'Austin's Best Pork Chop' ($9.29, available Tuesdays and Wednesdays)
909 N. Lamar Blvd. 474-0805, www. shoalcreeksaloon.com. Kitchen hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays through Wednesdays. 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays.
Right now, it's good to be from New Orleans if you care about football. The Saints are 13-1 and 12th-ranked Louisiana State University plays Penn State on Jan. 1 in the Capital One Bowl.
Shoal Creek Saloon cares about football, in case the Smart car-sized Saints helmet on the awning out front didn't tip you off. Or the TVs. On the back porch alone are five screens in an array that looks like the command center of a battleship.
If you care about food, it's always good to be from New Orleans, no matter how the Saints are doing. And Shoal Creek Saloon cares about food: gumbo, etouffée, crawfish, shrimp, catfish, po' boys, burgers, chicken-fried steak. But on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, it's mostly about the 1-pound 'Austin's Best Pork Chop' special.
Curious what a piece of meat that big looks like? Look around. At lunchtime, there's one on every table and two more gliding by on the servers' trays at any given moment, weaving through the wood-paneled dining room in front, bathed in the reddish glow of neon beer signs. I heard about the pork chop at my neighbor's office Christmas party, where I was surrounded by guys for whom Tuesdays at Shoal Creek have become a midday ritual. For them and about half the area workforce, it looks like. You could sell raffle tickets for parking spaces.
Out back, the covered porch tilts precipitously toward Shoal Creek, which has risen up a time or two to swallow the saloon. With the rain this fall, the creek could pass for a bayou, the overhanging trees creating a sheltered Travel Channel riverscape just off congested North Lamar Boulevard.
My pork chop came from the fat side of the T-bone, just shy of two inches thick, barely sharing the plate with a scoop of buttery mashed potatoes, peppered gravy and green beans cooked just past done with a little bacon. The chop glowed like toasted gold, a crusty sear helped by a touch of rubbing spices, the fat charred to a perfect depth. The meat was a cinch to cut, an abalone white basted by clear juices. It tasted every bit like a barbecue pitmaster's prize chop without that oversmoked dryness.
Hard to believe it's only $9.29. Hard to believe you could finish it in one sitting. But man, people big and small were putting it away. Happy people. It was like eating at a church picnic, Saints and all.
- Mike Sutter