4510 Freret St., New Orleans
THREE STARS (out of four)
It seems that each restaurant along Freret Street’s rapidly redeveloping commercial corridor has its own niche, though zeroing in on just which one Wayfare occupies might take a few visits. This casual new eatery is very wide-ranging, functioning as an upscale sandwich deli, a wine bar and something akin to a tapas café all at once.
The building was previously a boxing gym, though you’d never know that to look at it today. It’s a large space stretching across two storefronts, with a bar and service counter taking up one side and a spacious dining room in the other. All around, there’s lots of color, refurbished lumber and a few whimsical objects here and there.
You order at the counter, are handed a number and your food is brought to you in the dining room. For such a casual approach, however, service still manages to shine. The staff members are welcoming, knowledgeable about the menu and check in with you throughout the meal, even though there isn’t formal table service.
The Wayfare menu is split between sandwiches and salads as main acts, a few sides and a section called “bar fare,” which can stand in as appetizers or provide the building blocks for a small plates-style meal on their own. For this last category, the kitchen has an ever-changing array of meat pies, sliders, bruschetta and arancini. Those are traditionally Italian rice croquettes filled with cheese, but Wayfare makes these just about every way except traditionally. Flavors from the islands or India or Asia might be worked in, while a recent example had corn maque choux and jalapenos. The meat pies and sliders get a similarly eclectic treatment. Meat plates and cheese platters are recommended if you’re sharing with a few people.
A few of the sandwiches at Wayfare are standard issue, but these are the exceptions. The Reuben is to spec, for instance, and the roasted turkey is straightforward. From there, look to the porchetta sandwich, made with fatty, sticky pork belly and salsa verde on a toasted hoagie roll, or a Cuban sandwich spruced up with charred onions, jalapenos and roasted pork marinated in citrus. I also like the fennel sausage with fried egg on ciabatta, though it does bring to mind breakfast more than dinner. One of the unique specialties is called “the knuckle,” and it’s a roast beef sandwich that’s completely different from our roast beef po-boys. This one is cool, and it’s made from chunks of beef pressed together with a horseradish aioli and pickled red onion. It’s excellent, but some dependably good and offbeat numbers are on the daily specials list too. The kitchen has a flair for presentation here, often splitting the sandwich in two and serving it with each half stuck into a bowl of sauce or soup to complement the theme of the sandwich. Salads are fresh and seasonal, though rarely very exciting.
The kitchen’s fondness for meat pies extends to the dessert list, with apple pie reconfigured as small, hot empanadas. I’m also fond of the bread pudding turned into beignets with a boozy crème anglaise and the lemon ice box pie.
Wayfare has a full bar, with a smattering of novel cocktails, local draft beers and a wine list that is surprisingly well-developed for a casual restaurant like this. You might not want to splurge on a $50 bottle of wine over sandwiches, but if you’re sharing a meat plate and some appetizers you’ll find good bottles in the $20-$30 range to go along with your meal. The by-the-glass list has many options.
The Wayfare menu doesn’t look expensive, but there can be a little sticker shock at the register when you add up a $12 sandwich, a $3 side item and add drinks. The quality is evident, and it’s not really fair to judge it against the average deli or sandwich shop, but it can be surprising to pay over $20 per person at such a casual meal.
Wayfare is an accessible, easy-going place that still serves food that’s a bit out of the ordinary. It’s recommended when you want some of the flavors and creativity of fine-dining, without the formal restaurant experience, or as a place to convene an offhand gathering over a few shared plates and drinks.