By Arielle and Jay
Over 1,000 miles from Huntington exists a land where alligators are food, grits are a common side dish and shrimp come with heads still attached. The inspiration for Huntington’s Storyville American Table, this distant land is New Orleans, Louisiana.
Co-owners TC (Tom Curry) and Brian Finn opened Storyville American Table in May 2013, taking over the kitchen and dining room from Finley's, but the pair had been wanting to open a New Orleans-themed restaurant for two decades.
“Life did its dance, and we came back together,” said TC, a lifelong Huntington resident who spent 20 years working as the general manager of Finley's.
TC and Finn, who doubles as the restaurant's executive chef, have each spent a lot of time in New Orleans, TC said.
“I fell in love with the ambiance, the food, the architecture, the art, the music,” he said. “The city itself is just a celebration of life.”
The restaurant’s name comes from “the sorted debauchery that was Storyville,” as Finn described it – an area of New Orleans that was sectioned off during the late 1890s and early 1900s for its identity as the “red-light district” of the city.
At Storyville American Table, the drink menu has a blue cover the way the city of Storyville had a blue book that served as a manual describing which lewd acts the women of each area would perform, TC explained.
The food is diverse. The restaurant smokes its own pork ribs and makes its own pickles – as well as other various pickled items, including pickled green beans, pickled quail eggs, and pickled cauliflower – and dressings. Each night, a different amuse-bouche is served to guests after seating; tonight there is Cajun quiche.
“We tried to stay kind of true to New Orleans classic, but at the same time incorporate the bar side,” Finn said. “So we have the whole tavern menu with sandwiches and you know, kind of ‘pub food’ that stays true to that side, but as far as the New Orleans food, we pay tribute to all the classics.”
A New Orleans cab driver told Finn on a trip that New Orleans is a town with thousands of restaurants and three recipes: jambalaya, etouffee, gumbo.
The gumbo at Storyville is made with a brown rue base, Finn said, for a nutty, “almost-burnt-but-not” flavor. Most restaurants, he noted, do not use a brown base. Made with the same brown base is the etouffee ($17.95-$18.95), a New Orleans staple that brings together a sauce, shellfish or chicken, and rice.
The crispiness of the chicken fried shrimp ($11.95), a take on chicken fried steak, is balanced by a creamy smoked sausage country gravy and is very clearly reminiscent of southern cooking. On the lighter side are shrimp and andouille sausage skewers ($10.95), served with a burgundy-colored raspberry mustard sauce.
While crawfish ravioli holds a spot on the menu, other varieties appear sometimes. King Crab ravioli topped with crispy onions is a creation well worth making.
If you have never had grits before, the grits at Storyville American Table are a first experience that will abolish fear of and confusion about the side dish with the notorious reputation for strange consistency and pasty taste.The grits at Storyville, highlighted in the Shrimp and Grits entree option ($17.95) are made with cheese and bacon and taste like intricately textured mashed potatoes.
Finn and TC source the restaurant’s alligator and oysters from a distributer in New Orleans. The alligator on the plate tonight is tail meant, TC says. An unusual menu item in the eyes of northerners, the alligator tastes like a tougher sort of chicken. The way it is prepared here, it could pass for a variety of chicken Francese.
Desserts here are familiar. TC prepares Bananas Foster ($10) tableside, and then there are the beignets ($8) –zeppole-like pastries whose name translates directly to “fritter” or “doughnut” – shrouded in powdered sugar.
As Storyville prepares for its upcoming Mardi Gras celebration, Catering and Guest Specialist/Media Director Doreen Pagano excitedly shows off Three Kings Cakes covered in thick stripes of purple, yellow and green sugars and sliced almonds. But every day feels like a party at Storyville, with tall glasses holding Hurricanes – concoctions of dark rum, Pat O'Brien's Hurricane Cocktail Mix and crushed ice – and a “Four-Play” menu that allows diners four choices for each of four courses for a price of $24.44 four days a week.
Atmosphere: New Orleans, party-like; fun
Cuisine: New Orleans-style cooking
Hours: Monday: 4:30-10 p.m.; Tues.-Thurs.: 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.; Friday/Saturday: 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m.; Sunday: Brunch 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m., dinner until 9 p.m.