Old City; New Taste
Two spots in New Orleans are praised for their innovative menus.
The New Orleans sandwich scene has long been dominated by the poor boy and the Sicilian bread-inspired muffuletta. In the last decade, the upscale burger movement has infiltrated the city and spread to all of its neighborhoods. One of the latest entrants, Kebab, came onto the scene last year looking to disrupt the eastern Mediterranean shawarma scene with its stellar, döner kebab sandwiches. Döner kebab means “rotating roast” in Turkish, and Kebab’s meats are cooked on vertical spits much like gyro and shawarma meats.
Kebab offers chicken, pork and falafel sandwiches for reasonable prices, but what makes them stand out is their bread, sauces, fries and other innovations. First, the homemade bread is light and pillowy, has the perfect amount of chewy mouthfeel, and has the structural integrity to contain lots of meat and sauces. The hand-crafted sauces, including a great mustard sauce and garlic aioli that are recommended for the döner kebab (chicken), are all amazing – the tzatziki is great on everything. It is also mandatory to try the french fries, which are unbattered but fried four times to ensure maximum crispiness and deliciousness.
Lastly, Kebab is great because it is fun and innovative. There is a constant rotation of art from local artists in the small “gallery space” adjoining the dining area, which was recently outfitted with several retro pinball machines. There are always interesting food and drink specials, and Kebab is one of the few restaurants that serves whole coconuts, pared down and ready to be punctured with a straw, perfect for a lunch beverage and/or dessert. For the adventurous explorers of the super hip Faubourg Marigny, Kebab is an incredible lunch, dinner and late-night food option that is easy on the pocketbook.
As retail centers such as the Central Business District and French Quarter become starved for commercial space, contemporary New Orleans has become one of previously residential neighborhoods being commercially revitalized by the influx of small businesses. One of the newest of these burgeoning areas is the eastern part of Central City, along Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard. Until recently a street bracketed by houses and lined with years-abandoned old storefronts, “OC Haley” now features several restaurants, various commercial office buidings, the Southern Food & Beverage Museum, and the Peoples Health New Orleans Jazz Market.
Longtime New Orleans restaurateur Adolfo Garcia is one of the newest arrivals on the scene with Primitivo, his low-tech, hearth-based eatery. The buildout and design of the restaurant are modern, with a wall of huge windows looking out onto the boulevard and cavernous dining spaces decorated simply with a rustic, pre-industrial chic vibe. The glow emanating from the embers in the large brick and metal oven in the rear of the restaurant is a striking visual element, and all dishes have at least one ingredient prepared in the custom-built hearth.
Thus, I wanted to focus on food that had a strong connection to the wood oven, such as smoked and slow-cooked meats. The smoked oyster (seasonal) dish served in a mason jar with pickled vegetables and is one of the strongest oyster dishes in a city with hundreds of oyster dishes. The smokiness of the oysters and acidity of the vinegar is quite compelling but also light, making for a great snack with drinks or an opening dish. The braised pork cheeks and smoked pork butt over carbonara was certainly less light, but no less delicious, as the homemade pasta was the perfect substratum for the gamey, savory combination of pork meats. Lastly, we tried the “5 Hour Smoked Beef Coulette.” This preparation of top-cut sirloin slow-cooked in the wood oven was delectable, the kind of nontraditional melt-in-your-mouth beef artisanry for which La Boca, another Garcia restaurant, became famous. This neighborhood and restaurant are both on the rise, and are definitely worth exploring for those looking to do New Orleans a bit more off the beaten track. Information, 1800 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd., New Orleans, (504) 881-1775.