Craft cocktail menus entwined with explorative dining continue to evolve in New Orleans. This niche dining genre, well-enough established now to have moved beyond the term “trend,” was pioneered locally in part by chef Chris Debarr formerly of Delachaise. Debarr has moved on, but gastropub newcomers including Treo, The Franklin and Cane & Table, among others, continue to move the concept forward.
Pauline and Stephen Patterson, owners of Finn McCool’s Irish Pub on Banks Street in Mid-City, recently opened Treo on Tulane Avenue. Treo joins a small crop of early adopters, like Namese, placing bets on a part of town that until now had not seen much upside. Time will tell if it was prescient, but in the meantime Treo is well worth a visit.
If you go, be sure to cast your eyes skyward. Treo’s ceiling is given over to an eye-catching installation that details the various wards of New Orleans. The walls are flanked with contemporary pieces and the upstairs serves as an art gallery.
Their chef, James Cullen, got rolled into the project in part due to time spent watching Saints games at Finn’s. “I think my biggest qualification for a long time was the fact that I lived across the street from Finn’s,” he jokes. A graduate of the French Culinary Institute in New York, he brings with him a resume that includes a lengthy stint at the highly regarded Pearl Oyster Bar in Manhattan. A native of New Jersey, prior to Treo he was the chef at St. Lawrence in the French Quarter, another bar that puts special focus on its cuisine.
Cullen’s approach is grounded in relatively familiar fare, then uses tapas as a jumping off point. “I wanted to give a nod to the Spanish influence in New Orleans food, which doesn’t really get a lot of attention,” he says. Take for example his Fried Oysters with Remoulade. A familiar enough dish, but his includes smoked paprika in the remoulade and shaved Manchego in the garnish to put forward some Spanish flair.
Whatever he puts out, Cullen makes an effort to connect it back to the tradition of New Orleans food. He often runs a fried chicken dish with garlic pursillade and B&B pickle chips as a special, inspired by Creole culinary icon chef Austin Leslie. One of Cullen’s most popular hybrid dishes is the mussels, prepared in the style of barbecue shrimp but with a few notable modifications. The mussels are cooked in butter, shallot and garlic, and then steamed open with brandy and white wine. In a separate pan, Cullen builds the sauce with Creole mustard, cream and butter. Crystal hot sauce, pepper and Worcestershire round out the notes. Poured over the mussels, the result is a creamier, more complex variation on a local theme. It is accompanied by bread from Bellegarde bakery.
Across the street from the Lost Love Lounge in the Marigny where Dauphine Street takes an odd little jag is The Franklin, an atmospheric craft cocktail lounge with a menu grounded in French bistro fare made distinctive by idiosyncratic quirks. The kitchen was initially helmed by Jim Bremer, though at press time it had changed hands, with former sous chef Zack Tippen now in charge. A protégé of Gerard Maras, Tippen’s (and Bremer’s) respect for produce is one common thread shot through the menu at The Franklin. Creative salads like one featuring peppery garden greens get a juke from the impactful Kefir lime and curry dressing. More esoteric approaches include lightly fried Avocado Tempura, which comes garnished with lump crabmeat.
Still, the heart of the menu is essentially comfort food, albeit with a few twists (one dish getting a lot of attention is the Escargot Éclair with Blue Cheese Mousse, as well as Steak “à la Mode” with Foie Gras Ice Cream. “Most of what we serve is classic bistro fare and put our own little spin on it. But even those are pretty straightforward,” Tippen says. “What you read on the menu is what you get.” Bellweather dishes like a rustic Coq au Vin as well as a locally tailored Courtbouillon are examples of these.
Going into fall look for earthy, one-pot style fare to add to the appeal.
Colonial Fare Made Local
Cane & Table in the French Quarter stakes out a claim of “Rustic Colonial Cuisine with Proto-tiki Cocktails.” The term Colonial can be broadly interpreted of course, and the menu takes advantage of this, with inspiration ranging from Southeast Asia to the Caribbean. The heart of it is mostly centered on West Indies-style fare, with some creative vegetarian twists to accompany its locally sourced meats. Try the callas, which most recently came accompanied by a homemade pineapple jam.
3835 Tulane Ave.
Lunch and dinner, Tuesdays through Saturdays
2600 Dauphine St.
Dinner into late-night nightly
Cane & Table
1113 Decatur St.
Brunch Sundays, lunch Saturdays and dinner nightly