NEW ORLEANS: A CITY WITH AN INSATIABLE APPETITE
by Kristen Oliveri
There’s an alternative New Orleans that exists today—one that was unintentionally born out of the resilience of the city’s loyal constituents after the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina. Now almost eight years after the horrific natural disaster, the city has seen a beautiful culmination of old and new restaurant and bar establishments existing side by side, breathing a different and unique life into the city.
New Orleans native Paul Artigues opened up his health conscious restaurant Green Goddess right after Katrina in an effort to stimulate the city and add to its already existing vibrant restaurant culture. Many of the families he grew up with, and those who he didn’t even know, lost loved ones during the horrific hurricane and fled the city in search of literal greener pastures. But those who stayed wanted to make an impact; they wanted to help to make the city great again.
Because he spent his early years working at a health food store in the city, instilling a deep appreciation for clean eating within a city that offers such decadent cuisine, he made sure his concept involved vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free offerings (among many gluten-filled and meat inclusive dishes). While in search of a place to hang his hat, he settled on an extremely small space located in Pirate’s Alley on Exchange Place.
The kitchen often poses day to day challenges, Artigues admits. “The space we’re in is limited. There’s no hood vent and no gas. It’s kind of like I’m a farmer,” he added. But the cuisine hardly suffers from the lack of gas. The menu is extensive, offering everything from salads to sandwiches to meat and cheese plates, and ethnic-dishes such as lemongrass tofu that he gets particularly from Vietnamese farmers in the city. He also supports the local community by purchasing his boudin and duck sausage from his favorite local purveyors.
Even though the dishes focus on high quality ingredients, they are never for a second lacking in flavor and creativity. Take, for example, a new menu addition: the pressed balsamic watermelon and burrata salad. The watermelon is dehydrated and infused with balsamic that adds such a welcomed flavor profile to be paired with the creaminess of burrata that it is quite honestly a match made in taste heaven.
What’s also refreshing about Chef Artigues’s attitude is that he’s sensitive to dietary restrictions of his customers quite unlike many other classic restaurateurs in the city. “I’ve always been the person cooking and I’ve always had to pay attention to someone’s allergy when a ticket came into the kitchen,” he said. “Everything on the menu is labeled accordingly because of this. If someone has a specific need, it’s there and understood. It makes it easier for everyone.”
Across town in the Garden District is another post-Katrina establishment that opened shortly thereafter by the name of Patois, an upscale restaurant serving locally sourced French and New American cuisine by lauded chef Aaron Burgau. Perhaps what’s most wonderful about this spot is that its quaint, quiet and on the exact opposite part of town from the all-night lights that seem to always beckon its guests to the French Quarter. Burgaru has serious cooking chops, having worked for New Orleans culinary royalty, including chefs like James Beard Award Winning chef Susan Spicer of Bayona and Mondo and Gerard Maras of Gerard’s downtown. In 2006, he became executive chef at Bank Café before partnering with longtime friend Leon Touzet to open Patois.
Burgau’s easy going attitude and dedication to customer service is what keeps many locals coming back for more. He offers a variety of specials daily and some old faithful’s like his grilled octopus with roasted turnips and radishes topped with an orange vinaigrette or his grilled lamb ribs served on the bone with a green tomato relish. Locals also rave about Patois’ brunch that has a mixture of the dinner menu dishes as well as omelets, egg dishes and sandwiches with a twist—like the pulled pork and biscuits with poached eggs, smoked tomato hollandaise and bacon braised greens.
California-transplant turned diehard New Orleanian, Justin Devillier chose New Orleans to begin his cooking career, unlike Chef Antigues and Burgaru who were born and raised there. After having a childhood filled with fishing, hunting and enjoying the bounty of fresh seafood, he set his sights on working his way up in the kitchens of the Big Easy, having cooked for the likes of Bacco, Peristyle and Stella, learning the fine art of French cooking from Chef Anne Kearny-Sands.
With that knowledge under his belt, he then went to work for La Petite Grocery as a line cook, then as a sous chef. After Katrina, the restaurant was hit hard and he pitched in to bring it back to life and rebuild the restaurant that had become his home. After years of hard work and an unwavering dedication to his city, he and his wife Mia took over La Petite Grocery in 2010, reinventing the cuisine and putting his own stamp on a traditional restaurant.
Having become a bonafide restaurateur, he opened his second place Balise in 2015 in the up- and-coming Warehouse District of New Orleans. In an attempt to breathe new life into the area, Balise pays homage to New Orleans as a port city and showcases items like broiled oysters, a Gulf shrimp boil and PEI mussels. It also offers a variety of heartier meat dishes like the lamb and spring onion stew and the grilled hanger steak with roasted mushrooms, celeriac puree, sage honey and chicken jus. His efforts have not gone unnoticed in the culinary world. This past May, Devillier, was named Best Chef: South at the annual James Beard Awards gala.
The Big Easy’s commitment to excellence when it comes to food and beverage rang out quite loudly after Katrina, but continues to reverberate around each nook and cranny, no matter where you are or who you’re speaking with. It’s an entity with soul---and soul food alike.