hile there has never been a shortage of brunch options around town, lately a clutch of specialty places have popped up offering variations on that theme, namely, toast, waffles and crêpes, with bagels thrown into the mix. Despite the fad momentum of the gluten-free movement nibbling its edges, carbs are back in style. Let us eat crêpes!
Cara Benson, owner of the Francophile cottage Tartine, had been wanting to open a second neighborhood location focused more on breakfast food, when the former Laurel Street Bakery space suddenly became available. “It happened really fast, I mean we went to look at it and then signed the lease a week later,” Benson recalls. Toast opened in April and quickly became a neighborhood hit.
When Benson took over the restaurant at the corner of Laurel and Annunciation streets, it got a makeover. Where there were once pastry cases she added a luncheonette counter, and the diminutive dining room packs in a surprising number of seats. Lots of natural light fills the cheerful room and a row of tables on the sidewalk outside captures spillover and adds to the charm. Locally roasted French Truck Coffee is the café’s bean of choice.
Toast’s menu revolves around omelets, crêpes, pastries, and well, toast. Aebelskivers, a unique Danish puffed pancake, get thrown in for good measure. The latter are made with a modified pancake batter featuring folded egg whites, making them lighter. They get cooked in a special dimpled pan where they puff up into airy, golf ball-sized treats. They come seven to an order and are served with a choice of sauces – I like mine with Benson’s homemade lemon curd.
Benson makes all the bread for the restaurants’ eponymous Toast. These include multigrain, brioche and sourdough. Elaborate toast compositions such as multigrain with honey, prosciutto and ricotta are offered alongside the basics. Brioche is the bread of choice for her French toast.
The in-house menu is rounded out with a short list of entrées, including a hanger steak distinguished with tarragon aioli. As if sweet crêpes and aebelskivers weren’t tempting enough for little ones, a kid’s menu is also offered. Along with in-house dining, Toast caters to the surrounding neighborhood with “Plat du Jours” offered for pickup between 5 and 6:30 p.m. These packaged dinners-to-go are aimed at families looking for a quick and easy meal solution, and add-on kid’s dinners compliment the prix fixe menu. Toast is open for breakfast and lunch six days and week and is closed on Mondays.
In April, Belinda Dahan and her husband Rotem opened Waffles on Maple, one of a very few kosher restaurants in the New Orleans area. The idea for the shop came to them during their annual trip to Israel. “Last summer we ate at a place in Jerusalem that we thought was such great concept. It was basically a little bitty hole in the wall, but we thought that it would be fun and great to do in New Orleans because we didn’t have anything like that here,” Dahan says.
Since opening, the restaurant with the distinctive waffled façade has been a hit with the college crowd as well as a big draw for neighborhood families. Observant Jewish folk traveling through town also make up part of the crowd, in part through the owner’s efforts to target the kosher market for out-of-town guests. “We’ve had visitors from California, New York and Miami stop by,” Dahan says.
The narrow restaurant offers limited counter seating, but a few al fresco tables help open things up, weather permitting. It has a kosher dairy kitchen and only uses dairy products certified chalav Yisrael. The menu focuses exclusively on waffles and crêpes of both sweet and savory iterations. Among the sweet waffle selections are a few with a New Orleans-theme, including Bananas Foster (made with sliced bananas tossed in a hot rum-spiked caramel sauce) and Waking in New Orleans (made with crushed pralines and shaved chocolate and rum-caramel sauce). A peach version pays homage to the Allman Brothers.
Savory waffle choices include Better than Feta, topped with marinated sun-dried tomatoes, ricotta, feta and fresh basil; The Heart Attack, which started as a special but rolled onto their regular menu, features two fried eggs on top and mushrooms, onions, jalapeño peppers and three cheeses, Munster, mozzarella and cheddar.
Belinda opened Waffles on Maple in part to give their four children a fun and delicious kosher place to eat. “The girls like the Strawberry Shortcake. For the boys, it’s the Heart Attack.” Her favorite? “I’m partial to the Strawberry Shortcake as well.”
As Waffles on Maple is kosher, it keeps hours accordingly. It is open daily except Saturdays in observance of Shabbat.
Humble Bagel adds another facet to the options along Freret Street and is the latest effort to address our city’s chronic “Bagel Gap.” Customers queue up along the case and choose from what’s available in the baskets behind the register. The bagels are kettle-boiled and baked on-site. They offer the usual array of choices such as everything, plain, salt and cinnamon raisin, with kid-friendly choices like chocolate-chocolate chip. They get creative with the cream cheese spreads, including a recent one featuring habanero and peach, and they also make use of seasonal ingredients, as in a blueberry version back in June.
A limited number of composed sandwiches are offered as well, such as the lox bagel loaded with smoked salmon, red onion, tomato, capers and cream cheese; it’s filling and doesn’t crack the $10 mark. Prices are reasonable and it makes for a great neighborhood addition, and is already a big hit with the Tulane crowd.
Bites of Breakfast
5433 Laurel St.
Breakfast and lunch daily
Waffles on Maple
7712 Maple St.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner Sundays-Thursdays; breakfast and lunch Fridays.
4716 Freret St.
Breakfast and lunch Thursdays-Sundays
Crêpes à la Cart has been plying the trade since 2004 at its walk-up location by The Boot, and their cart is a popular draw at farmer’s markets and street festivals around town. Le Crêpe Nanou has evolved into a full-blown bistro since its early days when it just served, well, crêpes, but a few savory and several dessert versions remain to anchor its menu. High Hat Café offers delicious chicken and waffles during its weekend brunch. And, newcomer Pizza Domenica on Magazine Street puts out variations on a theme, such as wood-fired buttermilk biscuits on Saturdays and Sundays.