Most first-time visitors to New Orleans will probably never see Grand Isle, the quaint little fishing village on Louisiana’s Gulf Coast that also boasts some of the state’s best beaches. It’s not easy to get to. Grand Isle is a more-than-one-hundred-mile drive from the city, via a circuitous route that takes you through Jefferson Parish (county) and two other parishes before re-emerging, 2-3 hours later, in Jefferson Parish at the shore of the Gulf of Mexico.
But visitors can now see glimpses of Grand Isle, Louisiana, as well as get a taste of it, thanks to a new restaurant opened near the Harrah’s Casino and Hotel on Poydras Street. The new restaurant is called – appropriately – Grand Isle. Renowned local caterer and entrepreneur Joel Dondis, unveiled his latest culinary showplace in May 2007, and its popularity is already taking off.
Grand Isle Restaurant opens up to the newly created Fulton Street Promenade, a two-block pedestrian walkway fronting the Harrah’s Hotel, and featuring a number of other businesses, including Riché Restaurant and its adjacent 528 nightclub. Grand Isle is a casual seafood restaurant specializing in local catches and cold beer, and occupies the site of a former parking garage.
In refurbishing the site for a cost of about $3 million, Dondis bought rights to a large number of iconic, black and white photographs of Grand Isle fishermen taken by renowned Louisiana photographer Fonville Winans in the early 20th century. They cover the newly installed, rough-hewn cypress walls. Other interior and exterior treatments also help create an ambience reminiscent of the town of Grand Isle.
There’s a popular slogan you’ll see on the walls or on the menus of some New Orleans seafood restaurants that goes, “Those fish (or shrimp or oysters) on your plate sleept last night in the Gulf of Mexico.” Grand Isle embodies that slogan. It serves some of the freshest Louisiana seafood available, along with Southern beef and poultry specialties. Spiced and boiled, fried, sautéed or grilled, the seafood comes from the waters off of Grand Isle, Louisiana to your table without ever touching the freezer.
Oysters on the half-shell and shrimp by the pound are among the featured dishes at Grand Isle. Jens Jordan is the Executive Chef.
Grand Isle Restaurant takes you back to the days when cold beer, 10-cent oysters and air conditioning were advertised on the windows. Cypress walls will give you that "Fish Camp" feel, but Grand Isle has all of the necessities to make your dining experience a “Grand” one. You can choose from a vast selection of great wines to specialty cocktails from the mahogany bar, and you can dine indoors or outside on the Fulton Street mall.
Dining style at Grand Isle is casual dress. Prices generally range under $30 per person. Walk-ins are welcome and the facility is handicapped-accessible. Ample parking is nearby in the Harrah’s garage and is validated by the restaurant.
Dondis, who first opened a business in 1993 called Joel Catering and Events, recently opened Sucre (Spanish for “sugar”) a confectionary shop in the 3000 block of Magazine Street, with partner Tariq Hanna. If Grand Isle proves successful in New Orleans, he has ambitious plans to franchise it to other cities such as Miami, Birmingham (Alabama) and possibly as many as ten cities total.