The Appetite Repair Shop, CellarDoor and The Franklin
Sara Essex Bradley Photographs
Remember in March when we were having unseasonably cool weather, and certain people were complaining about missing the warm temperatures? Do you remember that?
Neither do I, because it’s so hot now and it will remain so hot at least through Halloween and maybe Thanksgiving. I know it isn’t rational to blame people who moan about cold weather for the current state of affairs, but I rarely claim to be rational; and if I have to wear shorts while eating turkey and oyster dressing this year, someone is going to pay in tears.
Chef Pete Vazquez had one of the most innovative and eclectic fine-dining restaurants in New Orleans prior to Katrina. You could say Marisol was ahead of its time, but that would imply it wasn’t successful while it was around. I think it’s more accurate to say Vazquez anticipated the current trend toward cooking “ethnic” food without compromising flavors or ingredients to appeal to a broader demographic. Vazquez has never struck me as the type of man who chases trends in his cooking.
Katrina shuttered Marisol, and Vazquez spent some time away from New Orleans. Recently he was doing a pop-up at Stein’s Deli, serving a wide variety of generally straightforward food, often inspired by street-vendors from Italy to Singapore. That is the approach he’s taking at his new venture, The Appetite Repair Shop, which opened earlier this summer in Algiers Point at 400 Vallette St.
It is a neighborhood Vazquez knows well, having lived there for years, and it’s designed for folks who want a good meal but don’t necessarily have time to cook after work. As I write, the shop is open from around 4 in the afternoon until the food runs out – usually around 9 p.m. – Thursdays through Saturdays, but there are plans to expand the days and hours of service and your best bet is to check Facebook to see whether the shop is open and what Vazquez is serving. If you live nearby, you can also just check the sidewalk: If there’s a Stein’s Deli sandwich board out front, the Appetite Repair Shop is open for business.
The building at 916 Lafayette St. was, prior to Katrina, home to the Sporting House, so named because it was once reportedly a brothel. The food wasn’t bad, but the structure itself – or at least the part of it that was open to the public – was more interesting. These days the structure houses CellarDoor, described by owners Greg Gremillion and Michael Yusko (who also directs the beverage operations) as a conceptual work of art in the guise of a gastro-lounge.
That is perhaps a more complicated way of saying the place has carefully made cocktails and small plates with an international bent than absolutely necessary, but then again art is no small part of the experience at CellarDoor. Gremillion worked at the Paul Stolper Gallery in London for a while, and the restaurant has partnered with the gallery to feature contemporary artists from Britain and elsewhere, including, at this writing, local artist Skyler Fein. The website notes of the art on display, “You may not always agree with our choices, but we certainly hope it creates a dialogue between our patrons.” One hopes.
Jamielyn Arcega is the executive chef, and her menu runs the gamut from lamb kebabs with eggplant-apricot relish and pistachio gremolata to squid ink and spicy shrimp potstickers with ginger ponzu and chile oil. CellarDoor is open every day but Monday from 4 p.m. until midnight, and later on Fridays and Saturdays. Call 383-5583 or visit CellarDoorNola.com to find out more.
The Franklin doesn’t have a website, and so far as I know hasn’t actively courted patrons at all, but perhaps that’s the ticket to success in the Marigny these days? The restaurant at 2600 Dauphine St. (at the corner of Franklin Street) certainly hasn’t seemed to lack customers since opening in May. Jason Baas runs the operation, and he can cite a similar position at Lilette on his resume.
It wouldn’t be a new restaurant in New Orleans without serious attention paid to drinks, and at the Franklin the beverage menu is Franklin Buist’s responsibility. Look for craft beers, notable wines and cocktails with ingredients you’ve never heard of but will enjoy when you drink them. Jim Bremer helms the kitchen; he’s most recently been on the farming side of the farm to table movement, including a role in starting the Hollygrove Market and Farm. The food is appropriately direct: avocado tempura with crabmeat or beef tartare with strawberry, for example, and prices are moderate.
The Franklin is open seven days a week from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m., and although they don’t take reservations, you can call 267-0640 to find out about the specials or ask whether they’re crowded or possibly just because you’re lonely – don’t tell them I suggested that last bit.