Right in Your Backyard
Upscale and upstarts on Maple Street
Last month we considered Oak Street, the one-time western main street of the Town of Carrollton, so this month we turned our attention to Maple Street, its eastern counterpart. Absent the taller buildings, reconditioned sidewalks and benches of the recently refurbished Oak Street, Maple Street, by contrast, has a much less polished aesthetic, overgrown with palms and street trees and checkered with more family homes – and student apartments for kids enrolled in nearby Tulane and Loyola universities.
Despite healthy commerce, the Maple Street neighborhood generally tends to buck further development along the one-lane, one-way boulevard between Broadway and South Carrollton Avenue – but there are still plenty of familiar faces, and a couple of new ones, along the boulevard.
As of this writing, Kakkoii Japanese Bistreaux (7537 Maple St.) is awaiting its liquor license; meanwhile, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees has secured permission from the city to open a Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwiches franchise (7621 Maple St.).
In terms of sit-down, full-service cuisine – and specialty fare – small dining rooms and rustic elegance are the rule on Maple Street.
In 2010, partners Ziggy Cichowski, a master baker originally from Poland, and Patricia Ann Donohue, an executive chef who cut her teeth in the Northeast before signing on with SoDexHo at Louisiana State University, teamed up to open one of those dining rooms at the Maple Street Patisserie (7638 Maple St., 403-1526). Although the shop itself is only open for breakfast and lunch (closed Mondays), Cichowski’s breads and sweets are available all around the city; the patisserie provides bread or buns for the College Inn, Lilette, Café Degas and more, and its pastries are popping up in a dozen or so coffee shops unable to do their own baking.
When they were scouting locations, “We walked up and down Maple Street and said, ‘This is it,’” says Donohue. “Maple Street has a quiet, dignified feeling to it. It’s the epitome of Uptown.”
Cichowski has brought decades of training – schooling, apprenticeships and professional gigs – to bear on Maple Street. Whereas most Old World shops cleave either to bread baking or pastries, the moustached Pole – who’s also a former boxer and special forces soldier – is both a Master Baker and pastry chef, a rare combination. “Everybody wants to be a pastry chef, but nobody wants to bake,” asserts Donohue. “There are too many lazy people,” agrees Cichowski. “Nobody wants to get up at 2 in the morning.” He says he hasn’t taken a day off in years.
The bake shop’s décor is Spartan but comfortable; rich, dark wood soaks up light from tall French windows, offset by aromas of flour, fruit and coffee. There is a small sandwich menu for lunch, but the real feast – for all of the senses – is the case crammed with Technicolor pastries. Donohue gushes about the almond croissants, but Cichowski is perhaps best known for his stollen, a German fruit bread.
Maple Street’s old-world-Europe charm is equally evident at Ciro’s Côté Sud (7918 Maple St., 866-9551). Chef Olivier Guiot, a native of Toulon, France, grew up in the New Orleans restaurant culture, working at Ciro’s Pizza & Spaghetti House as a student. When the owner retired, he bought the restaurant, and reopened it as Ciro’s Côté Sud, named for the Provençal coast on which he was born.
“At the time, Maple Street was a thriving business corridor,” says Guiot, acknowledging that there’s much greater competition now from the growing Oak Street and Freret Street shopping districts, as well as the ever-present Magazine Street powerhouse. But the marriage of Italian fare and Provençal classics – “we’re pretty well known for our steamed (Prince Edward Island) mussels,” says Guiot – helps retain some local following.
Ciro’s Côté Sud’s wine list is muscular, heavily featuring French white and reds with classic cocktails on the side, as well as a strong showing from West Coast labels; even better, almost all of their wines are available by the glass in stark contrast to the pared-down single-serving offerings common to most restaurants.
While Guiot cranks out New York-style pizza alongside French fare, on the same block, Figaro’s (7900 Maple St., 866-0100) bakes Neapolitan pies alongside Italian fare.
Figaro’s doesn’t feature as extensive a beverage program as its neighbor, but it has the advantage of more seating space and the ability to take credit cards (Ciro’s Côté Sud only takes cash and checks).
Breaking away from pizza and baked goods, Maple Street is also anchored by two Mediterranean restaurants, Jamila’s Café (7808 Maple St., 866-4366) and Babylon Café (7724 Maple St., 314-0010).
Husband-and-wife team Moncef and Jamila Sbaa run Jamila’s, which draws on traditional Tunisian recipes while taking advantage of Louisiana produce. Warm spices and classic herbs worked into lamb and couscous are de rigueur for the dining room menu, but at Jamila’s, the Sbaas don’t restrict the menu to Maple Street diners; they also schlep their crawfish bisque and merguez sausage out to Jazz Fest year after year.
Babylon Café hews more towards familiar Mediterranean favorites. Beans, lentils and chickpeas feature prominently; falafel and hummus are delicious and a large part of the menu is vegetarian-friendly, but not in a way that carnivores will mind (or even notice). Babylon is also slightly better suited to the lunch and take-out crowds, with earlier hours and simpler (but equally tasty) preparations, including a several of the usual suspects (gyro, kabob, shawarma) and a couple of oddballs.
Fresco Café & Pizzeria (7625 Maple St., 862-6363), a student favorite, offers a mélange of Mediterranean-inspired pizza, hummus and signature sandwiches, as well as salads and cold Abita Amber.
The other ethnic cuisine in heavy representation on Maple Street is Thai. Sing Ha Song (7708 Maple St., 866-4411) and Chill Out Café (729 Burdette St., 872-9628) slit the lunch crowd, with breakfasters going to Chill Out and dinnertime diners going to Sing Ha Song. Chill Out Café offers dinner service, too, but their wheelhouse is breakfast, which they offer all day.
Shopping. Maple Street is also home to a string of small- and mid-sized boutique clothing stores.
Carolyn Billet’s Gae-Tana’s (7732 Maple St., 865-9625) sells clothing, shoes and accessories from well-known and not-so-well-known designers, with an impressive selection of sunglasses, bags and heels. As of this writing, they were buying up items for their autumn offerings. “For September, we’re going to have colored jeans, printed jeans, jewel tones,” says Jennifer Casey, who buys styles for the shop. “A lot of jewel tones. Purple and green.” She says that there will also be coated jeans – denim layered to look like leather, or to glow in metallic hues – as well as plenty of animal prints and bright colors, matched to new lines of accessories and tops.
At SWAP (7716 Maple St., 304-6025), customers can hedge bets on when consignment items will go on sale. Items go on sale at increments of 20, 40 and 60 percent off, depending on how long they’ve been on the rack, so it’s up to the customer to decide how much they’re willing to pay – and how strongly they believe they can outsmart the competition.
The Encore Shop (7814 Maple St., 861-9028) is owned and operated by Symphony Volunteers; proceeds from the shop go to the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra. Encore operates on a consignment basis as well, but also accepts donations; the shop has been selling ladies’ fashion for almost four decades.
Odds and Ends. If you’re in the market for a jolt of caffeine, there’s a PJ’s (7624 Maple St., 861-5335) and, if you’re in the mood for mermaid-y consistency, a Starbucks (7700 Maple St., 864-0411).
An under-the-radar oddity on Maple Street is Hour Blast (7611 Maple St., Ste. 103; 301-1967). The boutique workout zone provides coached, hour-long training sessions incorporating treadmills, weights, floor exercises and loud music.
There are also a few bars and taverns along Maple Street – but we’ll leave that issue to our beverage experts.
Ciro’s Côté Sud