Take One: Dick & Jenny's
Grand Island doesn't have a reputation for being a culinary destination. Dick & Jenny’s has taken a leap towards changing that.
I am not engaging in hyperbole by suggesting that Dick & Jenny’s is a jewel. Cajun food made of fresh, quality ingredients served in a homey atmosphere is not easy to find in these parts. Its eponymous owners operated a restaurant by the same name in New Orleans and evacuated to Western New York after Hurricane Katrina. Eventually they decided to stay here, selling their original restaurant to their former employees in Louisiana and opening their charming Cajun roadhouse on Grand Island.
Walk inside and Jenny will welcome you near the door; Dick is likely tending bar. The décor is friendly and inviting and reminiscent of a country store, with plates designed by loyal customers and friends adorning the wood-paneled walls.
The servers here are friendly, informative, and attentive. During a Saturday evening rush the charming bar and restaurant hums with the chatter of happy customers and servers darting about. There’s a hearth area where antique benches provide a place for people to talk and enjoy a drink while waiting for their tables.
To put us in a Gulf Coast frame of mind, we ordered a hurricane—the house specialty—and a mojito. The hurricane was made from scratch, but had that tangy flavor that can make you nostalgic for Hawaiian Punch. The mojito was sweet and generous, but a bit on the weak side.
A first glance at the dinner offerings revealed a tasting menu, a bargain at $25 ($35 with per-course wine pairing) allowing guests to sample three courses consisting of the restaurant’s favorite offerings, but prepared in smaller portions. This seemed like the best option to us.
We began our meal with barbecued shrimp over sweet potato grits. The grits were so creamy and flavorful, that I initially mistook the color imparted by the sweet potato for cheese. The shrimp were grilled and blackened, drizzled with a delicious blend of Cajun seasoning that offered complex flavor without being too hot. It was served with sweet sautéed onions and chopped scallions, both of which provided good flavor and texture.
For our second course, we had difficulty choosing between the crab cake and the grilled spiced chicken wings, so our server recommended the former. Served over a salad of chopped lettuce, brunoised red and yellow sweet pepper, and a drizzle of olive oil, the breaded crab cake offered a wonderfully crispy exterior texture and succulent, sweet crabmeat inside. The crab cake was so impeccably seasoned that it hardly required the assist from the dollop of remoulade with which it came. As an added bonus, it was served over delightful fried green tomatoes. Not only did their crispy exterior and tender interior mimic that of the cake itself, but the subtle tomato flavor and firmer texture married well with the crab. This course was definitely a winner.
My third course was sublime—a slow cooked, smoked Berkshire pork belly. The skin was savory and crispy like the best bacon, the fat literally melted in our mouths. It provided a perfect contrast of flavors and textures in each bite. The belly was served over a mild parsnip puree with a few pieces of grilled summer squash and a garlic balsamic jam. The initial sweetness of the jam nicely complemented the salty, smoky pork, but it eventually proved to be overly sweet and the serving perhaps just a bit too generous, overpowering the pork if eaten in the proportion served. Nevertheless, upon setting some aside, I found it delicious and, in that much smaller amount, a combination that worked well.
My fellow diner’s 8-ounce filet was grilled perfectly pink from edge to edge, and proved to be butter-tender. It was served with a choice of demi-glace or hollandaise; we chose the latter, which gave the meat a nice lemon flavor. Crispy potatoes au gratin and spinach sautéed with sweet onions and coriander rounded out the plate. It was a great entréeif not terribly New Orleans-y.
Prices for entrees run from about $15 to $25, and there is a selection of New Orleans-style po’ boy sandwiches like blackened fish, crab cake, and fried oysters for less than $15 each. Unlike most of the other restaurants reviewed in this area of Spree each month, Dick & Jenny’s also serves breakfast and lunch so there should be plenty of opportunity to make the trip to the former culinary wasteland known as Grand Island and check the place out.
Dick & Jenny’s might have just put Grand Island on the region’s culinary map.
Dick and Jenny’s Bake and Brew
1270 Baseline Rd., Grand Island
Attorney Alan Bedenko also blogs at Artvoice Daily.