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DINING

Show me your grits

Tibby's plates Crescent City classics with a bit of Bourbon Street bustle

Photo: Jason Greene, License: N/A

Jason Greene

Where y'at? - Aloma Avenue in Winter Park isn't the Ninth Ward, but the food is just as good


Tibby's New Orleans Kitchen

2203 Aloma Ave.,
Winter Park
407-672-5753
tibbysneworleanskitchen.com
$$

Take your tops off, good people of Winter Park! It would appear that your fair city has landed a Crescent City kitchen worthy of exposing your rack, and that's a good thing. New Orleans has never been a city to exhibit restraint, and Tibby's is no different – at least as far as the decor is concerned, with an interior resembling a Big Easy theme park festooned with pre- and post-Hurricane Katrina memorabilia, tchotchkes and photographs. Katrina, in fact, played a major part in Tibby's founding: The restaurant is named after Walter "Tibby" Tabony, the late great-uncle of owner Brian Wheeler, founder of the Tijuana Flats Tex-Mex restaurant chain. Tibby and his wife lost everything to Katrina and found sanctuary in Central Florida, where they both lived out their final years.

But this ain't a Cajun kitchen in name only, oh no. Wheeler is a NOLA native, and many of Tibby's dishes are fashioned from recipes handed down by his father, Chester Wheeler. Flavors in the items we sampled were deep and bold, but never heavy-handed or overseasoned. Lavish shrimp and andouille cheddar grits ($12) may have given our arteries a healthy glazing, but this racy plateful of plump shrimp, piquant sausage and cheesy hominy slathered in a merlot-based gravy was gratifyingly filling and a pleasure in every sense. Hand-battered eggplant sticks ($6) were boring by comparison, but rouging those batons with some kickin' Creole sauce made them addictive.

As far as basics were concerned, the jambalaya ($4.50 cup; $8 bowl) had the right heat-to-flavor ratio, but the seafood gumbo ($5 cup; $9 bowl) could've done with a little more Cajun napalm (or a darker roux). We pooh-poohed the price for a cup, even more so when we couldn't find the advertised oysters in the gumbo. You won't find a messier sandwich in this town than the 12-napkin roast beef po'boy ($8 half; $9.75 whole) which dirtied more than just a dozen. What started off as a structurally sound sub ended as a beefy stew. Hell, I didn't mind getting the stinkeye from patrons for finishing the gravy-smothered top-round with a knife and fork. The bread, incidentally, is baked by the New York International Bread Company downtown, using Tibby's special recipe, and is delivered daily. Unfortunately, the roast beef po'boy didn't exactly showcase that bread, but the catfish po'boy ($6.75 half; $8.75 whole) certainly did. Doughy with a brittle crust, the bread provided a platform for a crispy fillet adorned with the requisite lettuce, tomato, pickles and mayo. Sandwich sides, however, left much to be desired, particularly dense, dry hush puppies and room-temperature sweet potato fries.

You won't find café au lait on the menu, but our utterly delightful, patient and obliging waitress brewed a couple of cups for us to enjoy with a heap of beignets ($4.50) that were powdered with enough sugar to warrant a Tony Montana impersonation. I plunged my schnoz into that powdery mound and thoroughly indulged myself. Then, when it was all said and done, I burst through Tibby's front door with a satisfied look and yelled, "Say hello to my leetle frien'!"

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