When you walk into Bon Ton, there’s a lot to look at. And it’s worth taking a minute to let it all soak in. The theme is Louisiana meets Vietnam, evident in food, decor, and drinks. The place feels more like a really cool living room than anything else, with a cozy corner complete with record player, shag rug “paintings,” and interesting light fixtures. A neon sign with the words Fancy Service splashes across one wall.
The extensive, bright laminated menu urges patrons to “Come By and Get Happy.” It doesn’t seem like too much to ask considering how delicious everything is, starting with stiff cocktails that include Sazeracs and New Orleans-style hurricanes. There’s a particularly strong eye-opener in the form of frozen Vietnamese Irish coffee. That’s Jameson, coffee brandy, sweetened condensed milk, chicory coffee, cream, and a dash of nutmeg.
Boiled peanuts — a Deep South staple — here are dressed in Vietnamese spices, packing addictive kick. Five-spice shrimp appear to be soaked in some kind of flavorful roux, arriving with a slice of buttered bread that’s perfect for dipping into the sauce. We round out our appetizers with charbroiled oysters; crunchy, cheesy, creamy.
We take a break to unroll a few feet of brown paper towels in preparation for the rest of the meal.
Bon Ton offers half sandwiches, a policy that encourages trying multiple things. A spicy shrimp bahn mi is brimming with perfectly crunchy fried shrimp, pickled carrots, jalapeños, mint, ginger, and a nuoc cham aioli that I would like to take home with me.
Our discerning waitress suggests the house po’boy with catfish, so we go with that and are glad. It’s simple but delicious, on authentic New Orleans Leidenheimer French bread with a few pickles, crunchy lettuce, a slice of tomato, and Cajun remoulade.
Between bites of sandwich, we nibble on jicama and papaya salad, which is layered with lime, ginger, basil, mint, and lots of tiny red chilis that burn our mouths.
Side dishes might be the best part. Green beans are just-cooked and in a sticky-sweet sauce with both sautéed and crispy onions. Broccoli is well-dusted with Chinese five spice. House sausage and seafood gumbo has a nice rice-to-roux ratio. And smoked Gouda mac ‘n’ cheese includes bits of crawfish. You could make a meal on these alone.
I wish we had room for desert, but alas, we reach our limit. Our waitress gives us a tip about brunch: It includes the five-spice shrimp over grits with okra. OK then. We’ll be back Saturday.