I remember when my wife was deciding where to go to Law School. She had been accepted into a few different schools, and it was between Tulane and some other places. I can’t remember the other ones, because the choice seemed pretty clear to me- go to New Orleans. I remember saying “When are you going to have another opportunity to go, and live somewhere as cool as New Orleans for three years of your life”. The truth is, I had no idea what I was talking about. I had never been there, and didn’t really know anything about the place… but as luck would have it, I ended up being right.
We both ended up falling in love with the city, and got married there when she graduated in May of last year. I’d like to say it was the rich culture and history of the city, the awesome music, the great people, or the beautiful scenery that made us want to get married there. But everyone who knows us, knows the truth… it was the food. I visited as often as I could, and when I did, we ate our way across the amazing city like there was no tomorrow.
Raw oysters and boiled crawfish at Harbor Seafood (in Kenner) , The Roast Duck Po’Boy at Crabby Jack’s, Fried Chicken at Dunbar’s (the greatest fried chicken I’ve ever eaten), Raw Oysters at Casamento’s, the unbelievable Bread Pudding Souffle at Commander’s Palace (that you have to order at the beginning of the meal), Beignets at Cafe Du Monde, Coffee at Rue de la Course, a muffallatta at the Central Grocery, Chocolate Pecan Pie at Camellia Grill, great meals at Dick & Jenny’s, Clancy’s, Upperline, Lilette, Emeril’s, Bayona, and the awesome Valentine’s Day Dinner 2003 at Jacques-Imo’s.
I mention that one last because when we moved to NYC, we were incredibly excited to hear that there was a Jacques-Imo’s on the Upper West Side. And while the restaurant isn’t owned by Jacques (according to the website they “licensed the concept”), they serve his famous fried chicken. The food is not terrible, but it’s more like a frat boy sports bar then anything that resembles the culinary destination that is the real Jacques-Imo’s. Despite being disappointed by the dinner at the UWS restaurant, we still decided to try Jacques-Imo’s To Geaux (get it?) in the Grand Central Terminal Food Court. We figured, how hard can it be to make fried chicken and a decent po’boy? (Especially when you don’t have to worry about losing points because of the decor…)
What we got, pictures, and the +/- after the jump…
Sorry for the long winded back-story, but I think it’s important- especially since I’m about to give my unbelievably biased opinion. I’ll admit right up front- if you’ve lived in New Orleans, no “cajun” food you eat outside of the crescent city is going to be good enough. It’s just a fact. You might have a good meal here and there… but nothing will be as good as the original. With that in mind… here’s what we thought of the food at Jacques-Imo’s to Geaux:
There were three of us (me, my wife and a friend of ours who was born and raised in New Orleans), so we decided to order three different meals to get a taste. Each item came with a side dish. I got the Shrimp Po’boy with Cajun Fries ($8.50). My wife got the Fried Chicken Po’Boy with Jumbalaya ($8.20). And our friend got the 3 piece fried chicken meal with corn bread and beans and rice ($8.95).
We should have known we were in trouble when all the food came wrapped in Brother Jimmy’s BBQ containers. I don’t know if it was mental or not, but I think the beans and rice may have tasted like BBQ. Maybe the BBQ thing was just mental… but they did taste weird. I don’t know exactly what it was- but something was not quite right. The Jambalaya on the other hand was pretty tasty, and one of the highlights of the meal. Seasoned well, it had some nice chunks of sausage (which you always like to see). The Cajun fries, on the other hand, were a disaster. I’m a big fan of “Crawfish boil” seasoning… but poured over poor helpless french fries, it was pretty overwhelming (and rendered them inedible).
The two sandwiches were also hit or miss. The first surprise came when I opened the Shrimp Po’Boy. Shrimp Po’Boy was called Shrimp Po’Boy… not Fried Shrimp Po’Boy- a detail I missed when I ordered it. Who the hell makes a po’boy with boiled shrimp??? We were dumbfounded. Yes, they do exist. Yes, you can get one in New Orleans (our friend said there is a delicious one at JazzFest). But is that what most people think they’re going to get when they order a Shrimp Po’Boy. No. We expected fried shrimp. What we got, was a pile of boiled popcorn shrimp. Shame on you Jacques Imo’s To Geaux. Is it that hard to fry up some shrimp??? (Interestingly enough, the Oyster Po’Boy just says “Oyster Po’Boy”. Does that mean the oysters aren’t fried???) So far it was not looking good.
In their defense, aside from the shrimp fiasco, the po’boys were fairly authentic. The french bread was spot on, and there was lettuce, tomato, pickles and mayo- just like any good po’boy should have. The fried chicken po’boy benefited from the chicken being fried, and was much better then the boiled shrimp one. The chicken was a big, boneless chicken breast, so it was a tiny bit dry, but the mayo more then made up for that. It’s hard to screw up a fried chicken sandwich.
Finally… the famous fried chicken. For $8.95 you get three pieces of chicken (mixed- $9.95 for all white meat), corn bread and a side. We waited a pretty long time for our order to come up, so we assumed it was because of the fried chicken. This was disproved when we got to our table, and the fried chicken was actually slightly soggy, like it had been sitting in the container for an hour. It would have been understandable if we had taken the food back to the office, but we didn’t, so it didn’t make any sense. It tasted ok, but was certainly not worth the money.
All in all the lunch was not horrible (Fried Chicken Po’Boy with Jambalaya would have been the perfect choice), but with expectations of a good New Orleans meal, we couldn’t help but be disappointed. It’s also a little expensive for a food court lunch (all of the places in the Grand Central Terminal are). As a positive, they do have Cafe du Monde Coffee, beignets (which I haven’t tried) and Abita beer. A small slice of home.
My gut feeling is that Jacques Leonardi would be less then pleased to see what has become of his “Licensed” image, but it’s ok because we still have the original. I said it yesterday and I’ll say it again… if you are looking for authentic New Orleans cajun food in New York- you have to go to Laguardia (or JFK)- and board a plane to New Orleans. You’ll not only help out a community that needs the money, but you will be rewarded with some of the best food the country has to offer. For recommendations, just check out my list in the second paragraph above. We plan on going back every year. We still have some more places to eat at!
- The po’boys (minus the filling) are made correctly. French bread, that tastes the same as the kind you get in N.O., lettuce, tomato, pickles and mayo.
- They have Abita Beer
- The food is not terrible, so if you’ve never been to New Orleans, you will probably enjoy it much more then someone who has lived there
- The jambalaya and corn bread are good.
- The red beans and rice were not good.
- The Shrimp Po’Boy was a boiled popcorn shrimp sandwich.
- The fried chicken was soggy (maybe just that order, on that day?)
- The cajun fries (see picture of above)
- It’s not Jacques-Imo’s quality food. If you’ve been to New Orleans, and are looking for that type of experience, you will probably be disappointed.
Jacques-Imo’s To Geaux, Grand Central Terminal Food Court, 212-661-4023