Freret Street will have four new restaurants by this fall and is quickly becoming one of our city’s culinary hot spots. Chef Aldofo Garcia, mastermind of several gourmet gems around town (a Mano, for one), is the co-owner of two of the new eateries.
Located next door to the Freret Street Boxing Gym, Ancora Pizzeria and Salumeria is home to an array house-cured meats and intriguing Neapolitan pizza pies. The food arrives surprisingly fast, despite what appears to be the city’s tiniest prep area, which consists of a small counter space over a small fridge, a shelf and the wood-fire pizza oven that steals attention from gray walls with its sleek colorful design. (I have never seen a cute pizza oven before.) They have a full bar featuring wine and several classic cocktails including a Negroni, though the inclusion of spiked blueberry lemonade makes it feel like the older kids were forced to bring along baby or nobody would’ve been able to come out and play. The Aperol Spritzer – a tincture of prosecco, Aperol and soda – is a refreshing summer cocktail and a grown-up alternative to snowballs. The Bianca pizza, a sauceless pie drizzled in olive oil and covered in fior di latte (a type of Italian cheese), garlic, olives, chili and basil (ours also had a well-received addition of capers), is a new secret weapon in the local pizza wars. This pizza achieves a flavorful balance that’s subtle yet mind-blowing. The thin-cut olives and garlic add only the necessary push of saltiness and flavor, here a hint of chili, there a burst of caper and a sensation similar to lapping up melted butter. The crust is crisp, chewy and rather like naan. Diners take note: The menu includes what some may compare to complete lunacy – cheeseless pizza. A daily special featured a pie topped with blood sausage and yard egg. The Puttanesea, a pie topped with house-made tomato sauce (as good as ya mama’s and with a fiery side) anchovies, garlic, olives and capers is light with a salty edge that to me longed for melted cheese. Then again, I would melt cheese over a stick of gum if I had a portable hot plate in my purse. Farmers’ Market salads rely on meaty local heirlooms and quality olive oil, and a slew of contorni (sides) also make good use of local produce. The charcuterie appetizer is an ample selection of the house-cured meats, such as bresaola and duck pastrami, that’s reminiscent of A Mano.
“To go high-hat” used to refer to snobbery, but there are no pretensions at the old-timey High Hat Café (also co-owned by Garcia), a Southern charmer with more comfort food than you’d find stashed in Paula Deen’s fridge.
Walk in the place and you feel like Mildred Pierce might pop out and say hello with a plate of roasted chicken. The pimento cheese spread is homemade and spicily delicious. Served with vegetables and French bread, the appetizer is quite a generous portion. I took the rest of mine home and had enough left for two grilled pimento cheese sandwiches, which were spectacular. For entrées, the specialty of the house is fried catfish, crisp and flaky. The hush puppies are imperative to this dish but aren’t too sweet, as is the case in many low-country restaurants. The spicy grilled Gulf fish with shrimp and potato hash is the star of the menu, with tender fish and crispy potatoes accompanied by an impeccable house-made remoulade. Everything on the menu is under $20 and fairly kid-friendly, making this a good spot for a family dinner. They have a full bar and friendly service. The bartender informed me that they hope to install large screen televisions in time for football season.
Also joining Freret Street this fall will be Midway Pizza, a Chicago-style deep-dish eatery and bar run by the good folks of the King Pin, and Company Burger, a new addition to the gourmet burger boom.