That concept became Uncle Darrow’s, for years a hallowed home for all things New Orleans, be it po’ boys or pots of gumbo. A large menu made room for fried catfish, jambalaya, oysters, cornbread, and — of course — lots of red beans and rice. Staple foods, the sort of upriver cooking Clark has known all his life, brought customers in from Lincoln Boulevard even as rush hour built up beyond the windows.
To hear him tell it, Clark’s family has that kind of New Orleans food in the blood. Older generations have cooked at Commander’s Palace, the legendary Garden District restaurant in New Orleans that helped spur the rise of legendary chefs like Paul Prudhomme and Emeril Lagasse, for close to three decades, and Clark himself has been making pralines and other Southern sweets — first out of a commissary kitchen, before a lease deal went south decades ago — for just as long.
Then, in 2015, after sixteen years at the same address, building Uncle Darrow’s into a neighborhood destination for families, locals, and anyone looking for a soul food fix on the Westside, it all fell apart. The longtime landlord of the Marina del Rey property called about raising the rent to some certifiably impossible rate, and that was that. In 31 days, Clark went from the owner and operator of Uncle Darrow’s, one of Los Angeles’ most beloved New Orleans restaurants, to nearly being wiped off the map. And the restaurant space he'd called home for a decade and a half became another outlet of grain bowl spot Yellow Fever.
The longtime landlord called about raising the rent to some certifiably impossible rate
Which brings us to Carson, and a sunny storefront just off Avalon Boulevard across from City Hall. The fast casual location, with its open kitchen and marble back bar, had been under contract with Clark and his team since 2013, and was waiting to become a second outlet to the Uncle Darrow’s brand. And then, overnight, it was the only location left in the world.
"We lost about 90% of our business overnight," says Clark, standing near the register inside the Carson eatery he now calls home. "And so we had to decide what to do." The answer for him has always been the same: get back to work. Uncle Darrow’s became Darrow’s New Orleans Grill, a pared-down version of the Marina classic with a dinner and lunch menu that mostly consists of po’ boys, salads, and gumbo for the evenings.
You can still tuck into peach cobbler for dessert and load up on sides of red beans and rice, but there’s something intrinsically different about the Carson spot, at least compared to the Darrow’s of days gone by. Sure the menu is different and the restaurant layout new, but mostly Darrow’s New Orleans Grill is missing one thing: a neighborhood.
"I saw a customer the other day, he asked where we’d gone," says Clark with a wry smile. "I told him we’re just down the road in Carson, and he said ‘I’m not going to Carson.’ Like it was an insult." The new restaurant certainly doesn’t deserve that kind of fate. It’s definitely a worthwhile place to stop for a bite on the long stretch between the 110 and 405 freeways, and during LA Galaxy matches the place is standing room only.
He said ‘I’m not going to Carson.’ Like it was an insult
There’s even a new rum bar in the back, plus a daiquiri machine that whirs away quietly like a Bourbon Street whisper. You’ll find road signs tacked to the walls and a street car mural carrying a note that reads "All About The Flavor!" In short, it’s exactly the sort of charming, casual place you might remember if you spent any time at the original Uncle Darrow’s on the Westside, down to the traffic that piles up outside.
Except that it’s in Carson, a different neighborhood with different needs and a different clientele than the one Clark spent decades cultivating. And that’s okay. Clark is back to putting in work on the floor, shaking hands and pulling in customers from off the street. He’s there now, probably, in his old Uncle Darrow’s shirt, checking up on tables and laughing with a rich, hearty baritone.
"This is a customer by customer business," Clark will tell you, and he’s right. It’s also a neighborhood by neighborhood business, and all the way down in Carson, Darrow’s New Orleans Grill is finally starting to fit right in.
Darrow's New Orleans Grill
21720 S Avalon Blvd #102b
Carson, CA 90745