Copeland's, a New Orleans-based chain restaurant that opened recently in Annapolis, boasts that it serves "the ultimate New Orleans experience." That isn't too far from the truth.
My mother and father are from Baton Rouge, La., so I'm familiar with the state's cuisine, and Copeland's does New Orleans and the Bayou State justice.
From the outside, the two-story building looks more like the Taj Mahal than a restaurant. Inside, it's equally ornate with vaulted ceilings, fan-shaped relief motifs on the walls, and cherry-wood paneling around the dining area. Add dim lighting and a jazz duo in the dining room, and Copeland's gets an A for ambience.
Guests waiting for tables get pagers to let them know when their tables are ready. Meanwhile, they can sit in the cigar and martini lounge or at the bar.
We were impressed with the menu.
Several entrees are priced under $10, but a few slightly more expensive seafood dishes caught our attention. What good is New Orleans cooking without bayou meat? Crawfish (or crawdads, as they're known down South) and catfish are featured in several dishes, even some of the less expensive ones. But there's also a wide selection of dishes with shrimp, chicken and beef.
My husband started with the onion mum ($5.95), Copeland's version of the onion bloom. It was a little disappointing because it was so messy. The onion fingers should pull out easily, and the battered and fried part should stay with the main part of the onion. This one fell apart. Also the dipping sauce was thin, and with every trip from the plate, the food dropped spatters.
He moved on to the crawfish bayou ($14.95). The dish consisted of crawfish served over rice pilaf, an enjoyable combination, with a side of mashed sweet potatoes that he enjoyed.
The centerpiece that sold the dish, though, was catfish stuffed with crawfish and topped with hollandaise sauce. The sauce and light seasoning allowed the catfish to show off its excellent, simple flavor.
I couldn't resist finding out what New Orleans chefs would do with that Maryland icon, the crab cake ($8.95). I was pleasantly surprised.
Two bun-size crab cakes were full of meat and low on filler.
Any Marylander would be proud. The kick was that the cakes were covered with a slightly sour cream sauce and herbs, giving the dish a twist akin to lemon, but with a different flavor. I liked it.
For the entree, I chose the shrimp ducky ($12.95), a bayou variation on surf and turf. Funny name, but a great combination -- slices of tender duck and shrimp with mushrooms in a well-seasoned brown gravy served over rice (for real Cajuns) or pasta (for the Italian Creoles).
It was a match for my mother's rice and gravy. Too bad that she never threw in seafood.
However, Copeland's gets a few points off for the crunchy pieces of rice.
Dessert was delicious from the brownie a la mode ($4.50) to the exotic bananas foster ($5.25). The pecan brownie was warm and richly chocolate, topped with hot chocolate and more pecans. The homemade vanilla ice cream was a must with this dish. How could anyone gulp that much chocolate without it?
Bananas foster was a variation and definite improvement on the banana split. The fruit was sauteed in a cinnamon, butter and rum sauce, and topped with homemade ice cream. The bananas weren't too firm but not mushy, providing a good contrast in texture to the smooth ice cream and sauce. The sauce wasn't so sweet as to be overpowering. The components complemented each other perfectly.
All that and a couple of drinks, tax and tip came to $70 -- much less than two airline tickets to New Orleans.
We saved money and fed our seafood craving while only sacrificing a visit with relatives.
Where: 1777 Jennifer Road, Annapolis. 410-571-0860.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 11 a.m. to midnight Fridays and Saturdays and 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sundays.
Prices: Appetizers, $4.95 - $8.95; entrees, $9.95 - $19.95.
Credit cards: MasterCard, Visa, American Express, Diners and Discover. Rating: ***
Ratings: * culinary wasteland **** culinary heaven
Pub Date: 1/14/99