We’re always on the lookout for a good blue plate special in New Orleans. So when one of our scouts apprised us of a little joint called Big Shirley’s that recently opened up near the Fairgrounds we jumped in the Econoline and went barreling out of the 9th Ward to see if we could get some victuals and soak in some good southern hospitality.
The menu trumpets “best fried chicken in New Orleans” which is quite the claim in a city filled with hundreds of fried chicken parlors; from the white tablecloth Dooky Chase’s to the teeny-tiny izakaya on Frenchmen Street: Yuki.
Walking in we’re heartened to see a pair of New Orleans’ finest breaking bread at a nearby table. Cops know how to eat and they can generally be found at some of our favorite off-the-beaten-path dive restaurants around town.
Is Big Shirley’s fried chicken the best in New Orleans? Not even close but it is a fair version. The cook won’t be winning any awards anytime soon for his work but the dark meat chicken was properly prepared with a good shattering crust that unfortunately was too light on the seasoning. A heavy boost of salt, black pepper, cayenne, paprika and perhaps some garlic powder could really take this chicken to the next level. More’s the pity.
Collard greens came from a can. No more need be said.
The macaroni and cheese was unbelievably good, rich, creamy and decadent. Big Shirley’s has one of the best versions we’ve ever had in New Orleans and we’d be happy to stack it up with Jack Dempsey’s down in the Bywater which has been serving our platonic ideal for the past 20 or so years.
A chicken and sausage gumbo was murky and thick with plenty chicken and low-grade sausage. Perhaps the owners can visit Terranova on Esplanade in the near future and secure a contract for some of the finest links in the southeast United States. This overly thick gumbo was trumpeted as being Creole but we found little evidence of the claim. Our surveys of genuine Creole gumbo around town find a thin broth, plentiful seafood and the acidic spike of tomatoes in the finest versions. Big Shirley’s exhibited none of these traits.
The best thing we ate at Big Shirley’s was easily the hoecakes described as being “corn bread cakes” on the menu. These little griddle cakes were divine, barely sweetened and served hot off the flat top-we could’ve eaten a mountain of them.
Service was congenial. The cashier/waitress was a sweetheart, very engaging and regularly checking after our weal. Would that all service in New Orleans was of this caliber.
Big Shirley’s is tiny, seating perhaps 15 people it’s a classic little neighborhood joint serving up food that we would describe as being decent enough but not earth-shaking good. Except for those hoe cakes. Those were out of this world.
Big Shirley’s Hours:
Monday through Friday: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m
Saturday: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Sunday: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Address: 1845 Gentilly Blvd New Orleans LA 70119