In the 60-minute countdown to a private unveiling of Lady N'awlins Cajun CafAc last night, co-owner Jake Crocker has paint brush in hand, touching up the canvas of a picture chipped during a hurried move-in. The sign guy appears at the door, ready to affix the new logo to the outside window, beneath the still-spinning, lighted bowl that was part of Friend or Pho's animated signage. And then there's the large drawing of a male appendage left over on the chalkboard ceiling that must be politely erased.
This is the Lady, after all.
When guests arrive at 8, all seems in order. Power tools are put away and Crocker is behind the bar with his partners, ready to serve. Down the steps of the restaurant at West Main Street and Stafford Avenue -- the White Dog in a past life -- a wall mural of the Lady herself greets you, glowing fleur-de-lis in hand, wearing a necklace symbolic of something (it slips my mind, but Crocker no doubt will churn out the mythology soon).
Here come the hot, slightly salty gator bites with the big chew and mustard dipping sauce. All surmise it's the only gator served locally. More tasting plates quickly come from the kitchen run by chef Sean Murphy, who also supervises the owners' business just across Stafford, F.W. Sullivan's. There are greens and roasted potatoes, beans and rice, slices of duck breast with Cajun sauce, oysters on the half shell with bacon and cheese, lightly crisp hush puppies and naturally, gumbo.
One guest marvels aloud, “I was just here,” when this was an entirely different concept. Rob Kaplan opened Friend or Pho in the summer, but worked a deal with the Sullivan's crew just after New Year's. He remains as an adviser, and says he'll have some new projects in the works. Sullivan's staff may float between the two venues, Crocker says. And indeed, tall bouncer Tim Harris makes dual appearances tonight.
The Lady is ready for public consumption this weekend.