New Orleans: Head to Coop's Place for Po' Boy Burgers
1109 Decatur Street, New Orleans, LA 70116(map); 504-525-9053, coopsplace.net
Cooking Method: Char grilled and blackened
Short Order: Coop's Burger tastes like the Quarter: blackened, a little smoky, and fulla spice. Get it on a French roll.
Want Fries with That? Lots of seasoning elevates the average fries that come with the burger
Price:On a bun, $7.95; on a French roll, $8.95; grilled onions, + 75 cents; cheese, +$1, bacon or grilled 'shrooms, $1.50
Many venture into New Orleans' French Quarter to drink. Others go to satisfy their culinary cravings for crawfish etouffee, bread pudding, and po' boys. Few, if any, consider the Quarter as a place to find a burger. Indeed, outside of offerings at chains such as Krystal on the outside borders, there are few burgers to be found near Jackson Square. But there's one that certainly bears the mark of New Orleans.
That burger can be found at Coop's Place, a small bar and restaurant on Decatur Street far down from the tourists traps and close to the French Market (itself a pale shadow of what it once was before Katrina). The floor is often wet in the bar and there's rarely a good place left to sit, but if you get a chance and you love a good burger, this is your destination.
The beer is Abita—Restoration Ale, Jockamo, Turbodog, or Purple Haze. The music is whatever classic rock hit some other guy's paid for with his quarter. The restrooms are tiny. Get your elbows out and claim your spot at the bar if you can't get a table.
The burger, a full half-pound of it, comes two ways—on a bun for $7.95 or on a French roll for a dollar more. It's a buck more for cheese (cheddar, Swiss, blue, or "pepper cheese"), $1.50 more for bacon or grilled mushrooms, and 75¢ more for grilled onions. I had mine on a French roll. Heaven's sake, we were in the Quarter.
The burger came open-faced, with shredded lettuce, hamburger dill pickles (the ruffled kind), and tomato slices on once side and the mess of hot meat and cheese on the other. Condiments are on the table.
I had ordered mine medium rare but was surprised when it came out almost cinder-ish on the outside, looking like an overdone burger on a slightly singed bun. The burger patty was elongated to fit the bun, and was crusty all over with a hint of char. The grilled onions were white greasy chunks, apparently cooked with the meat itself from the charry blackness along their edges. They'd just begun to caramelize into a lovely sweetness when pulled off the griddle. The cheddar had melted down through the top of the patty.
Getting the mess to the mouth was difficult, thanks to the typical crusty texture of the French roll. It took both hands to manhandle the two sides together with the toppings in between, and the lettuce and tomato bits tended to fall out without ample application of condiments to glue them in. But upon first bite, there was a moment of relief. This was no ordinary burger served on an odd bun—it was a New Orleans-style blackened burger that perfectly fit the flavor of the town. It's basically a hamburger po' boy.
The meat was packed with flavors common to so many New Orleans dishes: cayenne, paprika, garlic, onion, and black pepper (it could have well been seasoned with Tony Chachere's). The pepper was overwhelming in some parts, but the other flavors, while obviously present, weren't overpowering. The center of the burger, while not pink, was juice-filled, and thanks to the thick and thirsty French roll bun you're not likely to feel the drip. Just don't take too long to finish the burger; once the French roll reaches critical burger juice mass, it'll start to disintegrate.
The fries were sufficiently soft inside and almost crisp outside, and were dusted with the same spices as the burger—spices that made these otherwise average fries a bit tastier than plain fries. The waitress came by to refresh my Purple Haze and offered me more fries since they couldn't all fit on my plate, but it wasn't necessary; I found once I ate the burger I had no room for more fries. But I couldn't evade them; the waitress had packed the fries in a box and handed them to me before I left.
About the author: Kat Robinson is a writer and storyteller out of Little Rock, AR, who writes the Arkansas Times' Eat Arkansas blog and who explores Arkansas and the American South looking for great stories, interesting people and the next great meal.