-Gris. Focusing mainly on Creole “comfort food,” diners at Saint John will encounter soul-warming appetizers such as baked deviled crab stuffed with lump crab dressing and herbed breadcrumbs, and drizzled with creamy ravigote or smothered turkey necks braised in an irresistible brown gravy (a sauce that could stand alone with a large hunk of toasted french bread) served with potato salad like your momanddem used to make. The classic New Orleans dish of seared Gulf shrimp and fried green tomatoes makes an appearance, but with a warm remoulade butter and a cool, tangy pickled okra, corn, and tomato chow chow.

Smothered turkey necks braised in brown gravy served with potato salad at Saint John

At Saint John, salads aren’t back staged by the rest, they’re their own show! The simple, yet sumptuous roasted garlic Caesar with fresh Romaine lettuce and shaved Parmesan regularly competes with a “Hoppin’ John” made with crisp fried Gulf oysters, Bibb lettuce, bacon, black eyed peas, and green remoulade drizzled with French dressing. But for lunch, the Mob Salad is a muffuletta-esque dream, a massive entree piled high with chopped Romaine, tangy olive salad, salami, ham, and aged provolone topped with crisp slices of dried prosciutto and crunchy sesame croutons.

Familiar Creole entrees are elevated by superior ingredients like the beef daube (a definitively local combination of French braising techniques with Italian red gravy) made with short ribs, sourced from Texas-based beef producer 44 Farms, braised in red wine and served with buttery whipped potatoes. Among the seafood selections, it’s hard to choose between the Gulf shrimp etouffee, court bouillon, or whole fish amandine – the Gulf catch of the day deep fried whole and served in a pool of a nutty, almond brown butter meuniere. The desserts at Saint John will change with the season, but Lemon Icebox Pie gives Clancy’s signature a run for its money, and a thick slice of white chocolate bread pudding finishes the perfect Creole meal, especially with a large scoop of vanilla bean ice cream on top.

This season, Chef Eric Cook has resurrected his Mangé Loa Holiday Menu, available for dinner only December 8th to the 24th at both Gris-Gris and Saint John restaurants. Mangé Loa or “the feeding of the Gods” is a Voodoo ceremony which includes an annual feasting of the loa featuring a variety of animal offerings, drinks, desserts and more. Voodoo adherents believe the loas’ powers are at their peak during this yearly celebration.

Gris-Gris and Saint John are each putting their own spin on the Voodoo feast, offering a three-course prix fixe menu including a special holiday cocktail all for $60 per person.

Saint John Mangé Loa Menu

Reservations: (504) 581-8120

First Course: Creole Red Bean Soup (red beans with Crystal Hot Sauce, Crème Fraiche and crispy fried chicken skin).

Second Course: Coffee and Chicory Glazed Quail (roasted quail with andouille cornbread cream cheese dressing, brown butter spaghetti squash and sugarcane chicory glaze).

Third Course: Sweet Potato Beignets (drop beignets with creole spiced powdered sugar).

Holiday Cocktail: Creole Cremas (nutmeg, almond, cognac, Absinthe wash).

Gris-Gris Mangé Loa Menu

Reservations: (504) 272-0241

First Course: Grilled Feta and Tomato Salad (chicory greens, local tomatoes, candied pecans and smoky feta with Tajin dressing).

Second Course: Seared Fish and Lobster (seared Gulf fish, butter poached lobster, peppered arugula and fried oysters with Boss Sauce and charred lemon).

Third Course: Holiday Chocolate Cheesecake (chocolate swirled cheesecake with raspberry coulis and Chantilly cream).

Holiday Cocktail: Zombi Nog (Frozen bourbon eggnog with cream, spiced syrup and praline liqueur).

*Article originally published December 2022 in the French Quarter Journal

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