The talk that Freret Street would be the next big thing Uptown has circulated for years. But with the exception of early adopters like Cure, realization seemed to be perpetually on the horizon. No longer. In mid-2011 Freret turned the corner with a slew of new eateries bursting onto the scene. With more slated in the short term, the predictions of revitalization have come to pass.
Chef Adolfo Garcia of RioMar and La Boca orchestrated an impressive double header with his one-two punch of Ancora and High Hat. Garcia has become adept at assembling partnerships with individuals who have a vested interest in and passion for the food they serve. In the case of Ancora, it’s Neapolitan pizza. For High Hat, it’s southern food by way of Louisiana.
Partnering chef Jeff Talbot is the creative force behind Ancora. After a stint at the Michelin-rated Cyrus in California, the unyielding pressure to help maintain their coveted stars caused him to reexamine his lifestyle. “I wanted a place that my family and friends could come to and not be intimidated,” he says. “I decided it was time to do something that the vast majority of people could actually appreciate.”
That turned out to be pizza. Neapolitan pizza, specifically, an artisan pizza that hews to a strict set of covenants. “There are essentially 10 rules you have to follow, but they are all-encompassing,” Talbot explains. For example, the pizza must be cooked in a wood-fired oven between 750 and 850 degrees, and cannot take more than 90 seconds to bake.
From start to finish, Talbot’s naturally leavened dough takes three days to prepare and uses a starter he has fed for over six years. The result is a crust that is thin and drops slightly. Toppings are minimal and of high quality. Try the Bianca, topped with Fior di Latte (a cow’s milk mozzarella), fresh basil, olive oil, chili and garlic. Minimalists might reach for the Marinara, which highlights the pizza’s deceptive simplicity with just San Marzano tomatoes, garlic and fresh oregano.
The salumi are made in-house by salumist Kris Doll, who also supplies cured meats to Garcia’s other establishments. Sample his excellent wares with an Affetatti Misti platter. Finally, save room for the Pane dessert, a sweet fruit- and nut-studded bread served with creamy mascarpone and drizzled with honey.
Homemade sodas and a short list of specialty cocktails distinguish the drink menu.
Next door at High Hat, managing partner Chip Apperson plates up Southern comfort. Described as “delta by way of the bayou,” the idea behind it was a moderately priced, Southern-style neighborhood café that is family-friendly to boot. The menu draws heavily from Apperson’s Southern background, with an emphasis on the “Meat and Three” (a meat dish plus a choice of three sides) concept central to plate-lunch joints in the mid-South.
Southern influence shines on the Catfish Basket, served with hush puppies, cole slaw and hand-cut fries. “We do our catfish a little different here. More like how it’s done in north Louisiana or Tennessee,” Apperson says. Using a dry cornmeal mix, the result is a fish that is lighter in taste and texture than the wash-and-dredge style more common to New Orleans.
Bayou influences bubble up on the blackboard specials. Red beans and rice with fried chicken or andouille sausage appear on Mondays, and shrimp Creole (with the shrimp cooked à la minute and sauced before serving) shows up on Fridays. Try the Delta Hot Tamale, a pork-filled, masa-encased appetizer with a whiff of Cajun seasoning wrapped in a cornhusk and steamed. Dunk chunks of it in the accompanying ramekin of pork drippings. Save room for the “Grillswith,” a dish from Apperson’s college days. Doughnuts from the nearby Freret St. Po-Boy & Donut Shop are grilled until caramelized and then topped with Quintin’s Vanilla Ice Cream – a true locavore delight.
In August The Company Burger opened its doors, throwing its hat into the ring of New Orleans’ next-wave burger joints. Owner Adam Biderman brings an unpretentious but highly informed approach to the classic American burger. The desire was planted while he was chef de cuisine at a gastropub in Atlanta. He watched the New York burger trend go national and, after moving home to his native New Orleans, he decided to go for it. “It was time to do my own thing, and this was the place I’d wanted to do for a long time,” he says.
The Company Burger strips the classic American cheeseburger down to the core. Biderman uses Harris Ranch hormone- and antibiotic-free beef for his patties, grinding the chuck and brisket in house each day. His buns are baked on the Northshore using his own recipe then toasted on the griddle. “Toasted bread is one of my tenets for burgers.”
The burgers hit all the right notes. The buns have the right amount of give and the griddling buys you time to tackle them before the juices soak through. These aren’t fancy burgers; American cheese melted just so, house-made bread-and-butter-chips and red onion keep them simple. Biderman recommends the namesake “Company Burger” – essentially a burger with double patties – and so do I. Fried eggs and bacon are offered as add-ons, but I think the burgers are best as they are or with any of the house-made herbed mayonnaises. But, as Adam says, a burger is a personal thing. “Burgers are kind of like barbecue. Everyone has their own opinion.”
A short list of other items is offered, including The Company Link, a smoked hotdog sourced from Cochon Butcher. But the item that will raise the most eyebrows is the “Cornhog” – a corndog that swaps the traditional frank for unctuous pork belly encased in the middle. The locally sourced pork is cooked sous-vide, and then dipped in corn batter before frying. Before having one, alert your cardiologist.
Freret’s restaurant row
The good-natured, hotdog-centric Dat Dogs, which I wrote about a few issues back, was expanding across the street at press time. Midway Pizza, which focuses on Chicago-style deep-dish pies, offers a good selection of local brews and has an all-you-can-eat lunch special. Japanese newcomer Origami is slated to open later this year in the former Friar Tucks. Freret St. Po-Boy & Donut Shop serves up its namesake items and Sarita’s Grill, right, offers authentic, inexpensive Latin fare along with excellent Cuban sandwiches.