The heat index read 109° when I walked out of the sun and into the air-conditioned confines of the Soda Shop, the newest family member of the now sprawling John Besh culinary empire. The Soda Shop is located at 945 Magazine St., at the corner of Magazine Street and Andrew Higgins Drive. It was formerly a coffee shop in the WWII museum. Besides immediately averting heat stroke, the interior is very welcoming with an intentional throwback look aping an authentic 1940s diner; there are metal tables in the middle and red faux-leather stools at the marble-top bar with a 6’x10′ mural of a victory crowd in New Orleans on one wall and war-time movie posters festooning the others (my favorite is Donald Duck hitting Hitler in the face with a tomato).
The menu, while it does contain many 1940s items such as sodas, shakes, malts, sundaes and pies, doesn’t limit itself to that decade’s food. Like Besh has done for American Sector, located across Andrew Higgins Drive from the Soda Shop, he has taken modern gastronomical liberties with old classics. Included in the Shakes & Malts menu are Madagascar Vanilla Bean, Creole Cream Cheese, Bananas Foster and Dulce de Leche, flavors sure to be foreign to almost every American palate 70 years ago.
On top of the eponymous Sodas, available in Melon, Pineapple, Nectar or Seasonal (today it was Canteloupe), Besh has made the Shop a breakfast and lunch destination as well. Pre-made sandwiches and wraps are on display in a large deli-style glass case, featuring Grilled Pimento, Joe Dobie Chicken (pecan-smoked chicken with tomatoes, avocados and bacon), Bad Mamma Jamma (a pork gravy monstrosity) and the largest Peanut Butter & Jelly sandwich I’ve ever seen, probably weighing in at a solid pound.
The breakfast menu contains the usual fare of eggs, muffins, yogurt and granola, along with some Besh flourishes to keep things interesting, like andouille, mangalitsa sausage patties from La Provence (Besh’s northshore restaurant) and Thomasville Tomme, a french alp cheese not often seen in soda shops anywhere.
Besh also serves some of the sweets from American Sector, carrying over the entire cupcake menu (including Candied Bacon, so wrong it’s right) and the candy bars as well. In a nod to the patrons who used to get coffee in the space, Besh was kind enough to also include a full coffee menu of lattés and hot and iced coffees. I’m sure the patrons and employees of the museum appreciate it very much, since the next closest coffee shops are blocks away at the CAC (decent hot coffee and lattés over ice, but no cold brew iced coffee) or the PJ’s on Camp and Girod.
Since I was quickly melting when I walked in the Soda Shop, I opted for a triple chocolate shake ($6) and dispensed with the niceties until I had cooled off to double digits. One thing this shake ain’t is light; rich, creamy and icy, it was everything I was hoping to get for a respite from a humid New Orleans’ summer day.