RESTAURATEURS Eleven years ago, Joan Gallo began thinking about crawfish. A downtown lawyer at the time, Gallo said a friend convinced her to help get a new Ninth Avenue restaurant off the ground. A year later, she signed on full time. "It was a huge change," she remembered. Today, she still runs Delta Grill, a swinging establishment dedicated to good times and Louisiana cuisine. In a West Side neighborhood bulging with colorful eateries and ambitious restaurateurs, Gallo stands out. She's an affable, no-nonsense manager and a quiet supporter of the community. "Joan is trustworthy," said Juan Fernandez, Delta's night manager. "That's why so many of the staff have been here for years. That's why I've been here since day one." Delta serves up authentic New Orleans food, like Cajun, Creole and barbeque. Specialties include sweet potato fries, stuffed pineapple, alligator sausage, jambalaya wontons, po' boys and shrimp etouffee. Chef Greg Tatis apprenticed at Paul Prudhomme's legendary French Quarter kitchen. "We've got a good chef," said Gallo, who grew up on Long Island. "New Orleans food is so diverse. It's Caribbean, French, Italian, Spanish, Native American and Southern whipped together." Delta boasts live music every weekend, including zydeco, rock and bluegrass, plus a Sunday jazz brunch. Between acts, electric blues drift up through the spot's knotty wood rafters. Waiters-mostly aspiring actors and musicians-hum while pouring drinks and fetching warm bread from a cast-iron cupboard. "Most of our patrons are locals," Gallo said. "But we get a lot of tourists from the South. Southerners are particular about their food. "I had a group from Alabama in," she remembered. "They gave me a hard time at the door. I said, 'Try us out.' They had our musseletta. When they left, they were glowing." It's no surprise that Delta Grill is a home away from home for Southerners in Manhattan. Soon after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, Gallo organized a charity fundraiser. Delta also serves Abita's Restoration Ale, with proceeds going to New Orleans rebuilding efforts. "We keep one foot in Louisiana and try to help where we can," Gallo said. Delta's other foot remains firmly planted in Hell's Kitchen. "We've been part of the neighborhood's renaissance," she said. "When we moved in, there were a lot of empty windows down the block. Today we've got good restaurants up and down Ninth Avenue." Gallo rarely turns down shoestring theater troupes when they ask for a boost. "We do donations-a batch of jambalaya here, a gift certificate there," Gallo said. "They tell interesting stories." Delta also participates in the annual Ninth Avenue International Food Festival. "I think they're the only Louisiana joint on Ninth," said Lillian Sable, food festival organizer, "And they cart out all their specialties." "The food festival is always a long day-standing on concrete, dishing out gumbo," Gallo said. "But it's fun to watch so many New Yorkers walk by." Truth is, Gallo seems to have fun every day. "She has a great spirit," Fernandez said of his boss. "The best part about working here: we're friends."