The American Sector
945 Magazine Street
New Orleans, LA 70130
Entrance on Andrew Higgins Drive
John Besh is big in New Orleans. Real big. The blonde and wholesome looking Cajun chef has decisvely out gunned and out-charismaed "fuzzball" Emeril Lagasse as NOLA's predominant celebrity hash-slinger, boasting Restaurant August, La Provence, Luke, Besh Steakhouse and other popular eateries in his ever-increasing portfolio. The American Sector represents Besh's foray into "themed" dining, operating as it does under the historical auspices of the National WWII Museum.
The name, "American Sector," apparantly is a reference to what that particular chunk of the Warehouse District was entitled in pre USA days. The restaurant name is controversial among some New Orleanians: some view it as an attempt to white-wash or Americanize what was never a very culturally "American" chunk of the city in the first place. Decide what you want. Let's talk food.
Complimentary bread and butter pickles. Very good.
The menu is supposed to represent WWII era favorites in tandem with Southern soul food classics, all screwed around with in Besh's signature upscale manner. There's an impressive mixed drink selection, lots of appealing looking small snacks, sandwiches, and some sort of overpriced looking entrees. I began with a special blueberry mojito prepared with fresh berry pulp, which was a winner: not sickeningly sweet or insipid like many fruit drinks, and a good hard pour. (Gettin' liquored up at lunch time: another delightful tradition of the 1940s!)
My dad chose the spicy garlic glazed fried chicken with an assortment of pickles (9.50). It's a snack size type thing and consisted of lightly fried chicken drumettes with a vague sort of garlic flavor - all right, nothing particularly exciting. The assorted pickles that accompanied it were, however, quite nice: watermelon rind, beet, and one other. I wish relish trays would come back.
I went with the shrimp and sausage gumbo with sassafras (6.00) which was pretty standout: a dark, deep, funky roux with a generous amount of seafood and andouille. Some would probably consider it a "muddy" gumbo but I liked the deep funk and the rich, fatty flavor of the stuff: would order again. I ordered the collard greens (4.00) to go with: a big "eh". Not enough meat flavoring and cut into large and awkward chunks - I wouldn't bother.
I also tried the crab ravigote salad with avocado and bacon (12.50), which was a nice riff on a typical New Orleans crab preparation. The ravigote sauce was light and nicely lemon scented without becoming overbearing, and the deep fried avocado was a surprising and delicious touch. Besh knows how to source superb bacon, as evidenced by the meaty chunks found here.
On the whole, the American Sector offers an alluringly up-market choice within the museum, and might even be worth a special trip for visitors who'd like to sample Besh's cooking without dressing up or emptying out their pocket-books. The dining room is a bit chilly (both temperature wise and in terms of decor,) so don't schedule a romantic date here unless you both really get off on 40's kitsch. I'll try not to judge you.
Speaking of Besh, personally. Have seen the guy attending the downtown farmers market with his equally charismatic black hunting labrador retriever. Seemed to be authentically nice as hell. Wish I could gleefully relate that he was a grade A douche-bag who demanded personalized squashes in the shape of alligators for his restaurant menu, I really do, but that is Not The Truth.