Stan’s Place imports Robert McManus from New Orleans - with some delicious results

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When Stan Williams opened Stan’s Place in January 2005, he wanted to offer the Boerum Hill community a comfortable cafe with the feel of New Orleans. It’s a city that’s close to Williams’s heart, and the customers enjoyed his down-by-the-Bayou po’ boys, spicy gumbos and bananas Foster. But Williams longed to serve full meals, too, where his guests could really dig into Big Easy favorites.

In August, he closed for a month’s renovation, transforming the cafe into a restaurant that brings the warmth of that city to the neighborhood.

Shortly before the transformation, Williams was talking with Robert McManus, hoping to lure the Louisiana chef to Brooklyn as a consultant. Then hurricane Katrina wreaked havoc on New Orleans, and McManus, whose catering company was destroyed, made his way to Stan’s Place.

"He came right from the airport, wrote up the menu, and got to work," says Williams of McManus’s arrival. "He’s been shaking things up ever since."

McManus worked with Peter Kaiser of the renowned Buckhead Diner in Atlanta before catering in New Orleans. He refers to Cajun and Creole cooking as "the original fusion cuisine, combining classic French cooking with Creole styling, and tastes heavily influenced by local ingredients."

McManus’s dishes reflect the spirit of the city: big exuberant flavors, lots of spice and heat, and a long list of ingredients.

Walk into the eatery on a Saturday night and you’ll find a lively party underway. The Deedle Deedle Dees, a Brooklyn band with a longstanding weekend gig at Stan’s, play "Fats Waller’s version of jazz," from a perch from the second floor balcony, says Williams.

The dining room has brick walls, a long bar, a huge, gilt-edged mirror and candlelit tables. The feeling is brothel meets elegant eatery. I can’t think of another restaurant in the borough quite like it.

I can’t think of another chef who serves crab cakes the way McManus does, either, and I’ve had hundreds of them. His "Creole jumbo lump crab cakes," shaped like little cylinders, are on the baroque side. They are spicy; are full of the winy tasting crab; have slivers of roasted red peppers and capers; and are served with ravigote (a tangy French sauce seasoned with capers, vinegar, shallots and herbs). They’re complicated but exceptionally good.

One of the hallmarks of a good Louisiana chef is a great gumbo, and McManus’s rich, multi-layered stew, full of tender chicken and andouille sausage, does him proud. So does a fabulous wedge of slightly sweet cornbread with delicate crumb and a crusty edge, perfumed with bits of fresh rosemary.

Equally satisfying was a saffron-laced bouillabaisse, a seafood stew studded with moist sea bass and shrimp in a briny stock heady with sherry.

McManus fries up a superb chicken and serves it with well-matched sides. The crunchy, peppery crust on the breast meat looks like ebony-colored lace. (The bird was so good, I ate the entire large piece right down to the bones.) McManus serves it with creamy garlic mashed potatoes; slow-cooked collard greens - as mellow and tangy as any you’d dream of; and a decadent, smoky "redeye gravy" (made of ham drippings, water and sometimes coffee).

The "Abita braised lamb," features one meaty shank, slow-cooked in beer from Louisiana’s Abita microbrewery. The ale acts as a tenderizing agent, softening the meat and imbuing it with yeasty tang. While a side of orzo in a Brie cream sauce was cloying, the pungent "gremolada" (chopped parsley, garlic and lemon zest) added color to the dish and lent a fresh, herbal note.

Order a side of macaroni and cheese, and you’ll receive a serving large enough for an entree. The dish is on the creamy side, with a crisp top and filled with perfectly al dente pasta, but it’s slightly bland.

Desserts follow the more-the-better mode but with less finesse than the previous dishes. Bananas Foster, a dessert that originated in New Orleans, features sliced bananas sauteed with brown sugar until they form a thin crust; then they’re splashed with rum. The fruit is usually served over vanilla ice cream. Here, the crusty-topped slices form a ring over a small disc of bread pudding, served with a whisky creme anglaise. The fruit and sauce were delectable, the pudding so-so.

A towering, red slice of velvet cake looked like Mardi Gras on a plate. A splash of creme fraiche and three maraschino cherries made a tacky - but fun - presentation.

Lovely to look at, the confection was slightly dry and topped with overly sweet, white icing.

The restaurant serves chicory-flavored coffee, a specialty of New Orleans’s famous Cafe du Monde, which is a strong, rich brew with a pleasingly bitter edge.

Until the end of March - when Williams expects his liquor license - there’s a BYOB policy without a corking fee.

I left Stan’s Place with a tinge of sadness for what New Orleans once was and the long struggle it faces to rebuild. It’s comforting though, to know that at Boerum Hill’s Stan’s Place, the spirit of the Big Easy lives on.

Stan’s Place (411 Atlantic Ave. between Bond and Nevins streets in Boerum Hill) accepts American Express. Entrees: $16-$18. A three-course, $25 prix fixe dinner is available Tuesday through Thursday. The restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner Tuesday through Saturday. Brunch is served on weekends, from 9 am to 4:30 pm. Closed Mondays. For reservations, call (718) 596-3110.

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