A new wave transforms health food from bland to bold
It is safe to say that people don’t move to New Orleans in pursuit of a healthy diet. To the contrary, we have a proud history of thumbing our nose at the “Food Police” when it comes to sitting down at the table. This is the city that concocted “Breakfast at Brennan’s,” a caloric lollapalooza bookended with brandy milk punch and dessert flamed tableside. And when naysayers chide us for our wanton ways, we are adept at wrapping our indulgent choices within a rationalized cocoon of cultural heritage, French technique and Hollandaise sauce. Yet the times they are a changin’.
Healthy dining, once dismissed as the culinary equivalent of Scientology but worse-tasting, has finally arrived and is putting such preconceived notions to rest with its emphasis on freshness and bold compositions. Here is a look at a few new spots.
The Daily Beet perches on a South Market corner in bold opposition to lurid temptation of The Company Burger just across the street. The light-filled interior is spacious and contemporary, softened with comfortable nooks for thumbing through art-filled books. Owner Dylan Maisel might be young but knows a thing or two about healthy habits thanks to his upbringing in Upstate New York. “I never really had a babysitter,” Maisel says. “I just grew up in my family’s vegetarian restaurant. Doing this kind of food comes naturally to me.”
Maisel moved to New Orleans six years ago and got his start at the St. Roch Market, where he operated Juice NOLA. Encouraged by the feedback and motivated by a desire to open his own place, he decided to stake a claim in the new Beacon Building. Since opening back in the spring, Maisel has found that the grain bowls, built on a foundation of either wild rice or quinoa, have proven popular. A breakout hit is the Orbit, an Asian-inspired combo of warm wild rice, avocado, pastured egg, edamame, kimchi, and nori garnished with scallions and a sesame ginger dressing. “We make the kimchi in-house,” Maisel adds. Salads shine as well. The Summer Kale, accented with sharp pecorino cheese, nutty sunflower seeds and sweet pops of currant, adds a panoply of flavors and contrasts to its leafy base.
Good Karma at Carmo
While the places in this column are newcomers, stalwarts like Carmo in the Warehouse District helped pave the way for this new wave of juice bars and poke joints. Since 2010 Carmo has helped to blaze a trail for creative, healthy eating here in New Orleans. With a kaleidoscopic menu that draws everywhere from the Caribbean to Asia to West Africa, here you will find an array of dishes like nowhere else in the city. As a bonus, the juice bar helps to fortify the cocktail menu.
Smoothies are non-dairy and start with either almond or rice milk. Try the Berry Bucha, made with local Big Easy Kombucha blended with strawberries, mango and goji berries. If you have a sweet tooth, the Chocoheaven makes use of raw cacao for its chocolate punch – a notable twist. And while the smoothies are blended to order, the juices in the cold case are made with a hydraulic press, adding zero heat to the extraction process. “When you add heat it can kill off some of the enzymes and nutrients. With this cold press technique we preserve the nutrients for a lot longer,” Maisel says. More than anything else, The Daily Beet gives the business lunch crowd a healthy alternative to the other options in the surrounding area. “I think there was just a need in this area for fast, casual and clean,” he says. “I wanted guests to go back to work feeling energized rather than wanting to take a nap.”
Pressed NOLA is nestled in the ground floor of the Greater New Orleans Foundation’s new headquarters on Lee Circle. Like The Daily Beet, it boasts a clean, contemporary look with tall windows that allow for a lot of natural light. Also like Maisel, owners Artis and Leslie Turner got their start at St. Roch Market with Dirty Dishes, as well as the food truck by the same name. Their friendly, positive vibe exudes through the space.
Here the menu has a healthier focus than Dirty Dishes and they serve mostly pressed panini-style sandwiches as well as fresh salads. Try the Blake, composed of turkey, Havarti, apples and pecan-pepper jelly for sweetness. Also, the Creole Caprese, made with tomatoes, basil and mozzarella, makes for a nice summer nosh. Additional offerings are by and large collected from other small businesses around town. In fact Pressed NOLA functions a little bit as a small collective, an analog to the philanthropic mores of their landlord GNOF. Juices come from Major Joose and baked goods from Girls Gone Vegan, just to name a few.
Bearcat, on Jena Street just a short hop off Freret, puts the focus on brunch and hedges its bets on the menu. Here, one half features healthy fare, whereas the other is indulgent. The buildout is striking, with a gorgeously composed interior whose aesthetic trickles down into the very stoneware plates and flatware used at the tables.
From the Good Cat (viz. healthy) side, a dish of house-made yogurt came beautifully garnished with cut fruit and a drizzle of honey, although the portion was miserly given the cost. There was perhaps four ounces of yogurt in the bowl. A side of House-Made Ricotta and Lavash, also drizzled with honey, was tasty although the lavash were actually wafer-thin crackers and not the expected flatbread. Better luck was had on the Bad Cat portion of the menu, where the Banana’s Foster with a paleo pancake upcharge satisfied. Bearcat has friendly, if not overly attentive service, and offers a kids menu to boot.
The Daily Beet, 1000 Girod St., South Market, (504) 605-4413. B, L, D Daily. TheDailyBeetNOLA.com HEALTH FOOD $
Pressed NOLA, 919 St. Charles Ave., Lee Circle, (504) 900-5466, B, L Mon.-Fri. Closed Sat & Sun. SANDWICHES / HEALTH FOOD $
Bearcat Café, 2521 Jena St., Uptown, (504) 309-9011. B, L Tues.-Sun. Closed Mon. BearcatCafe.com HEALTH FOOD/BRUNCH $$