The interior of the Bon Ton Cafe should be required viewing for any would-be restaurateur. The exposed brick, tight spaces, and general coziness of the space fill the restaurant with warmth and bonhomie. The wait staff is all female and don white nurses uniforms with black petticoat aprons. A wall of wine anchors the back, and the tables are just close enough to allow eavesdropping. Nothing in the design of the restaurant is utilized to distract, rather the elements are used to wrap you in a bear hug of hospitality.
This is also a restaurant of another era. Of a time of sweeter liquor drinks as evidenced by the Rum Ramsey, which is a rum fueled cousin of a whiskey sour. It was too sweet for my tastes, but the Sazerac brought forth a stout glass filled with a pale red textbook version of the drink that perhaps launched it all.
Entrees are served with a house salad and your choice of side. On the table is both bread and crackers, a restaurant version of belt and suspenders. The salad gets points for including blanched carrots and spicy radishes, but the dressing was both too vinegary and applied with too heavy of a hand. The fried catfish bits which show up with a vat of Alzina's Sauce - a mayo based concoction - are crisp and greaseless and a good excuse to order a cold beer.
An over salted crawfish etouffee could be a kitchen mistake or a chronic problem. But it doesn't really matter because you should be coming here for the crabmeat au gratin. A cauldron of pearly white crabmeat floats in a spoonable bechamel. Across the top of this delicacy of brackish waters is a carpet of melted American cheese. Now you may snicker at the use of American cheese in post-Foodie Revolution America, but if Adam Biderman can use it with fantastic results at Company Burger, why not here?
Crabmeat au gratin at Bon Ton Cafe is a fantastic dish, but the rest of the menu is in desperate need of attention.
Bon Ton Cafe: Is It Worth It? For the crabmeat au gratin, yes. The rest is skippable.
401 Magazine St.