The football season is over. So is Groundhog Day. And Valentine's Day, too. But if any excuse for a party will do, don't forget that Mardi Gras is Tuesday, Feb. 21. And while it may be a little late to book your trip to the Big Easy, you can at least get a taste of it at our local Copeland's of New Orleans.
The eatery took up residence in Columbia about 11 years ago and still draws its share of fun-loving folks who enjoy contemporary versions of regional Creole/Cajun fare, as well as more American food, like burgers.
There are a number of Copeland's franchises nationwide, but the New Town version remains a corporate entity. If you're looking for ante-bellum architecture and a beer-to-go handed to you out the front window of a bar at 7 a.m., this is not the place. Rather, this restaurant bespeaks the more notable and "civilized" dining establishments in New Orleans.
Copeland's is sleek and contemporary and fun loving, with lots of smooth, dark wood on walls, tables and just about everywhere else. The combined dining areas boast some 300 seats, yet you'd never know it. Large booths, small booths, individual tables are nicely arranged with an eye toward encouraging you to actually converse with the people in your party. And throughout, space dividers evoke those wonderful harlequin masks that symbolize carnival, whether it be in New Orleans, Rio de Janeiro or Venice.
The menu is large, and slick with color photos that tempt the appetite. Additionally, Copeland's regularly features smaller menus offering thematic limited-time promotionals. The focus when four of us visited recently was lighter fare (550 calories or less, including skinny cocktails and desserts), which spoke to our New Year's resolutions. Later this month, according to George Mecham, Copeland's banquet and catering manager, the promotional menu will change and focus on our tendency to eat more seafood during Lent.
Of course, there's ample seafood on the regular menu, which is tweaked a couple of times a year, and some of our party partook of that.
More than beans and rice
You might want to brush up on your French pronunciations, because part of what makes the Copeland's menu fun is the names of some of the dishes, harking back to the time when France held sway on that part of Tom Jefferson's Louisiana Purchase. Words like bisque, bleu, le club croissant, Cajun gumbo ya ya and more. Not to worry, though, everything's pretty well described in English, and the prices aren't in euros, either. You'll pay relatively reasonable amounts of dollars for everything, including a commendable number of appetizers, plus a small plate (hot and cold items) selection, plus side and main dish salads, soups, po-boys (Big Easy-style subs), burgers and sandwiches, pasta dishes and "classics" like shrimp Creole and Andouille ("an-dew-ee") sausage with red beans and rice. Whew!
There's also a section featuring fried seafood platters, another on fish selections, plus one boasting steaks and ribs. The luncheon menu is extensive and proffers the usual lunch-time sandwiches, plus entrees, like chicken Alfredo at less-than-dinner-time prices.
As soon as you've ordered your beverages, your server will bring out some fresh-baked biscuits. Light, kind of crunchy on the outside, fluffy within, but a bit dry. You'll have to ask for butter.
For an appetizer/first course, you can get a bowl of corn and crab bisque. The "bowl" ($4.99) is actually a cup served in a large soup plate. We assume the "large bowl" is the same, but with more bisque. Either way, the concoction was a smooth, mildly spiced, somewhat seafoody soup garnished with scallions and a corn fritter.
Or go for the jazzy wings ($9.29/large portion). The four whole wings were indeed large, nicely spiced and fried crisp, while remaining moist, meaty inside. A couple of celery stalks and a mildly tangy combination ranch/cheddar blue cheese dunk accompanied.
Another appetizer was the apple almond bleu ("blue") salad ($7.99) from the 550-calories and under promo. Quite a large one, with plenty of apple pieces, toasted almond slices, crumbled bleu cheese, sun dried tomatoes, red onion and mixed greens (including radicchio). All very fresh, and enlivened by a honey-balsamic dressing served on the side.
Our seafood lover chose crabmeat ravioli ($7.49) from the (hot) small tasting plates section. The menu promises lump crab, but the trio of pasta pies contained snow crab instead. Nevertheless, these seemed a special treat, mildly spiced, served under a blanket of bubbly hot and comforting Alfredo sauce.
Et plus… "(ay plue)"
Our meat lovers ordered sirloin and the veal, respectively. The first was the prime top sirloin (usually $21.99, on special for $19.99) from the steak and rib menu section. Easily 11/4 inches thick, done to medium-rare perfection, tender and juicy, presented on a small platter set on an oval of wood. Kudos to the grillmeister. Accompanying, "red hot" potatoes – aka mashed redskin spuds ($2.99).
Veal Copeland ($15.79/one slice; $1.99 more for a second slice) was another meat lover's choice. The two spiced veal cutlets had been lightly breaded and fried to a crisp-tender finish. This offering was accompanied by a portion of linguine, shrimp and Tasso (spiced ham) in a creamy, rather zesty sauce.
Shrimp Creole ($14.99) was too spicy for our taster. All the elements – shrimp (of course) and long-simmered onion, garlic, tomatoes, bell pepper, herbs and spices – were in place, including a mite more cayenne than was needed to complement the delicate flavor of the shrimp. Even the bed of rice that absorbed some of the sauce couldn't seem to tame or balance it.
And lastly, for $10.99, a crawfish po boy ("poe boy"). Billed as "overstuffed," this offering was indeed huge. Crisp-fried sweet crawfish bits had been arranged over a bed of pickles and tomato slices and sided by both tartar sauce and mayonnaise. Satisfying in itself, but our taster opted additionally for a side of mashed sweet potatoes ($2.99). Smooth, orange-y, and as sweet as dessert, which made our guest happy indeed.
For the most part, Copeland's delivers what it promises, which according to George Mecham, is a "full-flavored New Orleans-style" approach with elements inspired by regional Creole and Cajun cookery as well as more classic food from elsewhere in the U.S. of A. Mardi Gras goes on pretty much every day here, although there are no parades.
Oh, and if you're wondering why there's no mention of beignets on the menu, hang tight. Beginning at the end of this month (or thereabouts), Copeland's will inaugurate a Sunday jazz brunch buffet, and beignets will be on the menu, Mecham promised.
Copeland's of New Orleans (301-596-6107), 10200 Wincopin Circle, Columbia. Full-flavored New Orleans-style fare in a sleek, fun-loving setting. Friendly, efficient service. Relatively reasonable prices. Open seven days (no reservations). Dine in; carry out. Catering – here or at your place. http://www.copelandsofneworleans.com.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun