Louisiana cuisine exists in a world of striking descriptors—it’s a world of alligators and mud bugs, of dark roux and Fat Tuesdays, of Cajun spice and rich flavors. It’s a food native to the south with notes of celebration thanks to its association with the city of New Orleans. And every so often, it’s a cuisine that travels north in the most engaging of ways.
Top Hat Oyster Bar & French Quarter Kitchen, born from the remnants of a gastropub, opened less than a year ago in Bellmore. Now, customers dine under enormous chandeliers in a restaurant flush with purple lighting, Mardi Gras-inspired accents and food and drink menus that offer a hearty callback to the cuisine’s southern roots, with just enough of an East Coast vibe to keep the locals comfy. Each table receives a warm French baguette in a bag and are encouraged to “break bread” with their hands as those from Louisiana are apt to do.
At the top of the menu lives Top Hat’s oyster offerings, starting with a raw selection at $3 per oyster. Ask your server for which variety of oysters are available—but all come classically plated with Tabasco sauce cocktail and the ever-present shallot and vinegar-based herbsaint mignonette condiment. From there, things get interesting with the char-broiled oysters. These pearls of the sea boast that telltale char flavor, lovingly enhanced by garlic butter and parmesan. This is the perfect time to utilize the aforementioned French baguette, as the garlic butter-parmesan concoction demands to be mopped up.
Other oyster selections include Oysters Bienville, with Cajun bacon, mushrooms, sherry and Hollandaise; the signature Oysters Top Hat (for two), featuring shucked oysters with artichokes, pancetta, herbs and garlic bread crumbs; along with fried oysters and Oysters Rockefeller.
From there, we arrive at the small plate starter menu, where some lesser-known fare mingles with time-tested favorites. The Voodoo Wings come highly recommended, and are served with a pleasantly different buttermilk pecan blue cheese dressing. There are also plenty of Louisiana favorites here, including seasoned shrimp or chicken Creole gumbo, a deconstructed muffuletta platter, Cajun jumbo lump crab cake and a New Orleans sausage duo, with Louisiana Boudin stuffed Andouille served with lavender honey and Creole mustard sauce. But this writer encourages eaters to step out of their comfort zone for the Alligator in a Blanket, which offers Louisiana gator (yes, from Louisiana) in a puff pastry with a Creole mustard dipping sauce. The gator indulges the eater with a slight snap of gaminess, that is immediately quelled by the buttery puff pastry. The way it’s prepared, the gator isn’t stringy in the slightest—instead it is juicy and truly reminiscent of pork in fatty flavor.
Top Hat also offers an array of salads, along with a selection of Po’ Boys, all fully dressed with lettuce, tomato, pickles and Blue Plate Mayo with French fries and Mirliton apple slaw. The Po’ Boys run the gamut from shrimp to sweet potato to roast beef to oyster to blackened chicken to surf and turf with roast beef, shrimp and New Orleans staple debris gravy.
Before delving into the entrées, there’s a section of the menu dubbed “Louisiana Specialties,” with all the favorites laid out in all their splendor. There’s Creole shrimp and grits, jambalaya, cornmeal-crusted bronzed catfish and a slow-roasted deboned half duck. But chef’s favorite is the classic étouffée, featuring crawfish (the legendary “mud bug”), with New Orleans’ Holy Trinity of onions, celery and bell pepper, cooked in the almost mythical dark roux, a heavenly thickener made with fat, flour and plenty of patience. The impossibly rich preparation is the perfect bath for strong crawfish, as it all culminates in a stimulating and succulent combination that will keep your flavor receptors guessing and your brain synapses flashing.
Entrées are served with Haricot Verts and Creole mustard smashed potatoes. These include the Mojo Berkshire Pork Chop with root beer-glazed Granny Smith apples; Pecan Crusted Salmon; and the Slightly Blackened Gulf Fish & Creole Crab Cake.
Flip the menu over for a gander at Top Hat’s impressive cocktail selection. The first one listed, and for good reason, is the Top Manhattan, a heady and classic beverage with bourbon, sweet vermouth and black cherry juice. The Whiskey Hurricane blows in with Breckenridge, Red Bush, Bacardi, orange juice, pineapple, grenadine and passion fruit. There’s also Louisiana and New Orleans classic cocktails, like the Alabama Slammer, Voodoo Sunrise, Vieux Carre and a wild Absinthe Frappe.
Allow your server to convince you to try dessert, specifically the Bananas Foster Parfait, which takes the New Orleans classic and dollops it into a glass for a sweet end to a raucous meal.
Top Hat Oyster Bar & French Quarter Kitchen, 106 Bedford Ave., Bellmore; 516-900-1560; firstname.lastname@example.org