The Lunch Bunch

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The midday meal takes center stage all over town

Well into the spring season, we’re now seeing a bounty of local produce. Farmers’ markets are flush with ripe fruits and vegetables and restaurants have launched spring menus, reflecting a change in culinary style to mesh with what’s in season. Lunch service has started or been revamped at a number of eateries and breakfast continues to charm. Hungry folks need to know, so read on.

 

LOVIN’ LUNCH

One Restaurant & Lounge finally stepped up to offer lunch on Thursdays and Fridays. A clever menu of favorites from chef Scott Snodgrass includes oysters Bienville, chicken and andouille gumbo, an open-faced brisket sandwich and, on the lighter side, the brilliantly fresh and appealing seared tuna and Asian vegetables with avocado. Price points are right on target, as there’s nothing listed over $16.50.

Cuvée has settled into a regular lunch service that is a stunner. A menu of several apps, salads, mains and desserts that change frequently can be had à la carte or ordered in combination (any three for $25). One week there was a comforting meatloaf panini, a deep-flavored root vegetable puree soup and fresh bacon (read: pork belly) that caused serious plate wars, as in, “I’m having this by myself, not sharing, get your own.” Whoa!   

Chef Justin Devillier of La Petite Grocery has also reinvented his lunch menu with cool dishes like a chicken leg confit over black-eyed peas tossed with pepper-jelly vinaigrette, truffled charbroiled oysters, succulent hanger steak and a burger—oh, that burger. One friend ate it three times in a 10-day period; it’s that good. Top-quality beef, perfectly seasoned and grilled to order, topped with heady Gruyère, a sweet Vidalia marmalade and peppery arugula on a house-made, soft, buttery brioche-like bun.

Emeril’s has also jumped on the revamped-lunch bandwagon and now offers a broad selection of menu items that are easy on the wallet and totally intriguing. Smartly reworked and ramped-up classics like the BLFGT (Benton’s bacon, butter lettuce and fried green tomato on brioche with boiled Gulf shrimp and pommery mustard aioli) and Abita-battered Texas redfish with hand-cut French fries, smoked tomato malt vinegar, blue crab remoulade and scallion are just the tip of the iceberg. There is also a timely “Lunch Crunch” menu of three courses in 30 minutes for $19.50. Genius!

 

KUDOS TO DONALD LINKHerb Saint Restaurant

Are any restaurants hotter than Cochon and Cochon Butcher right now? Conde Nast Traveler’s 13th annual “Hot List” issue (May 2009) named Cochon Butcher one of the top 50 restaurants in its “definitive guide to the world’s most exciting new establishments destined to become instant classics.” In addition to that, Cochon won a Bravo A-List Award for being the restaurant that put itself on the map as “the most delectable eatery in the United States.” Chef Donald Link’s new cookbook, Real Cajun, is a terrifically homey yet refined tome that offers recipes for both pro and punter. Released on April 21, it should be a smash hit.

 

ON THE MOVE

J’Anita’s, once on lower Magazine Street and popular for its barbecue, guacamole, quirky garnishes and famous “Redfish Sammich,” closed its doors, then just as quickly chef-owners Craig and Kimmie popped up cooking at the Avenue Pub on St. Charles. The fish sandwich lives on!

 

TO MARKET, TO MARKET

If you haven’t made it to the Freret Street Market (the first Saturday of each month), plan ahead, make it a priority and go. The music is great, the local crafts outstanding and the food spectacular! Highlights are Pull My Pork barbecue, Pico de Bayou salsa, NOLA Tamale Company hot tamales, great soul food vendors, locally roasted coffee, Les’ Confetti Jelly and more. Honestly, there’s not a dud in the bunch.

 

GIVE ME …

Liberty’s Kitchen! This sit-down, plate-lunch eatery near Tulane and Broad is the latest Café Reconcile-like project to offer education and vocational training to disadvantaged teens and young adults. Stop by 422½ S. Broad St. for breakfast, lunch and Starbucks coffee drinks. Open weekdays 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.

 

NOWFE

The New Orleans Wine & Food Experience will be in full swing May 20 to 23. I’ll be cheeky and recommend you attend everything. But I think you should definitely check out Pastry & Port Paired to Perfection. Premium ports will be paired with the sweet creations of celebrated local pastry chefs Kristyne Bouley (Herbsaint and Cochon), Simone Fleming (The Ritz-Carlton New Orleans), Shun Li (the Windsor Court Hotel), New Orleans Ice Cream Company and Mary Sonnier (host of The Chef Show). The seminar is hosted by yours truly and is $75 per person, Friday, May 22, at 2 p.m., Omni Royal Orleans Hotel (East Salon).

 

BIG ON BREAKFASTomelet

Popular breakfast hot spot Bluebird Café turns off the burners for good on May 31, and while we mourn the loss, the morning meal landscape is ever-growing. Dave Gotter started offering breakfast a scant couple months ago at Gott Gourmet Café and the locals are flocking in for omelets, burritos and specialty items like jumbo shrimp and smoked gouda organic yellow grits, a big-as-life bowl of grits and shrimp with andouille, garlic, peppers and onions, draped with a decadent lobster-tomato butter sauce.

La Macarena Pupuseria and Latin Café offers a Latin-style brunch that will perk up the mornings for both vegetarians and meat eaters. The menu has the standard breakfast burritos, but is splashed out with breakfast platters like the Central American breakfast of huevo ranchero, pupusa, refried beans, chorizo, avocado, plantains and crema, or the Salvadoran Special—a large chicken tamale, sweet fried plantains, refried beans, crema and toast.

Also new on the scene is Dress It, at the bottom of the Omni Royal Crescent Hotel. For $7.95 you can choose between a breakfast sandwich or a three-egg omelet with your choice of cheese, meat, 10 vegetables and bread of your liking.