Stop me if you have heard this one. It is late in the week, but not quite the weekend. Maybe payday fell on a Thursday or maybe you just don't feel like cooking. Your wife or husband or boyfriend or roommate looks at you and says, "Let's just go grab a bite to eat. Nothing fancy."
Sure you say. "Where do you want to go?"
Now the decision making process begins. Perhaps you are in the mood for Vietnamese, but you also know that your dining companion had it yesterday. Maybe someone wants Mexican but you both agree there isn't very good Mexican in town unless you go to Taqueria D.F. and you want to sit down and have a beer with dinner. Eventually you settle on a spot where you will not spend a fortune, the beer is cold, and the menu has something for everyone. I am not saying High Hat is my de facto spot for this dining scenario, but it could be real soon.
First reason why is that High Hat, a new venture between Chip Apperson and Adolfo Garcia, is incredibly close to our house on the booming Freret St. If I owned a bike, I could walk there. Secondly, the place is no frills. Paper napkins, no tablecloths, a long bar, tile floors, and a few old signs make up the decor of the restaurant. Third, and most importantly, the food is really good.
As High Hat focuses on the food of the Mississippi Delta, we started with an order of tamales. Each tamale was as thick as two fat cigars. The corn meal had just turned from molten to barely solid, like grits left out on the breakfast table. Inside the wrapping sat sultry chunks of pork. A spicy, well-oiled dipping sauce helped add moisture and another level of flavor. "Let's order another plate," Lindsay asked.
Lindsay would be a vegetarian if bacon could be included. Luckily for her, High Hat has a vegetable plate which makes that dream a possibility. A chunk of cornbread sat at twelve o'clock high on her plate. At three was a bowl of okra and tomatoes, with a good dose of hard spice. The flavor of that okra made us calendar a return date for late fall. At six o'clock sat another bowl - this one filled with perfectly tender, black eyed peas which could give your momma's red beans a run for their money.
Finally from the eight to 11 o clock spot sat some big pods of green beans tossed in a dressing akin to a vinaigrette and crowned with bacon. Dragging cornbread through the slurry of black pepper and bacon jus left behind on the plate after the beans were polished off, elevated what was otherwise a rather dry and coarse piece of cornbread.
Fried chicken may never be the new black, bacon focused food cart but I still love it. The way its crust can tell so much about the technique of the cook. How the juicy interior can show proper seasoning or a lack of care. As fried chicken goes, High Hat's version is a solid A minus. I liked that they cut the breast into two pieces. Which makes it fry better and also increases the surface area of crust to meat. A word about that crust, it is coarser and more rustic than versions you may be used to, but no less good. There seems to be a heavy reliance on cornmeal in the batter and this results in a more textured finished crust. The meat was well-seasoned from all the way to the bone but tended to get a little dry in spots.
Sides were the pimento cheese mac and cheese and an order of finely chopped, pork spiked, and smoky mustard greens. The mac was a bit dry, but the red pepper flavor of the pimento shined. It is hard to imagine anyone making mustard greens much better than High Hat's version. I think we have a new answer to that age old question, at least in our house.