Three to Try
Time was, a guy had to drive past the parish line to find an honest pimento cheese sandwich. Not anymore. In recent years, southern favorites have wound their way like kudzu into the professional kitchens of many a New Orleans establishment. Spearheaded in part by Donald Link’s genre-busting Cochon and lifted by a rising tide of national interest in the pastiche of distinct cuisines speckling the American South, the genre of “Contemporary Southern” is now ensconced as a category for serious food.
Truthfully, in some cases it might be too serious. However a pair of local places don’t exactly drink the Kool Aid so much as serve it with an unassuming twist. One, Brown Butter, wears Southern like a pair of broke-in jeans. The other, Boucherie, had the label hung on it along the way yet embraces it with a grin.
Dayne Womax and Simon Beck first worked together at Fresco Café on Maple Street back in the late 1990s. The pair recently reunited and decided to join forces and open a place of their own: Brown Butter. While scouting a location, Beck kept his eye on one particular spot in Mid-City. One night he noticed the lights were off. Peeking inside he saw the establishment was no longer in operation and made a call. Shortly thereafter, the defunct Wow Wingery was repurposed as an independent and Brown Butter was born.
Chef Womax heads up the kitchen. A local guy with relatives spread all over the South, he grew up enjoying a robust spectrum of southern fare. Prior to Brown Butter he was running the Salty Swine, an invitation-only pop-up supper club that offered an elaborate set menu kept secret until the event. This experience shines through in the menu here, which is confident in its roots while staying unpretentious at the same time.
“Mostly we have simple, downhome flavors here,” Womax notes. “Pretty much everything I order comes from the South, though not necessarily from Louisiana – if I can find better peaches and berries from Georgia, I’ll get from there.”
Where to start? Pork Rinds with smoked corn buttermilk dressing is one good place, or else Pimento Cheese and Deviled Ham served with apples, pecans and toast. His Chicken and Waffle Sandwich, made with house-confit chicken and Broadbent ham from Kentucky with a Steen’s mustard glaze, has been the biggest seller since Day One. But if you really want to get a sense of Womax’s chops, order his Vinegar Braised Beef Short Rib. The boneless chunks get slow-cooked the day before then portioned for service. When the order comes in, the meat gets fired and glazed then sent out on a bed of creamy Anson Mills grits accompanied by a boiled peanut salad accented with peppery arugula. What makes it special is the finish on the grill. Braised short rib is a dish that can often be one-dimensional with regards to texture, and this finishing touch avoids that pitfall, giving it contrast as well as flavor.
Price points are reasonable, with sandwiches in the $10 range served with a choice of side and lunch entrées that barely crack the mid-teens. Look for dinner service to be offered soon.
If Brown Butter took on a southern identity because it made for a good fit, Boucherie had the label attached to it along the way.
“I don’t remember who coined Boucherie a ‘Contemporary Southern’ restaurant, but it certainly wasn’t Boucherie,” observes chef and owner Nathanial Zimet as he breaks down whole ducks for service. “But a restaurant does develop a voice as it grows up over time, and Boucherie’s voice is decidedly southern.”
Speaking of growing up, Zimet’s popular but tiny restaurant expanded into a nearby space over Mardi Gras. Seating grew about 50 percent, but that’s just part of the story. The tables now have more generous spacing and room to breathe, resulting in a far more comfortable environment. But if Boucherie’s location has changed, its approach to food hasn’t – its fundamental lineup gets constantly tweaked by an ingredient-driven cast of sides and accompaniments drawing on an eclectic array of influences grounded often, but not exclusively, in southern tradition. A Blackened Shrimp and Grit Cake, for example, shares space with elevated southern fare like Zimet’s Pulled Pork Cake with Pecan and Wild Rice Callas.
His Niman Ranch Rib entrée is a constant on the menu, although the accompaniments vary. Recently they were paired with grilled focaccia topped with pimento cheese (a winner) as well as preserved eggplant (the surprise). “We did that Indian-style with mustard oil, chili, cardamom and cumin,” Zimet recalls. “That came about because one of my buddies sells produce. He had a ton of them left over and I got a really good deal. They were gorgeous, they were plentiful, but there’s no way in hell I was going to be able to go through all of them fresh. So we started thinking about what we could do with them and here we are.”
That then is a southern tradition – you pull your stuff out the ground and figure out how to make it last through the year. In this way southern shares a practicality that is global in scope and appeal.
At Purloo, the lab component of SoFAB (the Southern Food and Beverage Museum), chef Ryan Hughes makes full use of his open exhibition kitchen to oversee an ambitious menu that mines regional southern hotspots across the United States and beyond. For lunch consider the Southern Board, which will give you a cross-section of his wide-ranging influence and technique.
231 N Carrolton Ave., Ste. C
Lunch Tuesdays-Sundays, brunch
Sundays, dinner service coming soon
1506 S Carrollton Ave.
Lunch and dinner Tuesdays-Saturdays
1504 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd.
Lunch and dinner Tuesdays-Saturdays