(FULL DISCLOSURE: I’m related to the Chase family by marriage.)
Jason Owens and Desiree Perez hate airport food, but after room service was slow to deliver at their downtown New Orleans hotel and they had to make their flight back to Tampa on Saturday (Jan. 2), they didn’t have much choice.
“I said I’m not looking forward to it,” said Owens, an AllState employee who’d scored tickets to the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1. Before departing for their flight, they decided to walk into Dook’s Place, located just to the right of Concourse B at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport.
Their timing was perfect. Dook’s Place, opened by Edgar Chase IV — grandson of Dooky and Leah Chase of Dooky Chase’s Restaurant — and cousin and executive chef Gavin Goins Jr., was enjoying its soft launch on Saturday, and so the couple feasted on Sweet Chili Wings, The Classic Burger and Southern Fried Chicken.
“The wings were really good,” said Perez, 31. “The sauce had a nice little kick to it.”
“It’s got that real good chicken,” said Owens, 34, referring to the friend boneless chicken breast that came with pickled red onions and jalapeno, along with tomato, arugula and pickles. “I was definitely impressed, especially considering what I was expecting.”
They dined underneath the kind of vivid artwork that has been a hallmark at Dooky Chase’s, which opened a spot on the other side of the airport at the Concourse C check-in a few years ago. But for all the similarities to the Orleans Avenue institution, Dook’s Place is Edgar’s in every sense of the title.
“Dook” spent a few years at Dooky Chase’s (which celebrates its 75th anniversary in 2016) after graduating from the “intensive track” program at Le Cordon Bleu in France back in 2008, and then after working for Entergy and having two children with his wife, Gretchen, helped open Dooky Chase’s out at the airport before starting to chart his own path. A spot nearby, but with more of his influences, seemed a logical progression.
“I worked in the restaurant with my grandmother, my mentor and teacher, and then at the airport, but it was always a place already in operation,” Chase said. “It never had my personal touch. I always wanted to do my own restaurant, to get a feel for it.
“I see myself opening a French Creole restaurant, and this is more of a casual version of New Orleans food,” he said. “It’s reflective of both New Orleans and the South. It’s Creole, seafood and soul. And it’s something that we can logistically put out at the airport knowing what customers expect in that kind of time frame.”
So while there are plenty of New Orleans staples such as Creole Gumbo and BBQ shrimp and that fried chicken, diners also can enjoy a Blackened Shrimp Remoulade sandwich (complete with a fried green tomato) and entrees such as the Grilled Louisiana Red Fish and Shrimp Linguine (dotted with Shiitake mushrooms).
As for the recipe for the gumbo?
“That’s straight off Orleans Avenue,” Dook said with a chuckle. “You know how that works with that gumbo; there isn’t a recipe!”
The blackened shrimp was plump and tender, as was the Pork Belly appetizer, lightened up by the candied yams, greens and fried pickled okra.
Goins has plenty of experience crafting seafood dishes, having spent several hears with Landry’s (both out at the Lakefront and in the French Quarter) as well as at Gordon Biersch, where he learned the discipline of operating in a corporate-run kitchen but also felt constrained by the menus. When he told some of his current and former co-workers in the front and back of those houses that he was making a move, many were thrilled to join the two cousins in their new venture.
“Everything we did, it had to have that love, but we had to get it to the guests, so we did the majority of the work that we could in the prepping,” Goins explained For example, he said, “Our pork belly has to get marinated and braised for three hours, so we do that in advance. All we have to do when the ticket comes in is to sear it.”
But when it comes to something like, say, jalapeno cole slaw, it’s gotta be made on the spot to taste fresh and not soggy.
“Everything we thought about was to have that perfect bite,” Goins said.
Dook’s mother, Alva Chase, serves as the bookkeeper.
Family members popped in an out for moral support and a meal, including Gavin Goins’ mother, Giselle, and siblings Jessica and Shane. Trevor’s twin brother Travis stopped by, as did their cousin Victor Haydel and his daughter Emily — in town from Atlanta for the holidays — with his father James.
It may be a family affair, but it’s not a humble undertaking either; Dook’s Place has a crew of nearly 30 for the front and back of the house, including a raw bar that seemed consistently cranking out places of raw oysters (along with the occasional Oysters Rockefeller).
The family influence doesn’t stop there; cousin Trevor Chase manages the front of the house and is server himself. Gretchen helped collaborate on the industrial but warm interior, with copper-framed lighting fixtures and a granite-counter bar that soft a wavy lap around the back center of the space and offers a view of the runway. (That bar features Louisiana craft beer including my favorite, Parish Canebrake, The concept was a year in the planning and then another six months of construction with the help of Perez Architects. It also features five of the restaurant’s seven flatscreen TV’s.)
“We wanted to let (customers) know you do have a lot of options when you come to the airport,” she said. “We wanted it to look and feel inviting. We wanted it to be true to what we would’ve done if we’d opened a restaurant on Esplanade Avenue.
“It’s a place where you want to come and stay.”
Until, of course, it’s time to fly.