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Oct 29, 200912:00 AM
Haute Plates

Our weekly blog on the New Orleans fine dining scene

An Alternative to Pita

At Babylon Café on Maple Street, the Hummus with Lamb Meat is served with a mix of sautéed vegetables.

Photo courtesy of Robert Peyton

I’m a sucker for good bread. It’s a detail that I never fail to notice in a fine-dining restaurant, and when I find good bread in a more casual place, it’s always a pleasant surprise. Here in New Orleans, of course, it’s harder to find bad bread than good just about anywhere you go, at least as long as you enjoy what we call “French bread.” 

But there are some cuisines for which bread is a more integral part of the meal, and it’s there that subpar bread can be a problem. By and large, the restaurants in the area that fall under the rubric “Lebanese” tend to have pretty good pita bread. You’ll occasionally be served pita that’s a little stale, but that’s been the exception in my experience.

At Babylon Café, there’s an additional option. It’s a slightly thicker yeast bread with a soft brownish crust and a somewhat dense crumb. I’ve tried a few times to get someone to give me a name for it, but the response is always the same: “homemade bread.” The name isn’t really important, I suppose, when the bread is good. It’s a very interesting alternative to pita, and it’s an indication that the food you’re eating is also a bit unusual.   

Take the Hummus with Lamb Meat, for example. It’s a dish I grew to love over repeated visits to Mona’s original Banks Street location, and that version is still a standard-bearer as far as I’m concerned. At Babylon, the dish is served on a wide plate, spread generously with a very smooth hummus bi tahini. Small cubes of sautéed lamb are piled in the center, along with a mix of sautéed vegetables such as carrot, cauliflower, onion, celery, peppers and squash. There’s a bit of heat from chiles and lubrication from olive oil; the whole thing comes together harmoniously. Those same vegetables and a few others turn up with feta in the Turlu, which is served over basmati rice. Most plates come with a salad, but it’s not particularly interesting. There are also the standards you expect from similar restaurants: stuffed grape leaves, shawarma, baba ghanouj and the like. I have a hard time getting past that hummus with lamb meat, to be honest.

The restaurant is located near Tulane University, and the crowd is generally pretty young, but despite my advanced age, I’ve never felt particularly uncomfortable. Service is basically serviceable and no more.

Babylon Café is located at 7724 Maple St., and you can reach them at 314-0010. The restaurant is open Monday through Sunday, from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. It’s certainly worth a shot if you’re in the neighborhood, and if you’re interested in seeing the cuisine done a little differently, it’s worth a drive, too.
 

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Haute Plates

Our weekly blog on the New Orleans fine dining scene

about

Robert D. Peyton was born at Ochsner Hospital and, apart from four years in Tennessee for college and three years in Baton Rouge for law school, has lived here his entire life. He is a strong believer in the importance of food to our local culture and in the importance of our local food culture, generally. He has practiced law since 1994, and began writing about food on his website, www.appetites.us, in 1999. He mainly wrote about partying that year, obviously.

In 2006, New Orleans Magazine named Appetites the best food blog in New Orleans. The choice was made relatively easy due to the fact that Appetites was, at the time, the only food blog in New Orleans.

He began writing the Restaurant Insider column for New Orleans Magazine in 2007 and has been published in St. Charles Avenue, Louisiana Life and New Orleans Homes and Lifestyles magazines. He is the only person he knows personally who has been interviewed in GQ magazine, albeit for calling Alan Richman a nasty name. He is not proud of that, incidentally. (Yes, he is.)

Robert’s maternal grandmother is responsible for his love of good food, and he has never since had fried chicken or homemade biscuits as good as hers. He developed his curiosity about restaurant cooking in part from the venerable PBS cooking show "Great Chefs" and has an extensive collection of cookbooks, many of which do not require coloring, and some of which have not been defaced.

Robert lives in Mid-City with his wife Eve and their three children, and is fond of receiving comments and emails. Please humor him.

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