May 13, 2012

Coop's Place

Location: 1109 Decatur Street, French Quarter
Cost: $20
Coop's Place on Urbanspoon

As it turns out, it takes more than 15 hours to drive from Chicago to New Orleans.  Something we didn't realize until halfway on our trip, after reserving a hotel room in New Orleans for the night.  Oops.  Thank goodness we started driving at 7 in the morning, because by the time we pulled into the hotel at 10:30pm, a couple of French Quarter kitchens were still open and serving food.  We dumped all our stuff in our tiny hotel room and made a beeline through the roach-laden streets for Coop's Place.

Coop's is a true NoLa hangout - the regulars are on a first-name basis with the bartenders, the restaurant hours are "11AM to CLOSE," and the prices are low and have stayed that way since they opened up in 1983.  Indeed, it's where "the not-so-elite meet to eat."  Being situated all the way on the eastern edge of the Quarter also helps keep the touristy riffraff away for the most part, but not us.  For one thing, we were staying over on that end of New Orleans.  But I'm a sucker for true local eats.  Hell, my motto is the best way to get to know a city is through its food.  And Coop's is definitely a place to come visit for people like me.

This being our first dinner in N'awlins, Yien and I started off with a classic cajun dish - seafood gumbo.  Just like the saying goes, you start with a roux (Coop's uses a dark one - the seasonings that go into it are what make the dish) and add French Market vegetables, okra, file powder, rice, shrimp, crab claws, & oysters.  Topped off with some fresh-cut scallions, and you've got one incredible dish.  I have never had true New Orleans gumbo before, but holy crap does it beat the pants off anything I've ever had anywhere else.  The crab claw was a nice touch, but be forewarned that the claw's a little sharp; if you just spoon it into your mouth like I did, you'll get burned (poked, rather).

One incredibly satisfying dish down (Yien was clamoring that we should just order gumbo until they kick us out of the restaurant), it was on to the main course.  Being the food tourist that I am, I wanted to try all of Coop's dishes, and they were more than happy to serve up the Taste Plate, a giant platter crammed to the edges with all sorts of cajun delicacies.  Going from bottom clockwise, you've got Red Beans & Rice with Sausage, Rabbit & Sausage Jambalaya, Shrimp Creole, and a juicy Cajun Fried Chicken drumstick.  In short, they were all incredible, but where to begin?

The red beans & rice with sausage were an instant hit with me, since I love beans and rice.  If that's not your thing, though, hopefully the addition of sausage will ameliorate your palate somewhat.  The dish was very well seasoned - not too salty, not too bland - and the sausage offered a nice texture balance to the mushiness of the rice, beans, & gravy.

Shrimp creole, if you've never had it, is stewed Gulf shrimp with a spicy cajun tomato-based sauce that includes onions, garlic, & green peppers, and is served (like everything else) on a bed of white rice.  I wasn't as big a fan of this dish because the combination of tomatoes and shrimp reminded me a little too much of Italian food, and that wasn't what I was looking for down here in New Orleans (although maybe I should have?).  Still, it was nicely seasoned, and the shrimp were cooked beautifully, so I don't have much room for criticism.

Onto the heavy hitters!  The Rabbit & Sausage Jambalaya was a thing of beauty, lemme tell ya.  It's a very traditional Creole dish, and they don't make it any better than at Coop's - it was nominated for best Jambalaya by Offbeat Magazine.  The rice was perfectly seasoned with a hint of spice that accented the flavor of the meats very nicely.  And I loved how the jambalaya held itself together on your fork - you could literally spoon it into your mouth with a fork despite the fact that it's a rice dish.  And the meats?  Well-cooked, very tender, and a great juicy counterpoint to the more mushy, creamy texture of the rice.

Despite all of those dishes, I've gotta say my favorite was the Cajun Fried Chicken.  I don't know what Coop's does to season and bread their chicken, but does it ever work out for them.  Perfectly seasoned, with an awesome amount of spice (not just hotness, but spice).  The skin was unbelievably crispy to the point where I wanted to ask the bartender if I could just buy their fried chicken skin.  And the meat was juicy, well-seasoned, and always tasted like they just took it out of the fryer.  I love my fried chicken, and I think I've just found my new favorite fried chicken joint.  Too bad it's a solid 1000 miles away...

For vindicating our ridiculous 15-hour ultramarathon drive to New Orleans with the best fried chicken I've ever had, Coop's Place earns 5 Cherries.


  1. This actually reminds me of my stay at some hyde park hotels. The food plating isn't anything special, but the taste is to die for.