On opening weekend, Tru Orleans succeeded in bringing a tiny bit of the French Quarter in New Orleans to DC’s H Street Corridor. In fact, if you ignored the rundown buildings across the street, you might think you had been briefly transported to Bourbon Street. The exciting atmosphere and promising food at Tru Orleans (400 H Street, NE) should excite anyone who has ever visited the Big Easy.
Only months ago, what is now Tru Orleans was a rundown former radio station on the western end of H Street. The western end until recently had not experienced the same level of investment as the eastern end. The Tru Orleans owners completely gutted the building and built a second level as well as a small patio on the street that rings the building. The second floor looks like it came straight from the French Quarter: an open air bar complete with an iron balcony around the entire bar and several lazy fans that help cool it off. Patrons can sit at the bar, eat dinner at the few tables upstairs, or lean over the balcony and people watch on H Street below. The downstairs (first floor) level features more tables and art work imported directly from New Orleans. Jazz adds the final authentic element to the overall atmosphere. For opening weekend they were handing out Mardi Gras beads and goodie bags featuring Mardi Gras masks to each table. One of the servers even wore a mask for part of the night.
The restaurant commanded a one to three hour wait for a table for dinner during opening weekend (even for people who had received a special invite via email). Fortunately, the upstairs bar section can make an hour plus wait fly by. The bartenders will happily mix a strong New Orleans favorite for you—ranging from a sophisticated Sazerac cocktail to a less than sophisticated Hurricane. The Hurricanes come in Category I, II, and III based upon how strong you would like them (later in the evening a somewhat rowdy table could be overheard asking the waitress if she recommended trying all three categories in one sitting). While the beer selection is not the biggest, the restaurant has several beers on tap directly from Louisiana (from the Abita Brewery). For those who want something non-authentic, Tru Orleans also serves a variety of domestic beers for reasonable prices.
The Tru Orleans team went to New Orleans and immersed themselves in Cajun cooking before opening. So far under the leadership of Chef Andre Miller they have done an impressive job with the classics. The crawfish etouffee has a complex and flavorful roux and fresh tasting crawfish that do the Cajun classic justice hundreds of miles from home. The red beans and rice—either a side or a complete meal with andouille sausage—leaves the diner with a welcome burn in the mouth and wanting the next bite. While the filet is well cooked, one might want to skip it for a cajun classic as the steak is served plain and only with one of the available sides. Currently all of the kitchen’s dinner offerings are printed on the menu, but a decent number are not available until later in July. The menu will no doubt become even more entertaining as additional New Orleans favorites become available. Later in the summer Tru Orleans will begin serving lunch complete with Po Boys ranging from Fried Shrimp to Catfish to Soft Shell Crab. They also plan to serve breakfast with beignets and coffee that will hopefully be reminiscent of the famed Café du Monde.
While the overall experience was great, it was not without minor opening weekend slips. The service had minor problems at times with one server hovering around the table three times after we were finished asking us if we were done but not actually clearing our plates. Yet, all of these slips were small and can easily be ironed out in the coming weeks.
One of the managers was kind enough to sit down with us and discuss the future. In addition to breakfast and lunch service, look for Tru Orleans to become one of the later night hangout places on H Street. The bar will stay open late into the night, and the Tru Orleans team hopes that people will begin to gravitate towards the western end of H Street. While parking has been an H Street problem, look for Tru Orleans to offer valet parking in the future. The restaurant team is very active with social media, so definitely check out their Twitter and Facebook for upcoming special events.
Tru Orleans is one of the most exciting new openings in the Northeast region of the city. While it continues to develop and roll out new features over the next few weeks, the H Street region has to be excited about the potential of the restaurant to continue revitalizing the western end of the corridor. Cajun fans across the city should be excited about being able to travel to the Big Easy for a little while without having to get on a plane.