H Street Northeast might be developing a reputation as the liveliest stretch of nightlife in the city, but it’s no Bourbon Street.
Standing on the corner of Fourth and H streets, though, you could be forgiven for thinking, for a moment, that you had been transported to the famous Big Easy entertainment district. Tru Orleans, the new Cajun-flavored bar and restaurant anchoring the western end of the street, is ringed in two stories of ornate wrought iron railings.
Large lanterns evoking gaslight bathe the lower-level sidewalk patio in a warm glow, while the upstairs balcony invites bead-tossing revelries. A sign painted on the side of the building bears a huge retro-looking advertisement for ginger mint julep, an iconic Louisiana drink.
Inside the brick building, which once housed the radio station where legendary ex-convict-turned-disc jockey Petey Greene worked in the 1960s and ’70s, there’s more New Orleans to be found. Soft yellow walls, Mardi Gras masks and smoky jazz music announce the Big Easy vibe.
Tru Redding, the restaurant’s co-owner and namesake, fell in love with the Crescent City’s culture and cuisine on hunting trips with buddies who were native to the area.
“We’d camp out in this shack, and all day long, the guys are cooking,” says Redding, who owns the restaurant with investors Brad Howard and Hans Christensen. “That’s the food I love — not the fancy French Quarter stuff but the real Cajun and Creole stuff.”
Redding, whose background is in construction, found a spot for a large restaurant right next to the lot where a Giant supermarket is slated to be built, with 215 apartment units above the grocery. It’s also near the 432-unit Senate Square building.
Redding, who also owns the sports bar Public on 18th Street Northwest, saw an opportunity to set up shop in a fast-growing area that’s not served by many restaurants — most of H Street’s development has been clustered farther east.
Despite being passionate about the food and finding a promising spot, Redding said opening the venue hasn’t all been a big easy. He says financial pressures prompted him to open Tru Orleans a month before he planned. His managers and chef said they needed 10 days to prepare; Redding gave them three. The resulting hustle caused some bumps in the service and the food, he says.
“I wound up comping a lot of food and drinks, and you know what? The neighborhood has really responded,” he says. “They’ve been great. We’re already seeing regulars.”
Since the opening last month, he’s made adjustments to the menu while tweaking the service.
He nixed the fried chicken (“we thought it would sell, but people just didn’t want it”) and the court bouillon fish dish, of which he sold only two in the restaurant’s first week.
What stayed were tried-and-true classics such as crawfish étouffée (choose it on its own, served over rice, or as the topping on a spicy slab of catfish), blackened fish and meat-studded red beans and rice.
The head chef, Andre Miller, hails from Ruth’s Chris Steak House, but he clearly knows his way around seafood, too.
And, thankfully, his kitchen isn’t afraid of some fire. A bacon and shrimp appetizer gets a snap from wheels of jalapeño, and the jambalaya packs a pleasant heat.
To douse the flames, there are classic cocktails, such as a well-made Sazerac, Abita beers and three different variations of the fruity hurricane (dubbed Category 1, 2 or 3 based on the alcohol content).
Pecan pie, pleasantly sticky and not too sweet, is a typically Southern end to the meal, as is the house-made bread pudding.
Food and drink aren’t the only things on the menu. There’s also art on display (and for sale) by artists who hail from both the local area and from Louisiana.
Redding has learned from jumping in too quickly and plans to roll out the restaurant’s lunch and brunch offerings more gradually. The eatery plans to begin offering lunch Aug. 8 and to phase in breakfast service. Starting Aug. 15, they will sell beignets and coffee in the mornings, and a full breakfast will be available Sept. 1.