Restaurant review: Tibby's is a tasty tribute

Head to Tibby's New Orleans Kitchen in Brandon if the flavors of the Big Easy call your name.

click to enlarge At Tibby's, Chicken Pontchartrain (named for the brackish estuary north of NOLA) is a huge portion. - Chip Weiner
Chip Weiner
At Tibby's, Chicken Pontchartrain (named for the brackish estuary north of NOLA) is a huge portion.

Tibby's New Orleans Kitchen

3 out of 5 stars

1721 W. Brandon Blvd., Brandon. Appetizers: $4-$14.50; entrees: $8-$24.75; desserts: $3-$5.50; wine and cocktails: $5-$9. 813-315-8443; tibby's.com.


Anytime you've got a chance to send your taste buds into the hurricane of flavors that thrive along the Mississippi Delta, you know you're in for a treat. It's a clash of seasonings and techniques. The Creole influence is from descendants of Spanish or French ancestry born in the colonies. The Cajuns are French-speaking refugees from Nova Scotia. New ingredients from Indian and African populations are incorporated into the cuisine. Creole is closer to classic French technique, with subtle sauces and emphasis on presentation; Cajun is a more rustic and spicy cousin, often producing one-pot wonders.

Brandon's new Tibby's New Orleans Kitchen, a Central Florida transplant, celebrates this cuisine as a tribute to a late uncle who was a World War II vet, NOLA native and 2005 victim of Katrina.

Cocktails are at the center of New Orleans culture; a visit there is not complete without a jazzy stroll down Bourbon Street with a huge rum-laced Hurricane in your hand. The Tibby's list of libations has $5 Hurricanes for happy hour and $8.50 Bloody Marys, Sazeracs and a yummy concoction they call Voodoo Magic, which gives my table a buzz. The drink combines Southern Comfort, Smirnoff, Disaronno amaretto, pineapple and orange juices, plus sour mix topped with a splash of cranberry.

Barbecue shrimp is a large bowl of pale-pink gulf crustaceans sautéed in butter, beer and spices. They are juicy, succulent and totally seductive. The broth is a joy — it's not too spicy but full of flavor. Half the fun is breaking off pieces of French bread, dipping them into the heady stock until they're soaked and trying to get this treat to your mouth without having too much juice dripping down your chin.

click to enlarge The restaurant converts a quintessential NOLA taste, - muffuletta, into a flight of culinary whimsy. - Chip Weiner
Chip Weiner
The restaurant converts a quintessential NOLA taste, muffuletta, into a flight of culinary whimsy.

The fried green tomatoes share their plate with a pile of crisp, deep-fried, popcorn-style crawfish. They're ringed by a tart and spicy bright orange remoulade sauce that makes the other flavors pop.

The evening's big surprise is the conversion of the quintessential NOLA muffuletta sandwich into a golden, crisp spring roll. It's a flight of culinary whimsy that seems to poke fun at the idea of gastronomic fusion. Call me crazy, but I love it. Instead of the delicate veggies and shellfish in a crunchy, deep-fried wrapper we're used to in Asian cuisine, these drip with salami, mortadella, ham, molten Swiss and provolone cheeses, and bits of olive salad. Eschewing a tangy soy dip, they're served with a side of Creole Dijonnaise. It's an inspired app that could only have come from a Hurricane-fueled stagger down Bourbon Street.

Po' boys are also a New Orleans staple. We opt for the slow-cooked "12-Napkin Roast Beef" smothered in gravy. As promised, "it's messy." But with lettuce, tomatoes, pickles and Blue Plate mayo, it's also satisfying — especially with a side of crisp sweet potato fries dusted with cinnamon and cayenne seasoning. Though the bread isn't as crisp and crackling as I'd like, there's plenty of flavor.

click to enlarge The restaurant's stylish bar, where cocktails like Hurricanes and the yummy Voodoo Magic are created. - Chip Weiner
Chip Weiner
The restaurant's stylish bar, where cocktails like Hurricanes and the yummy Voodoo Magic are created.

The huge portion of Chicken Pontchartrain (named for the brackish estuary north of the city) fills the plate to overflowing with pan-sautéed breasts generously covered with artichoke hearts, diced tomatoes, olive dressing and a sherry wine sauce. We go with dirty rice featuring the kick of andouille sausage. The chicken isn't perfectly moist, but there's so much else going on that you don't really notice.

The jambalaya, crawfish pie and chicken file gumbo platter is a true sampler of Cajun dishes, showcasing a lovely mix of texture and color. My favorite is the crawfish pie and the juxtaposition of pastry with moist shellfish. The file (ground sassafras leaves) in the gumbo is too prominent for me and out of balance, while the jambalaya, which is a NOLA variation on Spanish paella, is one-dimensional. Great jambalaya doesn't stop with andouille — it has chicken, shrimp, crayfish, tomatoes, etc.

We can't resist the muffuletta in sandwich form, copying the original from Central Grocery on Decatur Street or Tibby's favorite from Nor-Joe in Old Metairie. It's got the same filling as the spring rolls above, though a bit lighter on the olive salad, with fluffier bread than I recall from my NOLA visits. Still, it's a great combo and big enough to share.

click to enlarge Buried in powdered sugar, beignets are one of the menu's two dessert options. - Chip Weiner
Chip Weiner
Buried in powdered sugar, beignets are one of the menu's two dessert options.

Dessert choices are limited but include two classics. Beignets, those unique hot donuts buried in powdered sugar that make Jackson Square's Café du Monde a must-do if you visit the Big Easy. And, of course, bread pudding with brandy sauce. Bread pudding grew out of a need to be frugal by using pieces of leftover baguettes and baking them in a sweet, cinnamon-laced egg custard. While some recipes add apples or raisins, stellar bread pudding is notable for the lushness of the egg, which elevates leftover bread to ethereal heights. The custard is sweet, yet the bread still retains texture. So, my table is eager to see what Tibby's has to offer.

The beignets are a reasonable facsimile, but a tad greasier if my memory is correct. However, the bread pudding is, to put it politely, a bigger disaster than Donald Trump's Access Hollywood tape. It's simply an unappealing block of gelatinous goo that's a waste of brandy sauce.

Nonetheless, there's much more on the plus side of this fast-casual find if the flavors of the Big Easy call your name.

Jon Palmer Claridge dines anonymously when reviewing. Check out the explanation of his rating system.

click to enlarge In Brandon, the Central Florida transplant celebrates New Orleans as a tribute to a late uncle. - Chip Weiner
Chip Weiner
In Brandon, the Central Florida transplant celebrates New Orleans as a tribute to a late uncle.


click to enlarge Fried green tomatoes are served alongside a pile of crisp, popcorn-style crawfish. - Chip Weiner
Chip Weiner
Fried green tomatoes are served alongside a pile of crisp, popcorn-style crawfish.


click to enlarge A true sampler of Cajun dishes is the jambalaya, crawfish pie and chicken file gumbo platter. - Chip Weiner
Chip Weiner
A true sampler of Cajun dishes is the jambalaya, crawfish pie and chicken file gumbo platter.


click to enlarge Restaurant review: Tibby's is a tasty tribute
Chip Weiner


About The Author

Jon Palmer Claridge

Jon Palmer Claridge—Tampa Bay's longest running, and perhaps last anonymous, food critic—has spent his life following two enduring passions, theatre and fine dining. He trained as a theatre professional (BFA/Acting; MFA/Directing) while Mastering the Art of French Cooking from Julia Child as an avocation. He acted...
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