Thursday, April 29, 2010

The American Sector

A plate of pork cheeks with a sauce of black eyed peas sits on top of crumbled cornbread at John Besh's latest venture, The American Sector in the World War II museum.

Initial Impressions

Peter: Lots of natural light with the walls of windows on both ends of the dining room. High ceilings and well-spaced tables allow for easy conversation even when the dining room is slammed.

But what is with the low chairs? I feel like I am eating in a grade school cafeteria - just call me Billy Madison. Also, much like Billy longing for a snack pack, there were no complimentary pickles on my visit.

Rene: A bright, open space, The American Sector calls to mind a well-designed aircraft hanger. Lining the walls, photos of Louis Armstrong, Bob Hope, and Generals from yesteryear oversee a line of tables, an indoor patio area, and a horseshoe shaped bar. Behind the bar is a gentlemen adorned with a handlebar mustache and tight sleeves, predating the Forties by about 35 years.

As a history major in college, I am enamored with most things World War II. In fact, I once broke up with a girl because she didn't know what century WWII was in... among other things. That is right, century; the punishment fit the crime. So from the outset I am predisposed to like the joint because it is in the WWII museum. While I have never eaten anything besides a pre-packed lunch for a field trip in a museum before, this looks promising. The house made pickles (below) quell your hunger as you peruse your menu.


Peter: Rabbit pâté; onion rings; slow cooked beef tongue on sourdough (below); sample bites of the Sloppy Joe and Vietnamese po-boy.

Rene: Fried chicken gizzards with mustard sauce; chicken wings; meatloaf with mushroom gravy, mashed potatoes, and green beans; and pork cheeks with black eye peas and crumbled corn bread.


Peter: The rabbit pâté is served in a flat can from the era and with saltines. A thin protective layer of fat protects a relatively smooth spread with shreds of rabbit meat immersed throughout. I taste a pronounced flavor of cognac or brandy, perhaps. The onion rings are coated in a thick, donut-esque batter which you can sink your teeth in. Served in a towering stack, these rings are different, if not excellent.

The slow-cooked tongue reminded me of chipped beef on toast. The meat was tender but needed more salt, and I think this would have been better served over mashed potatoes or mac and cheese instead of in sandwich form. Banh mi had a strange sweetness to it. Sloppy Joe was very good - tender shreds of beef in a nice tomato sauce. Thick-cut housemade potato chips were addictive.

But there were two overarching descriptions for all of the food: heavy and messy. The food lacked the polish I (perhaps erroneously) expected from a Besh restaurant, but I guess it fits the WWII era stick-to-your-ribs type of food which the menu is supposed to be emulating. Still, the food was a little too soft for me and difficult to eat, a situation which was exasperated by the low chairs and wooden butcher blocks that the sandwiches are served on.

Rene: Some dishes you just want a whole bucket of to snack on with some ice cold beer. Case in point: the gizzards. Wow. The crackly batter is seasoned judiciously to showcase the sublime gizzards. The mustard sauce provides a nice punch back against the richness of the main attraction. Ditto on the chicken wings. Its nearly impossible to find a well-made wing in this town. Too often the damn things are doused in some sort of hazardous substance and sent out flabby or dry. Not here, the chicken wings were succulent, crunchy and coated in a sauce more resembling a reduced pepper jelly than poor man's version of hot sauce beurre blanc.

The meatloaf could have entered and won a meatloaf contest. A sturdy top and bottom surrounded a tender interior studded with brunoised bits of carrots, celery, and onion. The contrasting sauces - the bright, spicy tomato based topping and creamy, earthy gravy- got along very well together. The potatoes were smoother than a cot on a Navy vessel, where the overcooked green beans would have been at home as well.

The pork cheeks came to the table with theatrics. One server drops a bowl filled with chunks of cornbread and those delicate cheeks. Then a second server comes by and pours over the whole dish a steaming serving of black eyed peas cooked with a solid dose of bacon. If the circus seems a little silly (and it is), the creamy, porky, corny goodness washes away that feeling. But we should have ordered lighter as we were stuffed at this point.


Peter: Our server was cheerful and helpful without being overly caught up in the theme. The staff on the whole is quite young, which makes me wonder if the American Sector is training ground in the Besh empire. Even if that is the case, the service is more than satisfactory.

Rene: The vibe is kitschy with servers dressed in period costume - think polka dotted dresses and starched white shirts with black bow ties rather than jump pants and bomber jackets. For the veteran heroes who dine here, it must be quite enjoyable. The servers do a pretty good job of moving courses in and courses out, but there are some struggles when the place gets busy.

Closing Thoughts

Peter: I wanted to like this place from the second I walked in the door. The ambiance and decor are unique and engaging, and the attraction of the museum is a great addition to the city in terms of both educational value and entertainment. But the food was disappointing, perhaps because of my own flawed expectations. After reading Rene's thoughts, I want to go back and order from the main course offerings.

Rene: The busy times seem to be right after the show in the Victory Theater or Stage Door Canteen lets out. So plan your visit accordingly. The Besh Group has given New Orleans another concept restaurant which works where it is. And if you find yourself in the World War II museum (as you should), a meal here sure beats a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in a brown bag by a long shot.


Peter: Bogey/Par.

Rene: Par/Birdie.


Katy said...

ok wait-you mean to tell me that you get your very own mason jar of pickles and brine for sipping? I'm moving down there...soon.

Katy said...

I impulsively blogged about your blog-hope you don't mind!

Rene said...

Not at all She Caught the Katy

ethan said...

The low chairs are a huge problem and I'm nearly six feet tall.

And yes the meatloaf is medal-worthy; best meatloaf I've ever had, actually.

I was less happy with the service which was slow and disjointed--and on my second visit I was surrounded by devastatingly loud drunk guys who had just come off work as well as a weird group of women giggling about actors coming in and out of the stage door canteen.

Great food, but it's the kind of place that I wish could exist somewhere else (though I realize that this is a lame complaint since it is in a WWII museum after all).

John said...

I live right around the corner, so I was overly excited when American Sector opened. I have been a few times and am just indifferent to it. I still think they are tweaking their presentations and things as they seem to vary from visit to visit, so hopefully other things will continue to improve. I have found much better service at dinner when it is less crowded than during the day when it is packed with museum visitors.

Brad said...

That's right, Katy. But there's no guarantee that the pickles on the table will be as good as whatever pickles you happen to be carrying in your purse.

Dwayne said...

My wife and I ate at the American Sector on Monday, June 7. We ordered 2 Sloppy Joe sliders, the meatloaf, and the daube of beef. The Sloppy Joe's were the star. They were absolutely wonderful, and since we were there during "happy hour" they were only .75 cents each. Had we known what the reaminder of the meal would have been like, we would have ordered more sliders.
I've read previous posts that consider the meatloaf worthy of an award. I don't think so. Honestly, it was not good at all. The sauce on the top was too sweet, but the main travesty was that there was too much breading mixed in the meat...the texture of the meatloaf was "mushy". I have a hard time leaving food behind (to see my "girthiness" you wouldn't have a hard time believing that) but more than half of that meatloaf got thrown away. The Daube of Beef was quite tasty. The vegetables were absolutely delicious. There were, however, two chunks of beef fat that were supposed to be chunks of beef. That really turned me off on the dish. The beef should have been trimmed better before cooked, those two chunks of fat should have been in the garbage rather than in my dish. Which brings me to another point...the serving dish. I would have been much happier had this meal been served in a plate rather than the vessel it was served in. Rice rather than the odd noodles would have been better also. It is more of a stew than a Stroganoff.
I will be back, I will not be ordering the meatloaf or the daube of beef, but I will be back because the atmosphere is lovely, the service is quite good, and on the back of two sloppy joe sliders, I still have faith in the food.