30 Restaurants: Bennachin & Antoine’s

Bennachin Restaurant

This is a West African restaurant, specifically based in Gambia and Cameroon, although there were some menu items from other countries int he region, located in the French Quarter. It’s tiny, you could miss it walking by, as I have on COUNTLESS occasions. It’s right near Verti Mart if you know where that is on Royal Street (you should if you’ve been to New Orleans).

The food was…SO Good! I went for lunch. They have special prices at lunch, but I don’t think the portions are any different. If they are, then the dinner portions must feed three people, because there was enough food from my lunch to have dinner later on.

For an appetizer we got Akara, which are black-eyed pea fritters. They come with a tomato based sauce, like a chunky marinara. I didn’t know what to expect, but all the yelpers insisted on trying them. I about cried, because they reminded me so much of acarajé in Salvador, Brazil, and I’ve been having wild nostalgia for my time in Brazil so it was unexpectedly comforting to eat. Acarajé is essentially the same thing as akara, because it’s made by the same people, a connection I didn’t make until eating at Bennachin because I’ve never been to West Africa. But the culinary cultural retentions between Salvador and West Africa is so glaring; West Africans couldn’t deny their diasporan relatives if they wanted to. Acarajé is one massive black-eyed pea fritter, fried in dendê (palm oil), cut in half and filled with shrimp and another paste, and optionally topped with hot pepper sauce.

For my main course I had the Bennachin, which they described as African jambalaya and in parenthesis–jollof rice–with sauteed spinach. I liked my meal alright but I liked E’s better: he got the Sisay Singho, baked chicken with sauteed spinach, coconut rice, and fried plantains. The chicken looked totally unappealing, it was skinless and looked like it had it been boiled with no seasoning. But my god, looks were totally deceiving. It was so juicy and flavorful. The waitstaff offered us in-house hot sauce, which I gladly accepted, and again it was like I was right back in Brazil with a hot pepper sauce so vinegary and spicy and tasty that you wanted to cover all of your food in it and cry through your meal.

I didn’t get any dessert because I could only eat half of the food I had in front of me. But I am absolutely going back, for the Akara, for the fried plaintains, and to try something else. And since you can call in your order and pick it up, I may be eating more West African food in my office.

Antoine’s Restaurant

I’ve been wanting to make my rounds through the fancy, famous, white linen restaurants in the French Quarter that have been around since like forever. But 1) they’re expensive, and 2) going to the FQ is a pain in the ass as far as parking and maneuvering. I left almost all of those restaurants on my 30 to 30 list to the end because I’ve continued to procrastinate on making the logistic journey. But Antoine’s, which is the oldest family restaurant in the country–founded in 1840–is celebrating it’s history and has been having a $20.18 prix fixe lunch menu all year. So the money excuse went out the water, and yet it still took me until the 11th hour to go.

I didn’t look at pictures of the place before I went, so I was expecting it to be small kind of like Galatoire’s or Tujague’s. Antoine’s is massive, and we only saw the inside of one of the bigger rooms. They’re also doing a bunch of renovations so I think other parts of the restaurant are closed. But after actually looking through the website gallery after lunch, they have all of these themed rooms with wild and historic decor. I want to go back just so I can eat in another room (and order off their regular menu, when I have a bit more money to my name).

The fixed price menu obviously had limited options, but everything I ate was delicious, even if it seemed to be a bit generic. As an appetizer I got three charbroiled oysters. The main was a fried french chicken breast with mac and cheese and collard greens. Right–so that sounds like a ridiculous entree to get at place of fine dining, but the other main options weren’t appealing. It was perfectly fried and seasoned juicy chicken, the greens were cooked in meat, and the mac and cheese was on point. Not a morsel was left on the plate. For dessert I had the pecan bread pudding, and as someone that doesn’t really love bread pudding, I killed it.

The 3-course lunch was an excellent value, and if I were drinking already I could’ve gotten a couple of 25¢ martinis to top it off.

For sure I need to return and eat the fancy food; with a menu that’s heavily seafood and premium cuts of beef and lamb, I know I didn’t quite get the Antoine’s experience with the fried chicken. But I have to go with a group and everyone has to order something different so I can taste, because everything on the menu sounds like it needs to be in my belly.