When my boyfriend’s mother asked me to choose a restaurant for his 25th birthday celebration, I knew I would have to give it some thought. It would be a large party (nine at the least), and I wanted the atmosphere to be fun & funky, the dress to be casual, and most importantly, I wanted to choose a place with some stellar down home Nawlin’s food. A few places came to mind (including here) but I ultimately settled on Jacques-Imo’s Cafe, where the food is just as loud as the crowd.
Chef Jacques “Jack” Leonardi, the brainchild behind Jacques-Imo’s and Crabby Jack’s, originates from upstate New York but has spent the last few decades making New Orleans his home. After earning an MBA in business from Tulane University, he worked under famous local chef Paul Prudhomme, and after many years of earning his keep in restaurants around town, he ultimately opened two of his own. Famous for being a quick learner, unpredictable party-man (antics include joining tables, telling jokes, dancing on the bar, and giving away free booze) and an imaginative chef, Leonardi has earned every bit of his culinary success. His restaurant is packed nearly every single night of the week, and due to his no reservation policy (unless you’re a party of five or more), his liquor sales sky-rocket nightly as people pound drinks at the bar while waiting for their tables.
We were seated in the “Swamp Room,” as I like to call it, which is a room just off of the kitchen–you actually have to walk through the crowded kitchen to get to most of the tables in the restaurant–and it features hand painted walls of sprawling Cyprus trees, birds, and other local wildlife. Every room at Jacques-Imo’s is different and I love how, depending on where you sit, you can literally have a different experience every time you go.
Right as we sat down, we ordered drinks and our waitress brought out one of the best things that’s not on the menu. Jacques-Imo’s complimentary cornbread muffins take the place of boring old bread rolls and they are well worth the boatload of calories. Say hello to golden, crispy, buttery, cornbread heaven.
After polishing off the cornbread we were presented with our appetizers of choice: the Shrimp and Alligator Sausage Cheesecake, Eggplant Jacques-Imo’s, and Fried Green Tomatoes with Shrimp (in the header picture). The cheesecake is my personal favorite, so rich and creamy with the occasional salty bite of sausage and shrimp.
Shrimp and Alligator Sausage Cheesecake
The appetizers alone are so indulgent and filling, so mom and I decided to split an entree. She left it up to me to choose, so I ordered the Salmon with Black Beans and Ginger Cream Sauce (which I asked for on the side). Each entree comes with a salad and a choice of two sides, so it was more than enough food for the both of us to split. Our salmon was stuffed with mushrooms, onions, carrots and cabbage, which added flavor without overpowering the fresh taste of the fish. And the few dabs of ginger cream sauce I put on each bite was just enough to give the dish a whole new dimension of flavor. I was quite pleased with my choice and so was mom.
Once everyone had been served their entree we quickly realized that all ten of us had ordered something completely different, proving that Jacques-Imo’s really does have something for everyone. Here are some pictures of what everyone else ate:
Stuffed Mirliton with Fried Oysters
Once we were through feasting, we gathered our things and headed to my parent’s house for cake and coffee. Not just any cake, of course, but Chef Donald Link’s German Chocolate Cake from his Real Cajun cookbook. It took seventeen eggs, over three cups of sugar, two cans of evaporated milk, and a part of my soul when the Beagle dog got to one of the layers that was cooling in the dining room. But after an emergency trip to the grocery store for a boxed mix to patch up the middle layer’s wound and a pretty intense scolding of the animal, my mom and I managed to bake a most delicious birthday cake for a very deserving guy.
I think everyone would agree that it was a great birthday celebration. Good food combined with family, friends, German chocolate cake, and a very bad Beagle made my boyfriend’s quarter of a century birthday one that will most definitely be remembered.