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New Orleans Best of Dining 2012

Top Places, People and Discoveries

(page 7 of 9)



Start Up of the Year | French Truck Coffee
Little. Yellow. Different.

A while back, Geoffrey Meeker’s cousin, who worked at Chez Panisse, came to visit. She brought some freshly roasted coffee from California for him to try. Upon tasting it, Meeker had an epiphany. “I couldn’t believe the difference between that and every other cup of coffee I’d ever had,” he recalls. His cousin left, promising to send more. But when the next shipment arrived after its long journey by mail, it wasn’t the same.

“I suddenly realized that roasted coffee is really a lot like baked goods, and that freshness really matters,” Meeker says. “I saw there was a big disconnect between the process of roasting coffee and its consumer.” No stranger to the restaurant business – Meeker is the former Food and Beverage director of the W Hotel on Poydras Street, as well as a graduate of the New England Culinary Institute – he also saw an opportunity. The result is French Truck Coffee, a local micro-roaster with an online-ordering portal that’s elevating the quality of coffee in New Orleans. Perhaps you’ve seen him around town in his eye-catching canary-yellow 1975 Citroen, making deliveries to retail outlets such as St. James Cheese as well as to residential customers.

Meeker works with a green broker, buying his beans directly off the docks. He then roasts them to order in his 5-kilo roaster. “The small roaster gives me a lot of flexibility,” Meeker says. “If you’re cooking in small batches you have better control and the result is a more nuanced flavor and better product.”

He offers a variety of drip and espresso-roast coffees. Single-origin beans, currently in vogue, allow drinkers to isolate the nuances of a specific region. Ethiopian Harrar, for example, has a distinct note of blueberries, while Guatemalan puts forth a whiff of dark chocolate. Specialty coffees like these are best enjoyed in single-cup pour-over method. No special equipment is necessary; the most important thing is to grind the coffee and brew it immediately. Freshness really matters; the closer to its roasting, the better the brew.

By the time this issue hits the stands, Meeker will have relocated from the Carrollton area to a new space on Erato Street, giving him a centralized location as well as a place for customers to grab a cup of coffee and to observe the roasting process. Also, check out his website where you can buy beans that will be roasted to order and delivered to your doorstep by the signature little yellow truck.

– J.F.

French Truck Coffee, 1020 Erato St., 298-1115, FrenchTruckCoffee.com


John Keife and Jim Yonkus, co-proprietors

Wine Shop of the Year | Keife & Co.
A continental approach

How far is it from the bayou to the River Seine? Or from the Atchafalaya to the Danube? Not as far as you might think.

John Keife became interested in learning about and selling wine in retail operations in South Louisiana, Baton Rouge and New Orleans, but when he first visited a wine store in Europe, he was really smitten.

“Those shops are comfortable, not an intimidating atmosphere,” he says. “They are open and airy, with plenty of product, much of it different from the way American stores are stocked. There is an emphasis on regionality. The shelf rackings with fine woods are against the walls, going from floor to ceiling. It’s quite welcoming.”

Keife & Co., New Orleans Magazine’s Wine Shop of the Year, is located on the corner of Howard Avenue and Carondelet Street, just off Lee Circle, in the bustling Warehouse District. When you enter, you’ll see what Keife saw when he was in Europe. The chandeliers don’t look out of place at all.

Keife’s partner, noted New Orleans cheese monger, Jim Yonkus, has set up a refrigerated case in the center of the store and stocked it with cheeses, patés, olives, meats and specialty items that are fresh and party-ready, perfect accompaniments to an intriguing selection of wines and spirits.

Keife has thought this thing through. “You really don’t need 50 California Chardonnays. You quickly come to a point where too many of them are tasting alike. But wines from Italy, with strong geographic differences, using different grapes, you want to have a good number of those on hand.”

Keife and Yonkus have tasted every item in the store, and they have notes to assist the purchaser. That also means they have tasted a lot of merchandise that isn’t in the store.

They are trying to bring to their clients wines and spirits that aren’t necessarily mainstream. Jim notes, “Sometimes people will try something at a restaurant, or in another market, and they make a note of it. We will do all we can to obtain that item for them.

There are a lot of wines and spirits that are available here in New Orleans, but they usually aren’t seen on a retailer’s shelves.

That’s the stuff we are looking for, in addition to the usual items.”

People are coming from every part of town, on both sides of the river, to see what all the fuss is about. Even visitors to town have been told about Keife & Co. and are placing orders through their hotel, or personally visiting the store.

“The most European city in America deserves a European-style bottle shop.”

– T.M.

Keife & Co., 801 Howard Ave., 523-7272, KeifeAndCo.com

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