With contract talks between Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints at a standstill, word has it that the Black and Gold are seeking a multi-year agreement with celebrity chef John Besh to lead the team.
What could be crazier than asking a chef to quarterback an NFL franchise? How about asking an ex-player to quarterback a restaurant?
Which brings us to the recently opened Manning’s at Harrah’s on Fulton Street. To be fair, plenty of celebrities attach their names to eateries, so Archie’s not treading any hallowed ground. And for New Orleanians of a certain age (myself among them) jersey number 8 will always bring to mind one of the most beloved players in franchise history, a class act in every respect.
Archie’s no chef, but he’s a valuable brand in New Orleans, and it’s a bit surprising that it took this long for his name and memorabilia to headline a sports bar in the Big Easy. And that is the first thing you need to know about Manning’s: It’s a sports bar. An upscale one, to be sure, but a sports bar nonetheless, so I’ll give you my take on it through that lens.
If you want to kick back and watch a game or twenty, it’s hard to argue with this place. Televisions are everywhere in the huge room, dominated by an HD monstrosity that might have been too big to fit in Texas Stadium. There’s actually a kind of radio row in front of the screen that during the time of our visit was being used to broadcast commentary on a Tulane baseball game.
And of course there’s food, which is where the problems start. Nobody goes to a sports bar to get gourmet dishes, and it would be unfair to expect that at Manning’s and pointless to critique them from that perspective. After all, you’ve not read anything from us complaining that the cuisine at Walk On’s or Buffalo Wild Wings doesn’t measure up to Lilette or Patois, right? As a matter of fact, you’ve not seen us write anything at all about those places. They are what they are, and they serve a perfectly good function, but there doesn’t seem to be any point writing about their chicken wings.
So why the hell am I even bothering to write about Manning’s in the first place?
Well, you see, we’ve got a little problem here. The folks at Harrah’s seem to think they’ve opened a new restaurant. ‘Manning’s restaurant’ is how they refer to this joint on their website. Anyone suffering from post Manning’s sticker shock after asking for the bill there could be forgiven for making the same mistake.
But only if they’d managed not to eat the food, which is a bit more upscale but otherwise executed exactly as you’d expect to see at a sports bar. That is not a compliment.
To reiterate: In most places, no big deal. If you go to WOW Café for the game and ask them why they don’t cure their charcuterie in-house, you’re an idiot. But if you’re asking me to pay you $12 for an appetizer and $22 for an entrée, you’d better be delivering something more than mediocre bar food.
Thankfully this was an expense account meal which allowed me to sample a bit of almost everything on the menu (there were about nine of us) and pull the trigger on one of the most bizarre items I’ve ever ordered in a ‘restaurant’: the pan roasted pork chops with brown butter sauce and herbed Rice a Roni.
Sometimes chefs like to be cute. They’ll riff on things like PB&Js or Chicken and Waffles, and you always know it by the insertion of ironic quotation marks in the menu, like deconstructed ostentatious ‘PB&J’ with puerile goat cheese and flaccid Myanmar prunes, for example.
Notice I omitted the quotation marks around Rice a Roni? I have to confess that Manning’s made no attempt to conceal it. After all, the description is clearly on the menu. And to the best of my ability and that of my tablemates to determine, it did indeed include real Rice a Roni.
From a box.
For twenty-six dollars.
We hereby retire the jersey number 26 in recognition of the most overpriced menu item in the history of New Orleans dining and perhaps in all of human civilization.
Anthony Spizale, long time executive chef at the Rib Room (a place that considers itself a serious restaurant) was hired by Manning’s after a brief stint at Upperline (which also considers itself a serious restaurant). Wise to the ways of our celebrity food culture, the backers of Manning’s apparently felt that it was good business to hire a chef of some notoriety. As a matter of fact, Spizale’s accolades are prominently featured in a chef’s corner section on the website.
Smart move by Manning’s because a high-profile chef sticks to the brand, giving it legitimacy. Unfortunately for Spizale, the reciprocal property of life means that the brand sticks to the chef, which in this case is not a good thing.
For better or for worse, his reputation now owns a $26 box of Rice a Roni presented as ‘cooking.’ I hope Manning’s pays very, very well.
It’s all rather silly, and I am sure Manning’s will lure tourists and conventioners in great volume. But in the end, this is merely an overpriced sports bar and not worth any serious consideration as a restaurant.