Saturday, September 18, 2010

Da Wabbit | Gretna Institution

I recently had an envie for a good burger. Da Wabbit is just around the corner from my house and serves up delicious old classics. Here's a picture of my burger: 8 ounces of 100% ground chuck. Mmm ... good!

As most of you know, I am the food writer for The West Bank Beacon, a free monthly publication that chronicles life in West Jefferson and Algiers with a mailed circulation of over 23,000 and thousands more distributed at points from Gretna to Grand Isle. A “good news” newspaper, its mission is to make readers aware of how both individuals and groups are making a positive difference in the neighborhoods where they live. This includes a focus on civic and city initiatives, volunteer efforts, and charity fundraisers, to name just a few examples. Go to wbbeacon.com to subscribe to this monthly publication, at no cost.

Here's my review of Da Wabbit that ran in the February 2010 issue of The Beacon.

Café 615 Home of Da Wabbit: Not Your Daddy’s Da Wabbit!

In 1946, a small drive-up diner and bar called Kerner’s opened at 615 Kepler Street in Gretna. One year later its owner lost the place in a card game. In 1947, the name was changed to Da Wabbit in honor of its new owner “Da Wabbit” Licciardi whose family operated it until the early 1990’s. Legendary more for its black jack games than its menu, the original Da Wabbit was a bar room serving hamburger steak and fried chicken. The diner was shuttered for most of the 1990’s with a brief, yet unsuccessful, revival attempt in the early 2000’s. Along with its one-of-a-kind Bugs Bunny neon sign, Da Wabbit has been a Westbank icon for 64 years.

In July 2004 when Gretna-native Eric Savoie bought Da Wabbit from the Licciardi family, he altered the name of the place to alert the public that new owners were going in a different direction. Savoie, who worked at many New Orleans restaurants including LeRuth’s and Palace Café, chose his longtime friend and fellow Westbanker James “Jimmy” Buller as his manager. Like Savoie, Buller spent years working at some of New Orleans’ finest restaurants including Emeril’s, Bella Luna, Palace Café, Indigo and Ralph’s on the Park. Together they designed a whole new menu but kept 2 original recipes: Da Wabbit Hamburger Steak and Da Wabbit Fried Chicken. They served their first meal at Café 615 Home of Da Wabbit on January 1, 2005.

Savoie and Buller were off and running when Katrina hit on August 29, 2005. They were back in their kitchen only a week and a half later providing meals for first responders and the National Guard. At first their daily menu was limited to their local supplier’s inventory. As time went by, they were able to expand their menu to accommodate their growing business. Because of Katrina’s devastation of the Eastbank, many of our neighbors from Lakeview, Mid-City and Chalmette re-located to the Westbank. And they flocked to Café 615 then and now.

The lunch menu is extensive and varied. Appetizers include crabmeat-stuffed mushrooms ($7.95). Soups include crab & corn bisque ($6.50) and turtle soup ($5.00). A long list of sandwiches including fried seafood po-boys ($7.95-$10.95). The entrees include their legendary 11 ounce, ground chuck Da Wabbit Hamburger Steak ($12.00) and 1/2 Fried Chicken ($10.50). Café 615 also offers traditional daily lunches including red beans & rice ($7.95) on Mondays; chicken stew over rice ($7.95) on Tuesdays; and, white beans with pork chop ($7.95) or smothered wabbit ($10.50) on Fridays.

During the dinner hours, the Café 615 chefs showcase their creativity and talent with house specialties, including a blackened 16-ounce ribeye ($24.50), blackened yellowfin tuna ($15.00), crabmeat-stuffed catfish ($16.75), and seared duck breast ($16.75). Additionally the kitchen offers a long list of ever-changing nightly specials including but not limited to pecan-crusted grouper, frog legs provencal, grits & grillades, soft-shell crab with crawfish au gratin, and an 8-ounce filet with wild mushroom demi glace.

On Tuesday nights, it’s Oyster Night when you can sample oysters 6 or 7 ways: on the half-shell, baked with crabmeat, char-broiled, baked with spinach & artichoke, and in brochette (wrapped in bacon). When in season, it’s All-You-Can-Eat crawfish on Wednesdays.

Café 615 can accommodate up to 100 people for private parties and offers an extensive catering menu from which to choose. The dining room was recently re-modeled and expanded. The place looks great.

The restaurant is open Monday - Thursday, 11 a.m. - 9 p.m.; Friday 11 a.m. - 10 p.m.; and, Saturday 5 p.m. -10 p.m. Closed Sundays. The kitchen serves food continuously during operating hours. The bar is open ‘till. The phone number is 504.365.1225.

The goal of Savoie and Buller was to create a family-friendly restaurant serving local staples and premium specials: a quintessential New Orleans restaurant. By all accounts, they have succeeded. This is not your daddy’s Da Wabbit!

Reprinted with permission of The West Bank Beacon.


Cafe 615 Home of Da Wabbitt on Urbanspoon

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