Restaurant Review: Ina Mae Tavern (New Orleans Style Cajun Food)
Just in time for Mardi Gras! This past weekend I had an opportunity to travel to an old stomping ground Wicker Park and dine for brunch at Ina Mae Tavern (I call them Ina Mae's) which happens to be a Black owned restaurant featuring chef Brian Jupiter who's cooking is out of this world. Reservations were made a few days in advance as their availability fills up relatively fast. My friend tells me that at the time of day in which we'll be dining a band will be playing live blues music. Authentic New Orleans style Cajun food in particularly fried oysters, chargrilled oysters plus live blues. Great! I'm excited. It was more like bluegrass, but I digress. I'll take any form of live music in the midst of a pandemic.
Upon our arrival the host/server is behind the bar. I explain to him that we have a reservation and he tells us we can sit at an open table between two other tables. Unfortunately, this table was not socially distanced to our liking. I decline and ask if we can sit where there are 3 empty tables in the back. He then replies they were told to not sit people there because of Covid regulations. This made absolutely no sense plus we have a reservation. I'm thinking you have these High-boy tables set up where people are sitting with their backs no more than 2-3 feet apart, but we can't sit at these 4 top tables in the back of the restaurant that are more than 6 feet apart from other guests. After discussion further ensues we ended up sitting at one of the tables in the back which were more socially distanced. As a result we felt more safe. After we were seated we noticed other guests were allowed to sit in the area we were seated without a prolonged discussion.
Now that we're seated and comfortable it's time to eat! We decided to order the Po Man's Seafood Tower. It's served in 2 carryout boxes. Mind you they do have plates which they did bring us. We also ordered the Chargrilled Oysters which were also served in a carryout box. No big deal. I prefer plates if we're dining in, but it wasn't necessary to be that picky. Food being served in carryout boxes when dining at the restaurant did seem kinda strange. The only idea I could think of as to why this makes sense is the kitchen isn't prepared to differentiate between dine in and carryout orders which likely was the case.
The Po Man's Seafood Tower consisted of fried shrimp, fried oysters, fried catfish, and fried crawfish. When we're trying to distinguish which items were which in the Seafood Tower we notice they shorted us on the crawfish. They did bring some to us at the end of our meal and took the chargrilled oysters off of the bill which was $8 (special on Saturday from 12pm-3pm) as a courtesy for not getting the order correct and for the server and I not starting off on the right foot during our initial encounter upon being seated. Service redeemed plus gesture and explanation as to why was much appreciated. Since they never checked my reservation they didn't discount the $10 I paid to reserve a table for two. So it kinda balanced out I guess.
Food: The overall dining experience largely due to the initial service we received fell short of what I've experienced at other dining establishments during Covid and was not great, but the food was. The Po Man's Seafood Tower came with hushpuppies and the crispy potatoes which is stuff legends are made of. The Chargrilled Oysters were very delicious as well and satisfied my craving until my next visit to New Orleans. If we were judging Ina Mae solely on the food they would earn 4.5/5 stars, but for me dining is not just about the food. It's about food, creativity, service, ambiance, and a few other intangibles that would make any dining experience special and unique.
Covid Protocol & Safety:
We eventually were comfortable where we were seated, but I felt I had to push for what I wanted to make that happen (when other guests didn't). Although, they were likely operating within Covid dining regulations I didn't feel as safe as I felt at other restaurants I've dined at due to the spacing of tables. BTW I have seen other restaurants have similar table spacing and never thought about dining there because of this. If we only had the option to sit where everyone else was sitting which was too close for comfort IMO we likely would've left and gone somewhere else. Depending on where you're seated you can proceed at your own risk and make your own judgement if dining in is comfortable for you or not. We dined on the weekend which is usually busier. Dining during less busy days during the week could be a solution if you have social distancing concerns when dining out.
To Sum It Up:
Excluding the food, the overall dining experience was not as good as what I would've liked. The music from the band was a nice touch, but was louder than it needed to be to hold a conversation without having to amplify our voices when sitting directly across from each other. Nevertheless, I will be back. The food was Great and there ain't many places where you can get authentic New Orleans style Cajun cuisine in Chicago plus everyone (who serves delicious food) deserves another chance. The next visit will likely be carryout instead of dining there mainly because I expect a certain level of service when dining out and also don't want to have to fight to sit in a more comfortable area of the restaurant to feel more safe. Their food would seem to travel well and I would be fine eating it in the comfort of my home. I did eat there less than 2 years ago before the Covid era and it was an ok dining experience. The food and the drinks were authentic, creative, and tasty.
Part of the reason why I conduct food reviews is for people to experience a similar joy I experience when dining. I'm not in the business of writing unfavorable reviews, but feel I have a responsibility to be honest and authentic to my readers and viewers. To be fair Ina Mae and restaurants in general have to deal with things shifting frequently due to Covid regulations. Restaurants only open for indoor dining oftentimes have to operate short staffed in order to make ends meet and make it financially worthwhile for the people who are working there. When this happens there sometimes is not consistency providing the best service because you may have 1 or 2 people doing the work of 3, 4, or 5 people. The next time I dine there will likely be carryout or possibly dining during a weekday when it's not as busy.
To view their food & drink menu, order carryout or make reservations please visit inamaetavern.com
FILTER'd by Sean Alvarez