The Munch Factory
Though it hasn’t been around for decades, The Munch Factory already has the feel of a classic neighborhood restaurant. It starts with Alexis Ruiz, who owns the restaurant with her chef-husband, Jordan, and who runs the front of house. When I walked in for the first time, she greeted me as though I was a regular.
It first opened in Gentilly, where the both Jordan and Alexis grew up, but moved at the start of this year to the Lower Garden District. The restaurant has the look of a modern bistro, but the bulk of the menu is more casual, running the gamut from cheese fries to pan-fried chicken with fines herbs, a French mix traditionally made up of parsley, chives, tarragon and chervil. That chicken, and items like potato croquettes, sautéed asparagus and a ribeye steak are only available at dinner; similarly, the grilled cheese, roast beef and hot sausage patty melt are lunch-only.
One menu item that’s indicative of the chef’s skill is Oysters Gentilly: crisply fried oysters over a slightly spicy creamed spinach, topped with meltingly caramelized onions. It isn’t complicated, but each component is done flawlessly, and that’s not easy to do.
The Munch Factory is located at 1901 Sophie Wright Place, 324-5372, and is open 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Tuesdays-Thursdays, and until 10 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays; Sunday brunch coming soon.
Gracious Bakery + Café
Gracious Bakery + Café continues to expand with a new location in the space that was most recently home to sandwich shop the Grocery. Gracious is owned by pastry chef Megan Forman and her husband Jay Forman. (Both Megan and Jay are friends, and Jay is a colleague whose food writing appears in the pages adjacent to this piece.) But I can assure you I became a fan of Megan’s work long before I met either of them.
She is a hugely talented chef, which you can confirm for yourself by visiting any of its three locations (the original is located at 1000 S. Jeff Davis Parkway, and Gracious to Go is at 7220 Earhart Blvd.).
In addition to baked goods, breads, cakes and pastries, Gracious serves breakfast, brunch and lunch. I can attest that the pastrami sandwich is one of the best I’ve had, and the grilled cheese (garlic aioli, pear and cranberry mostarda, smoked cheddar and muenster cheese on sourdough) is pretty awesome, too. Catering menus are available. The menu at the new location is largely the same as in Mid-City with one notable exception: beer and wine are available for sale (though not for consumption on the premises).
The newest Gracious is located at 2854 St. Charles Ave., 301-3709, and is open Mondays-Fridays, 7 a.m.-6 p.m., and Saturdays-Sundays 8 a.m.-4 p.m.
Central City BBQ
There are regional styles of barbecue, but common wisdom is there’s no “New Orleans” style. That may be true, but it doesn’t mean there’s no good barbecue here. Witness Central City BBQ, where chef Rob Bechtold is putting out top-quality smoked meats in the style he’s been perfecting for years.
I first wrote about Bechtold when he was running Smokin’ Buddha BBQieux in Fat City. Bechtold next drew raves for his food at NOLA Smokehouse. Recently, in partnership with his friend and fellow chef Aaron Burgau, Bechtold is back in business in a much larger venue.
The menu is short and direct: brisket, pork spare ribs, smoked sausage and boudin, pulled pork and barbecued chicken are the meats. Sides include sweet corn spoonbread, Creole slaw, potato salad with remoulade, “pithouse beans” and umami pickles. In addition to tea, freshly squeezed lemonade and soda, the place has a full bar and local beers on tap.
The main dining area is “cavernous,” and there are tables outside as well. Soon, there should also be a separate space for private events, and multiple smokers and custom-built grills mean catering is definitely an option.
Central City BBQ is located at 1201 S. Rampart St., 558-4276. Hours are Wednesdays-Sundays, 11 a.m.-5 p.m., or until they run out of food.