Quest for the Best! Toups' Meatery, New Orleans / by MEAT ME

Most people are used to someone taking a piece of brisket, rubbing it up, and smoking it over a barbecue. Chef Toups' likes to do things a little differently. Like taking the neck of a lamb and serve it up as tender as you can, why not do a meat platter with a side of Chicken Jelly. This is the type of innovation Chef Toups' is bringing to his restaurant.

I heard about Chef Toups' from several different restaurants around town. He has 13 years of experience and left quite the impression in the mouths of people adventurous enough to devour his skills. He isn’t doing traditional New Orleans, he is taking you to his roots and letting you taste a little piece of his family history.

Toups' Meatery open just 2 days before I got there. With 2 full nights of service they were completely out of food. Not only was Chef Toup’s overwhelming the city with his meaty delights he couldn’t source food fast enough to open for lunch the day I arrived. I was told to come at 5 pm and that is exactly what I did.

Toups' Meatery is doing things with meat you could never even think of. This Chef has broken the food barrier with items like Chicken Jelly, and Sheep Neck. This is not to mention all the places your taste buds will take you. Chicken Fucking Jelly I thought! I couldn’t believe it. It tasted like a well done chicken soup (in the form of a jelly) spread over a slice of bread, I even have the option of topping it with duck gizzards. I walked out of there thinking I was 20 years into the future. They were not just breaking the laws of food physics they were reinventing the way MEAT is served. It feels like the museum of meat and I am the guest of honor.

I was dying to find out the details so I sat down with Mrs. Toups' to see what kind of shenanigans they are up to:

MEAT ME: So you are?

Amanda Toups': I am Amanda Toups I am married to the chef Isaac Toups and co-owner. We have been conceptualizing this restaurant since he was a lily line cook; you know 12 years.

MEAT ME: What is his experience?

Amanda Toups': He worked for Chef Emeril (Lagasse) for about 10 years. He was at Del Monaco during Katrina we moved around with the company and then back to where they needed us. We then came back to Del Monaco’s. In the last two years we bounced around. He felt he had gotten as high up as he was going to get there. Got as much knowledge and experience and it was time to start the voyage moving towards our own place. It really took 2 years to make it all happen.

MEAT ME: So what is the concept behind Toups’ Meatery?

Amanda Toups': Contemporary Cajun is the concept and really everything that we talked about. From a women’s perspective it is Rustic Sheik. Isaac takes rustic ingredients and finishes them beautifully. He has got that fine dining eye with attention to detail and he is taking a lamb neck, he is taking…

MEAT ME: Ok I get it.

Amanda Toups': Right. So his ingredients are rustic and he’s finishing them with attention to detail. We wanted to be very communal and this is really the entire concept of the restaurant. All the pictures you see around us are of his family members; every single one of them. This one is of his grand mother feeding her chickens that is from around 1930. When you meet his family they are such characters. His family has been in Louisiana about 300 years and it is all about their indigenous way of life; they were very into sharing and eating what they kill.

Amanda manages the tickets before they go out.
MEAT ME: So where do you source your meats?

Amanda Toups': He gets his from various places locally; we mostly source locally. We have talked about getting bulk amounts of pigs from where his family is from, but we did just open on Tuesday (April 17th).

MEAT ME: How is it going?

Amanda Toups': Overwhelming. We probably turned away 30 people last night. We couldn’t even open for lunch today because we ran out of food. He just had to much to do he had to come in and prepare so we could do service today. We just didn’t expect to being doing 110 to 120 a night the first week.

MEAT ME: That is really great.

Amanda Toups': It is a wonderful problem to have. Believe me I am not complaining. It makes us realize we need to get our stuff together ASAP. With Jazz Fest next weekend… I mean it is right there. They are going to punch us in the face for a week and a half straight.

Isaac preps the food to go out.
MEAT ME: So what are some of the featured items on your menu?

Amanda Toups': Almost every single table is ordering a meatery board; almost every single table.  It’s pretty hot. It really gives you a chance to see the breath of his charcuterie background. He was one of the major guys handling charcuterie at Del Monaco’s. They have a beautiful program so he has a lot of experience. He doesn’t call it a charcuterie board because charcuterie is mostly talking about cured meats; he also has a lot of fresh meats on his too. So we are calling it a meatery board which includes rillon. We are very cookly. Rillon is actually a very French way of preparing pork belly. It is basically candied pork belly. We were joking that we are going to have to name our next restaurant Rillon. He has boudin; he has daily sausage specials; he has his cured meats that he is doing by hand as well. It shows the wider variety that he has.

The duck dish has been huge for us. We are really excited about it. It is the roasted duck with turnips; it is a very classical dish that they did when they were duck hunting. They would kill the ducks and rub them with brown sugar, they would brine them then roast them with turnips. I was skeptical at first but then when it came out on the plate people started flipping out. We have had a lot of positive feed back.

Then there are Isaac’s cracklins. It is fried pork belly. Sometimes you get a little bit of meat on them but most of the time is skin and fat. It’s amazing. Isaac has gotten his crispy but chewy. You can chew threw the fat with a little bit of meat on there; he leaves a little bit more meat. Some of our dishes aren’t for the faint of heart, but we like to think we have a little something for everybody.

The foie gras.
MEAT ME: I love your uniqueness. I love places that you kind of have to go out of your way for, something that you can’t find everywhere.

Amanda Toups': We are trying to do something different. For the first time the food is come together really easy for him and it is because he is finally cooking his soul food. He told me right before he opened, “I don’t want to cook anything I am not gonna wanna eat.”

MEAT ME: Are you guys originally from here?

Amanda Toups': Yes, but not from New Orleans. Issac is from Rayne’s, Louisiana the frog capital of the world. They have a frog festival; when you drive through the small town all the buildings have murals of frogs on them. Some are dancing, you look them up and they call themselves the frog capital of the world. I grew up here on the North Shore: the suburbs of New Orleans. We met in Lafayette where we went to college which is sort of the major city over there. He was like, “I’m gonna go cook professionally” an I was like “Not with out me.” Then we left and we have been here about 12 years.

The meat platter with duck gizzards.
MEAT ME: So you guys are changing the menu weekly?

Amanda Toups': We change it daily. He is still figuring things out. We did just open last Tuesday and we didn’t expect to be doing these kinds of numbers.  When he was a fine dining chef and he and an army of cooks with a 2,000 square food kitchen it was different he could do what ever he wanted.  Now he is in the smallest kitchen he has ever been in. It is small. It’s like if those guys aren’t already intimately acquainted but the end of the shift something is wrong and your not working hard enough. Cause it is tight! He is still working out the logistics as to what is going to work in this space so we can have some variety to the menu.

MEAT ME: What about the deserts?

Amanda Toups': We are sourcing those from a local baker in midcity from one of my dearest friends Debbie Doberge. She is incredible and we just started with another local baker that is just right up the street. Baking is not Isaac’s thing. At first I thought I would do it because I am ok at baking, but we have a 13 month old and a new business and I was like… No, I can’t handle this.

MEAT ME: I love deserts. If I had the time I would have to sites one for MEAT and one for BAKING.

Amanda Toups': Yeah. It really is a science. I think that is why Isaac really isn’t into it; regular cooking is more intuitive and baking is a little more of something, or little less of something and it doesn’t turn out.

MEAT ME: Yea éclairs and creampuffs are my biggest nemesis!!!  I will make 25 batches and only 10 will come out.

Amanda Toups': Absolutely. My girlfriend Charlotte, who does Debbie Does Doberge, is incredibly obsessive compulsive so she loves baking. You know Doberge is a classical New Orleans desert. Classically it is chocolate or lemon; she does all of these wacky flavors. She has done really well in the city. I know it does sound a little pornographic. (we are in hysterics)

MEAT ME: You mean Debbie Does Doberge?

Amanda Toups': Yea we came up with that one in a bar room one night.

MEAT ME: That is awesome!!!

Amanda Toups': Yea she’s amazing!

MEAT ME: So the double cut pork chop, what is that?

Amanda Toups': Isaac brines his pork chops for 2 days, they are about this fricking big (shows 2 inches), and then grills them. I have had people tell me it was the best pork chop of their life.

A lot of his stuff takes a lot of preparation. So that is why we are still feeling our way around the menu. Are we gonna be able to do this every night? Or are we gonna have to take a few things off here and there and then add them back on.

MEAT ME: Yea I totally understand. Everybody that I have talked to has 2 to3 days of prep and then they are creating the sauces over night. I am starting to learn that people that are into barbecue and meat probably never sleep.

Amanda Toups': I don’t know how he does it. I didn’t get to sleep till 3 o’clock because we didn’t leave here till 2 am; and he was back here by 8 cooking. I am just like… What? And the baby was up at 7:30 I was like… (laughs hysterically) My background is wine and wine education we didn’t work this hard.

The amazing chicken jelly.
MEAT ME: I noticed the Tequilla Sauce with the Shrip Po’ Boy?

Amanda Toups': Yea. Isaac has always done a little bit of booze with his cocktail sauce.  It really adds a little depth to it; I like mine really ethereally hot, with a lot of horseradish. We had people not liking our deviled eggs because of my horseradish. If my eyes aren’t watering then I don’t think it is hot enough.

I love that horseradish burn. Same thing with crawfish if your whole face isn’t numb then it probably isn’t hot enough.

MEAT ME: Soon Foie Gras will be illegal in the State of California. What is your take on Four Gras?

Amanda Toups': Isaac is a huge foie gras eater. It is a super fine dining item, expensive, and high end. His concept was always “foie gras in your shorts”. You come in some flip flops and a pair of shorts and eat foie gras. I can pour you a glass of champignon and you could be here in your shorts eating foie gras. We just got so tired of dressing up and going out. Who wants to do that any more? I’m tired, I work so damn hard all week.

I wanna eat really good food in my flip flops.

MEAT ME: That is so funny. I was so worried when I drove out here that I didn’t bring any nice clothes. It is nice to know this.

Amanda Toups': Yea not New Orleans. Even one is like why are you so dressed up?

MEAT ME: Sir why are you wearing shoes?

Amanda Toups': Yea! Rollup your pants, get dirty! It really has changed since Katrina. Pre-Katria restaurants would turn you away if you where not dressed properly; the high end ones.

MEAT ME: Really?

Amanda Toups': YES! Del Monaco where Isaac worked the men had to be wearing collared shirts, you could not wear tennis shoes, you could not be wearing jeans. They would turn you away. Post Katrina all bets where off. It was like any business is good business.

MEAT ME: How has Katrina changed the New Orleans dining experience?

Amanda Toups': Again, I think things became a little more casual. Everybody started uniting in the food community; we really stuck together. Even when we were with Chef Emerald all the cooks got together and were like all right where are we all going? We all, in mass, sort of went to different cities.

MEAT ME: I heard a lot of the guys with the mobile barbecue units were going out to different places.

Amanda Toups': It is a very supportive community. BP was a really hard hit. I was kind of dead in New Orleans for a while.

MEAT ME: Now with BP how did that effect you guys?

Amanda Toups': Well it was another one of those things where everyone had to pull up their boots straps and said are we going to stick with it? Are we all going to switch to meat? What are we going to have to do to get the tourists back down here? Luckily enough most people stuck with it. We’ll source our seafood where we can. It is  a way of life we always eat seafood. I didn’t think it was ever going to be one of those things where you weren’t going to see it on the menu as much; and may be you didn’t see it for a while. A lot of the big oyster houses, for a long time, started importing oysters. It was so sad. Most of the time they came from with in a 50 mile radius of New Orleans. I think its back to local and it’s looking good.

I read the paper and I see headlines like 2 years of bad news.  I don’t know what you are talking about because I got some pretty good-looking shrimp back there. It’s amazing and it came right out of the Gulf.

MEAT ME: Yea they are pretty big.

Amanda Toups': Even fried they are about this big. (Shows me 6 to 8 inches)

MEAT ME: You know I wonder if not fishing for a while has let them grow out a bit.

Amanda Toups': Yea may be so. You know what it was also hot this winter. I think they just bulked up.

MEAT ME: Even in Los Angeles it was “freaky” warm this winter. I only wore a jacket about 5 times. I rode the bus for one winter and couldn’t go without a jacket for about 3 months. Not last winter.

Amanda Toups': Yeah last winter I was pregnant I wore a jacket the whole time it was freezing; it was hell.  This winter it was warm I feel like I haven’t had a winter in 2 years.

MEAT ME: Yea fishing was bad the summer before that. It was horrible I do a lot of deep sea fishing and nobody was catching anything because it was so cold.

Amanda Toups': Really… Yeah, we didn’t get any of that. (chuckles)

MEAT ME: I remember one time the captain on the boat was yelling out the window about how cold it was and didn’t look or feel like summer at all.

Amanda Toups': You know what you should come down here next year for “Hogs for a Cause”.

MEAT ME: Really what is that?

Amanda Toups': Yeah. It is right here in City Park in March. About 100 to 150 different vendors, restaurants, and individuals come out here to raise money for kids with cancer. The entire festival is all pork. It is a competition; who has the best whole hog to best avant garde pork dish it is amazing.

MEAT ME: So what am I looking at here?

Amanda Toups': This is Isaac’s house made craklins, this is boudin, this is candied pork belly, and these are smoked duck gizzards. This is cured pork shoulder, pork capicola, rabbit rillettes with a little pickled cabbage, 2 types of mustard, and right here this is chicken jelly.

MEAT ME: Chicken Jelly?

Amanda Toups': Made from chicken fat.

MEAT ME: What about this one?

Amanda Toups': Cured foie gras, muscadine jam, and spicy pecans with French bread.

I will really miss Toups' Meatery. They are leading the way with different cuts of meat, innovative types of jam and platters of food you have never even heard of. This restaurant was an adventure inside of an adventure. Chicken Jelly? Not only was it amazing but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s best friend bacon is right behind it. (wink, wink)

I am never going to run out of nice things to say, but if I’m silent it’s probably because my mouth is full. This is definitely one of the highlights of my trip and you can bet I will be back for more.

You can check out Toups’ Meatery at:
On Twitter @toupsmeatery
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Foie gras in your shorts,
Sean Rice