I L Posto Cafe
4607 Dryades St
New Orleans, LA 70115
Napoleon's Rating - ***/*****
The soup, sandwich and salad setup can seem like the standard default when it's time for lunch. But occasionally a place comes along and assembles the basics so well, and with its own personality, that we're compelled to take a fresh look. That's what Il Posto has been doing since this small Uptown café opened on Dryades Street a few years ago. Though out of the way, it has earned a loyal following as a place for fundamentally simple, delicious, light Italian fare.
Il Posto doubles as a coffee shop, and it has the proportions of one. Small tables are pressed against the walls, and it can feel a bit cramped for a meal. But it's still an adorable space, with lots of light through the big windows and a homespun feel, from the baked goods lining the service counter to the small bud vases decorating each table. The place practically glows at night and really feels like a neighborhood find.
The folks are friendly here. Things can bog down during the lunch rush, but with a glance to the open kitchen and prep area just behind the service counter it's plain to see people are working rapidly. Order at the counter and your name is called when plates are ready.
If you're stopping here for a quick lunch, go straight to the sandwiches and salads, which are filling enough. For a more leisurely meal, the few first-course options lend themselves to sharing. For instance, a cannellini bean dip, a rosemary-flavored mash similar to hummus, comes with a towering pyramid of sliced bread for smearing. Bruschetta with tomato and fresh basil is a light option while the large antipasto plate has an impressive assortment of meats, cheeses and vegetables.
Panini comprise the most substantial menu items here, and all are made on ciabatta from the Uptown bakery La Boulangerie. They hold a choice selection of Italian meats and cheeses, though precious little else. If they sometimes seem a bit spare, they also bring the goodness of the prime ingredients to the forefront. The "Italian hero" panino has the most variety between the bread, with mortadella, spicy sopressata and a melted coat of Fontina cheese, plus a balsamic dressing. There are also tramezzini, which are the Italian equivalent of English tea sandwiches. They are small and light, with lox or tuna salad among the fillings. Il Posto also riffs on that lunchtime classic, the grilled cheese sandwich, and makes an array of variations, including a twist with gorgonzola, walnuts and honey. The most interesting salad here is a straightforward bed of romaine, shaved Parmigiano Reggiano and a layer of the lean, air-cured beef called bresaola. The Caprese salad with fresh mozzarella and tomato slices is done in the time-honored fashion. Il Posto also serves breakfast, though this menu mostly consists of bagels or bowls of oatmeal or yogurt for quick bites to go with the morning cup of coffee.
Il Posto does a dessert bruschetta that is as delicious as it is simple. Nutella, the Italian chocolate and hazelnut spread, is slathered on slices of toasted bread, sprinkled with powdered sugar and finished with fresh berries. Also look for fresh baked goods lining the service counter, like berry tarts, cupcakes and gooey chocolate bars topped with salty peanut butter.
There's the complete lineup of familiar Italian coffee drinks, plus teas and juices and a few Italian wines by the glass. The coffee is strong, aromatic and deeply flavorful.
Depending on how you build a meal here, Il Posto can be either a reasonably-priced place for quality lunches or an inexpensive option for light dinners. Sandwiches are $9 and come with a small salad, making a complete meal. Salads fall into the same category, and cheese plates and antipasti plates are a bit higher but should be shared.
There's an easy elegance to Il Posto that elevates this small place to a status above just another sandwich and salad joint. While none of the dishes are groundbreaking or even especially unique, the prime Italian flavors and cozy, if sometimes cramped, atmosphere creates a very welcoming scene. It's a place that is a delight to stumble upon in the middle of a busy day and a choice destination for laidback, inexpensive dinners.