More Than Just Brunch
The party never stops in New Orleans, even for breakfast.
JEFFERY JOHNSTON PHOTOGRAPHS
By and large summer melts the restaurant business down like a snowball left on the curb. But there are exceptions to this rule. A big one is brunch, a seating that has somehow immunized itself to this seasonal slowdown. Call it Egg Love Over in the Big Easy, the Hollandaise Effect or the Search for Shock of a Sriracha-spiked Mary – at brunch in New Orleans you can have your funnel cake and eat it, too.
At Atchafalaya Restaurant, brunch starts in the dining room, but a combination of the live music and Bloody Mary Bar often propels it out onto the street. “It is a scene. It is unlike any other service here,” says chef Chris Lynch. “It is loud, it is raucous. It spills out of the restaurant. It is not your quiet, romantic brunch. Ever. You can print that. It is a party.”
Lynch describes the scene as an extension of owners Tony Tocco and Rachael Jaffe, who took over about five years ago and have since made the neighborhood joint on Louisiana Avenue a gathering place for musicians and those seeking a good time on Saturday and Sunday mornings. This establishment’s watering hole is the Bloody Mary Bar, where you can start with a choice of two bases – a traditional red tomato as well as a green tomatillo version – and then build it up from there using an array of house-made pickles. “Char stems, watermelon rind, asparagus, ramps – one of our cooks has appointed himself ‘resident pickler’ and he puts all this stuff out,” Lynch says.
Popular dishes include eggs Rockefeller, poached over-easy with creamed spinach and bacon atop a fried grit cake then topped with Creole hollandaise. Eggs Atchafalaya loses the grits and spinach and brings on fried green tomatoes and jumbo lump crabmeat. A Southern-style BLT is made with braised pork belly and fried green tomatoes between a split brioche. A dish of duck hash, top left, starts with duck confit then gets partnered with blackberries, mangoes, eggs and hollandaise along with bacon vinaigrette, and those with a sweet tooth will enjoy the bananas Foster French toast. “That is my son’s actual favorite dish in any restaurant he’s ever been in,” Lynch says.
“He comes here and I don’t even have to ask – he knows what he’s getting.”
The scene is mostly local, although downtown concierge desks do route visitors seeking a “neighborhood spot” out this way. Lynch describes their responses as a compliment of high order. “It is great to hear them say, ‘We’ve been here four days and been here and been there and wanted to tell you that this was the best time we had.’ This kind of thing makes us feel really good about what we’re doing.”
Since Lynch came on board earlier this year (and also his predecessor, friend and colleague Baruch Rabasa) the overall menu has grown more sophisticated. For weekday lunch and dinner service, and it’s a bit like Jekyll and Hyde. Rather than a block party you’ll find a fairly quiet neighborhood boîte. But for brunch on the weekend, all bets are off.
Not far down Magazine Street at the corner of Washington Avenue is Coquette, where chef Michael Stoltzfus takes a more cerebral approach to his food. But don’t confuse cerebral with stuffy; Stoltzfus served time at August and brings a fine-dining sensibility to the table enlightened with humor and a particularly distinctive pastry component shaped by pastry chef Zak Miller.
“Some people refer to it as ‘Brinner’ because our menu is kind of like ‘dinner meets breakfast,’” Stoltzfus says. “The three-course brunch for $25 is really popular, but we do à la carte as well. Mostly it’s just fun. We get a lot of drinkers so it gets very lively.”
For drinks, they present a few eye-openers based on a foundation of cold-brewed New Orleans-style coffee. The bloody marys get some extra punch from Sriracha hot sauce as well as Togarashi – a Japanese seasoning blend with an exotic pepper bite.
Popular dishes include the eggs Benedict that gets changed up with whatever type of cured meat they currently feature in house. “Recently we did Wagyu brisket that we treated like pastrami – seasoned and smoked,” says Stoltzfus. A solid New York Strip with homefries and Mississippi eggs done sunny-side up is another big mover. But diners here are most rewarded by taking advantage of what Stoltzfus does best: taking a creative approach to produce and finding new ways to make familiar ingredients surprising. Take for example his shaved foie gras salad. The foie gras is par-frozen then shaved into ribbons. For service, he lets the portions come to room temperature before sending them out. The result is a deliciously decadent and creamy component to a salad. “In making that dish, we wanted to try and do something a little different, and lighter as well, with what can be a heavy ingredient,” he explains. The produce component of the salad changes often, but for a New Orleans Wine & Food Experience dinner last May, it included slivers of tart green strawberries along with the usual sweet ripe ones.
Pastry chef Miller’s creations contribute highly to the brunch menu as well. Funnel cake appears as an option for course number three, and à la carte sides include Paris-Brest as well as an “old fashioned” donut complemented by huckleberry compote and sour-cream ice cream.
Breads and viennoiserie appear as well.
Also for brunch:
Other lively places for brunch include Dante’s Kitchen in the Riverbend, which features lush patio seating as well as a price point that compares very favorably to that of their dinner service. Surrey’s, both on lower Magazine Street and their new-ish location further Uptown, is also very popular, though it swaps out the alcohol for its signature menu of freshly pressed juices. Bywater favorite Satsuma now has a location on Oak Street as well.