520 Capdeville St.
New Orleans, LA 70130
Many new restaurants around town are aiming for that sweet spot somewhere between upscale and casual, where you'll find comfort food but also some updated twists, places where the line between the bar and dining room is blurry to nonexistent. Capdeville is one prime example.
Capdeville isn't hard to find once you start looking, but since it's on an obscure, single-block street flanking the federal courthouse, you're not likely to stumble upon it. As word has gotten around, a solid lunch crowd has developed, while others come for after-work snacks before the dinner hour. The bar can seem like a clubhouse for the many new young professionals now helping to reinvigorate the neighborhood. The design blends sleek lines with tavern touches. Lighting is seductively dim and a rock music theme carries through the room. Framed LPs and displays of bourbon bottles decorate the walls and the servers wear vintage concert T-shirts.
Capdeville has some ongoing service issues, namely the ability to get people in and out for a quick workday lunch. This is bad news for a place catering to the downtown office crowd with limited lunchtime. I've learned to load the parking meter with more than an hour's worth of change when I come here, or to arrive before noon to beat the rush. This is rarely an issue at night, when Capdeville grows quieter after happy hour.
Part of the approach here is to take an ostensibly straightforward, widely-loved dish and gussy it up to command more attention, and a correspondingly higher price. The macaroni and cheese is a good example. It gets a dose of truffle shavings, which is guaranteed to raise eyebrows along with check totals, plus Italian bacon and peas, making it more like a carbonara. This can be an entrée or an appetizer, though I think it's too rich for a main course. In the same style, small amounts of red beans and rice are rolled into croquettes, strongly resembling old-time Creole calas, only here done savory and plated over green onion aioli. This makes the best appetizer on the list, though the deviled eggs with smoked salmon are an appropriately upscale riff on a classic bar snack. Fries are thin though not particularly crisp. You can abet these with any number of cheese and bacon combinations, though the most interesting is a version of poutine, from the Quebec comfort food obsession. Order this and you get a bowl of fries over a peppery gravy with lumps of stretchy, dense mozzarella curd. It's essentially gravy cheese fries by another name but it's worth a try.
Beyond all the twists and tweaks on this menu, Capdeville is first and foremost a burger place. That's what the majority of people seem to order, and they're what this kitchen does best and most reliably. The patties are thick and cooked properly to order, with a crust on the outside even when requested a pink medium rare within. A sturdy onion roll holds it all together, and into this goes all manner of unconventional burger toppings. I liked the "Mayor" burger with gouda, caramelized onions and a slather of smoky ketchup, though the "Brekky" (for "breakfast") burger was somewhat lost under an excessive combination of bacon, a fried egg and Mornay sauce. There is a simple grilled cheese sandwich, in keeping with the upscale comfort food script, though one impressive and creative sandwich here is the duck confit club, which is loaded with rich bits of duck and replaces the expected bacon with a crunchy layer of fried duck skin, all built on rich, flaky, exceptionally good brioche. There are dishes like a grilled fish and braised lamb, though these aren't the kitchen's strong points. The more reliable entrees are the steak frites doused with red wine butter and the chicken and dumplings, with gnocchi in the mix and another shot of truffles for good measure.
The banana bread pudding plays it pretty safe with a topping of rum-spiked caramel, though the blackberry ginger sauce provides some offbeat sparkle to the flourless chocolate cake.
A list of specialty cocktails seems standard at new places like this, and Capdeville dutifully supplies one with cute names and all. Some are quite exotic, like Dietzen's Whiskey Smash, made with whiskey, orange Curacao, lemon and mint, or the Hat Check, which is a margarita with the cool addition of cucumber. Be aware that these cocktails are $9 a pop, which can make burger night quite a bit more expensive than you might intend. Draft beers are all over $6 a pint too. At lunch, most people just sip iced tea anyway.
Only a few of the entrees break the $15 mark, while first courses range between $5 and $8 and the burgers are all just over $10. A meal should run about $20 or $25, maybe $30 if you get dessert. Throw in a few of those aggressively-priced drinks and the total will rise substantially.
Capdeville is an interesting new spot to taste how the gourmet comfort food trend plays out. The service remains hit or miss, but the setting is stylish and attractive, and during lunch or happy hour it can feel like it's at the heart of a rejuvenating downtown scene.