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Posted Monday, December 13, 2010

It was a crisp, December evening and we'd decided to reminisce about our last trip to New Orleans exactly one year ago. Dee Felice Cafe, a New Orleans-themed restaurant in Covington, Kentucky, seemed the perfect venue from which to do so.

We have a special affection for New Orleans. The place exudes a soul and ambiance one can't fully appreciate merely through words. Like many Southern coastal port cities, New Orleans boasts a rich history with structures nearly as old as the United States itself, and cultural influences dating back much, much further. As long as you steer clear of hyper-touristy Bourbon Street, chances are you'll come away with an experience of a lifetime. And if you don't steer clear, you'll likely still have a good time, but you won't remember much of it.

A cornerstone of New Orleans' charm is its unique, delicious food. The city's amazing signature dishes hearken back to early Americana: a slow-cooked, simmering melting pot of French, Creole, Cajun, African, Spanish, Native American and Italian cuisine.

Dee Felice Cafe has been serving food and recreating the New Orleans vibe for nearly three decades. It's renowned for offering fine, authentic Cajun and Creole dishes amid a dark, smoky din of live Jazz, with musicians belting out tunes atop a narrow, elevated platform behind the bar.

We were seated near the restaurant's front window overlooking Chez Nora across the street. A basket of fresh-baked bread soon arrived at our table, small yeasty rolls that Dee Felice advertises as being baked on site. They were good, airy, but lacked the sharp, yeasty flavor I was hoping for.

We started off with the "Hot Slaw" and a "Special Salad" of the day. The salad consisted of roasted, "blackened" tomatoes lightly topped with crumbled blue cheese and raspberry vinaigrette, served over a thin bed of Romaine leaves. The Hot slaw, made up of shredded cabbage, crumbled bacon, onion and bell pepper, was partially submerged in a pool of warmed vinegar, which hijacked the flavor. It was overpowering enough to make me cough a few times, but I pressed on. I appreciated the more complex flavors of my girlfriend's roasted tomato salad, but she also found her dressing too overpowering.

We ordered two popular Louisiana favorites for our entrees: Jambalaya and Crawfish Etouffee. We chose half portions priced around $12 apiece. Full portions cost twice as much and included one side and a salad.

My girlfriend was notably surprised after taking her first bite. Overwhelmed by the supreme over-pepperiness of her Jambalaya, her first thought was, "I'm not sure I can take another bite of this." Shrimp had been cooked beyond her recognition; she hadn't realized the rubbery, ragged-textured objects were seafood until I'd pointed them out. Mealy bits of sausage and hard-to-cut chunks of overcooked chicken also graced her steaming dish. My Crawfish Etouffee was also very peppery, uncharacteristically soupy and very light on the rice. The crawfish were small but not as overcooked as her shrimp.

The waitress arrived later with a dessert tray, which included pumpkin pie, a berry cobbler, bread pudding, cannoli and the Boule de Neige, a whipped cream-covered cake with a dark chocolate center. We opted for the bread pudding and the cannoli.

The bread pudding was lukewarm and astonishingly bland: despite its dessert status, it reminded me more of a failed Thanksgiving stuffing, the kind Grandma would overcook and turn into a fine, tasteless mush. It had a slightly fruity aftertaste, no doubt assisted by the overabundance of bloated, golden raisins. The glue-like, so-called "Bourbon" sauce lacked any punch --typically one would enjoy a spiked whiskey flavor, but this sauce seemed like it had been made during Prohibition.

The cannoli was small and largely tasteless, save for a hint of orange. The overly broad choice of desserts was confounding. Dee Felice would be better off perfecting a small number of selections. For example, why not offer Bananas Foster, the famous New Orleans dessert invented at Brennan's restaurant? With Chiquita's headquarters right across the river, it seems like a no-brainer.

Service was a highlight of the evening: water glasses were promptly refilled and our waitress was attentive and helpful. Alas, the food was beyond saving.

Dee Felice Cafe is one place we'll likely never step foot in again. The music might transport you to New Orleans, but the jarringly mediocre food will slap you back to reality. It's disappointing, given Dee Felice's reputation. We'd last visited 10 years ago and had a much better experience. How times change.

If you want more authentic New Orleans fare, try Anna Ree's Andouille, located in New Richmond, Ohio. It's worth the trip.

Dee Felice Cafe on Urbanspoon
Dee Felice Cafe

Price: Very Expensive ($17 - $30 per person)
Service: Good
Rating: 1.51.5 stars




Comments

Corey
Posted: 2010-12-14 06:54:33
What a shame, especially due to the price. You'd think it would have to be good with those prices. I have never been to New Orleans, yet I really want to go, but it makes me not want to go to this type of restaurant in fear that it would ruin my outlook on how the real New Orleans would be.

Intuitive Eggplant
Posted: 2010-12-14 20:19:18
Sorry to hear you were disappointed. Have you had a chance to Try New Orleans To Go? I think you would be pleased with the food, although of course its carry-out, so a completely different dining experience. (Mrs. NOTG, who is from New Orleans and doesn’t like cold weather, told me she wanted to focus on catering this winter, although her husband said he’d be happy to bring the food truck downtown himself if she made food ahead that would hold . . . not sure how that will play out.) Another option you might find worth trying (maybe in less snowy weather) is Andouille, a little east of New Richmond. Their menu is broader than Cajun and Creole, but they’ve got some good stuff and often some interesting specials. And a gorgeous riverfront view/location with outdoor seating and music in their huge backyard (they still have music indoors this time of year on the weekends). Happy eating :)

Cincinnati Bites
Posted: 2010-12-14 23:29:19
@Intuitive: Yep, really liked NOTG and Andouille; you'll find a review for each on this site.

Maria
Posted: 2011-01-19 20:31:13
I also had an awful experience at Dee Felice's. I asked for the jambalaya and got something that did not look like anything like the dish they advertise, and it certainly did not look or taste like a jambalaya. It was truly awful, and very expensive. I write a food blog and went there with the intention of writing an entry about it. I decided not to, and I will never go back to that place!!

Amber Brandenburg
Posted: 2012-08-21 00:53:02
I agree in part about the food. We ate at DF this evening after a two year hiatus due to extremely poor service on several occasions. We only attended tonight because I had a coupon and wanted to give them another try in hopes of staff turnover. Sadly, we were wrong. The food we ordered was very good, although a bit too peppery for my personal taste, my husband enjoyed it. The honey glaze on the pork was delicious as was the calamari appetizer. I always get the Blackened Dante's chicken. The spice was too much for me this time which disappointed me since it is my favorite dish there. The Boule de Neige was tasty, but not what I ordered. I got my dessert to go and they didn't get it right which I didn't notice due to all of the cream (my planned dessert also had whipped cream on top) until I got home.
The waiter pushed off most of his duties to the bus boy, who was very kind (when we could find him) and service was extremely poor for the price. If you are getting a $10 tip due to food cost then it should be earned. We had to flag him down twice for refills, once for butter which he forgot to leave us for the rolls, and twice for to go boxes. He didn't even ask us if we wanted alcohol or dessert. I had to go after the bus boy to find out what the dessert options were.
All in all, it was very disappointing and I doubt we will return again, even if we wait another two years.

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