Mckinnon’s Louisiane Restaurant age 35

In reviewing the early `7O’s “dinning in Atlanta” guides, some of the old standby restaurants were wistfully remembered... such as the Pleasant Peasant, Joe Dale’s Cajun House, Clarence Foster, Gene and Gabe’s, Midnight Sun, Aunt Fanny’s, and of course, Pittypat’s Porch. only a few remain: Jim White’s Halfshell, Nakato, Alfredo’s, and Mckinnon’s Louisiane.

In the institution of Buckhead, Mckinnon’s Louisiane, which celebrated its thirtieth anniversary in April 2002. Recently ownership was passed toAziz Mehram, General manager since 1980.  His nephew, Bill Glendinning (Consulting Chef) Since 1975,  No short termers here.

Billy Mckinnon’s first career as a stockbroker ended after seven years when, as Billy said, “we discovered we weren’t for each other.” He had been a “hobby” cook since college and focused on the best of American cuisine, that, of course, being Creole. To that end Mckinnon went to New Orleans to hone his skills at the source. He apprenticed at hallowed Galatoire’s restaurant, which is still a New Orleans staple for old-line natives’ and subsequently returned to Atlanta to practice his new found craft.

Billy recently said that he was grateful and felt awfully lucky to change career in mid-life to one that enabled him to look forward to each and every day at his job and love it.

Atlanta quickly accepted this “new” cuisine and Mckinnon’s became a destination restaurant for many famous Atlanta’s such as Dick Rich, loan Allen, Sam Massel and the late Senator Paul Coverdell. Table “81 “ was the Coverdell’s favorite table and it was occupied each election eve for good luck by Mrs. Nancy Coverdell and friends.

Mckinnon’s kitchen has always been the backbone of the restaurant, and today it still serves the marvelous Louisiana seafood dishes reflecting the refined cooking of Creole New Orleans as well as the more pungent, highly seasoned dishes of Cajun bayou. Mckinnon’s main dining room is elegant and warm while the grill room offers a more casual dining experience. Dinner is served Everynight and reservations are suggested. Located on Maple Or. at Peachtree, the restaurant is only minutes from Buckhead hotels.

And speaking of dishes and traditions, Mckinnon’s stuffed eggplant (a casserole with shrimp, crab and eggplant to die for) is guaranteed to get an expectant and past due mom to deliver. Billy says, “if an expectant mom is a day over 9 months and has my stuffed eggplant, we will promise baby in 48 hours or dinner is “on the house.” Needless to say there is quite a parade of past due parents at the restaurant.

Today Billy Mckinnon spans much of his time in coastal Darien, Georgia, gathering fish, shrimp and crab to be trucked to the restaurant in Atlanta. Thirty years does make Mckinnon’s Louisiane an institution and tradition. A tradition that is part of the strong fabric of Atlanta’s diversity of peoples and their foods.

McKinnon’s Louisiane Restaurant has been in Atlanta for almost thirty years, imagine thirty years! - when the words “ethnic food” said in polite Atlanta company resulted in awkward silence and a change of subject. But we’ve come a long way baby! And McKinnon’s has stood the rest of time.

The story of the restaurant’s origin has become the stuff of local legend. At the age of 35, Billy McKinnon quit his day job as a stockbroker to pursue his first true love - cooking. He apprenticed at the famous Galatoire’s in New Orleans, before moving to Atlanta in 1972 to open McKinnon’s, Talk about changing career paths!

Located in a sea of “Hipper than Thou” . Buckhead eateries in a rather plain strip` center at the corner of Maple and Piedmont, McKinnon’s is refreshing in its complete lack of pretense. The room is cozy and unaffected a impeccably clean. Though Mr. McKinnon has manned the door of his establishment since 1972 he has recently turned over the ownership to his very capable assistant, Aziz Mehran. In the context of a cuisine chat embraces so many different cultures, it ill’ somehow appropriate than Billy McKinnon has chosen immigrant as his protégé.

He could not have chosen better. Aziz Mehram, who has managed the place since 1980, is a gracious and hospitable host with an air of impenetrable calm. In a business characterized by never ending work, Mr. Mehram always seems as if he just returned from a restful beach vacation. But do not mistake calm for complacency. Mr. Mehram is articulate and well acquainted with the subtle distinctions of New Orleans cuisine and culture Under his guidance, the restaurant, runs like a clock. The service is pleasant, efficient, and unassuming. And the food is outstanding.

When last I saw Mr. Mehram he was enjoying one of his favorite dishes on the menu -- fried flounder - before the Friday evening rush. The fish, which is fried whole, makes a spectacular presentation. And it tastes as good as it looks. Even if you avoid fried food, it’s worth making an exception for this dish. The lean, dry flesh Flounder is a well loved New Orleans fish served, a thousand different ways. In this case, .Cajun fried fish, French hollandaise and Japanese pickled ginger are perfectly married in typical Creole fashion.

The appetizer platter for a minimum of two is a good idea for variety. Our platter included a delicious “off menu” crawfish preparation along with the outstanding tab Claws Piquante and Shrimp Cocktail Remoulade both with sauces that are creamy without being heavy. The gumbo is typically flavorful without being over burdened with roux or salt. New Orleans cuisine is one that can tend to the heavy, but there is light and intelligent hand at work in the kitchen at McKinnon’s.

Though they do a wonderful filet mignon and offer several chicken dishes, McKinnon’s is primarily a fish joint. If you’re a first timer who loves seafood, try the mixed grill, usually tuna, grouper, and amberjack. They’re prepared in three distinct ways, each one delicious, so you can decide what you prefer for next time. If you have the amberjack entree, have it with the hot peppered shrimp for a little extra and get a taste of another excellent seafood entree. And of course don’t forget Aziz’s favorite - Fried Flounder. Top off the whole meal with some chicory laced coffee and traditional Creole Bread Pudding and you’ll go home smiling.

The Louisiana Grill got high marks - a piece of salmon grilled Cajun style with grits and mixed vegetables. Make sure you get a side of the chef s own Creole Cocktail Sauce - a delicious creamy crawfish concoction that tastes as delicious by itself as it does with any of the main dishes that we tried. The traditional Cajun blackened redfish special was also delicious. Blackened here, meaning rubbed with spices and grilled to perfection, not burned to a cinder as in many misguided local restaurants. Shrimp prepared in the same way (The Canal Street) are equally delicious and there are plenty of traditional hearty fried fish dishes if you are so inclined.

It is telling that so many Creole dishes are made in one pot. A myriad of different people come together in one place, each adding new layers of flavor and complexity to the pot both literally and figuratively. It is hard not to think of the much quoted “melting pot” metaphor for American culture. Though currently unfashionable as a metaphor for American culture, the “melting pot” as an American ideal shows us at our best. The exciting mix that makes up the unique culture of food in New Orleans is a perfect example of America at its best.