Surrey's Juice Bar
1418 Magazine St
New Orleans, LA 70130
Napoleon's Rating - ***/*****
Casual restaurant meals and healthy restaurant meals don't often align in New Orleans, with all the rich sauces, hearty gravies and fried seafood across our inexpensive menus. But Surrey's takes a different route. This Lower Garden District café -- and its newer, second location farther Uptown -- has long balanced flavor and freshness with offbeat options. The result is an everyday breakfast and lunch spot where you can go light or go big as your mood dictates.
Both Surrey's locations are small, cozy spots, though the original in the Lower Garden District feels a bit more tropical. The newer Uptown location has a small porch and side deck for a few outdoor dining options.
Surrey's is a popular brunch destination, and getting in during the weekend almost always requires a wait. The second Surrey's opened in mid-2010 to relieve some of the pressure, but soon there were lines forming up at both locations. Once you're in, the servers keep things moving along at a good clip. That seems to be what most people want for breakfast or weekday lunches, though for brunch this service can feel rushed. Of course, while you're waiting for a table this approach is much appreciated. The staff is up on the details of the unusual menu and field questions well once you have their attention.
One dish per meal is usually enough at Surrey's, though the daily soup is always worth a look. A recent gumbo had a loose, soupy, light roux and came loaded with shreds of turkey and coins of spicy boar sausage, while a creamy bisque was topped with tiny fried onions and fresh green onions. Fresh fruit plates and house-made granola with yogurt double as quick breakfast options or light add-ons for larger meals.
One reason I admire Surrey's is the way light dishes and hearty onslaughts alike begin with vividly fresh ingredients and then layer on the flavor. Even the simplest-sounding dishes have something unique going on, and it's easy to assemble a relatively healthy meal without feeling as though you're missing out.
Blocks of ginger-tinged tofu replace the eggs for an offbeat breakfast platter, which is built over a pile of brown rice and further augmented by a smattering of sautéed mushrooms, onions and peppers. Rice and tofu are unusual breakfast choices, but they make this dish a nutritional powerhouse to start the day. Similarly, the eggs for the Costa Rican breakfast are placed over rice instead of potatoes, while pico de gallo and slices of avocado boost the flavor without weighing things down.
On the other end of the spectrum, however, are dishes that are downright decadent. Exhibit A could be the corned beef hash done up with crumbled andouille sausage and bits of boudin mixed in among the beef chunks, all topped with a fried egg. Specials often take the same indulgent direction, like a recent rendition of eggs Benedict that started with a scone flecked with bacon that was then covered by slices of spicy hog headcheese, poached eggs and Hollandaise.
Smoked salmon appears across the menu. It fulfills its traditional role atop the kitchen's chewy, crusty bagels, which are made in house, and you can get it worked into a plate of scrambled eggs with green onions and capers. Huevos rancheros is a standard here, and I'd also recommend any dish that uses crabmeat. The crab melt, for instance, is crammed with an extraordinary amount of large, firm, sweet lumps, bound together by a touch of remoulade and a drape of melted Muenster cheese.
The menu doesn't list any desserts, per se, but you can certainly count dishes like bananas Foster French toast in that category with its stuffing of bananas and cream cheese and its topping of rum, brown sugar, butter and more bananas. Look for brownies and cookies at the counter for dessert to go.
Fresh juices are a major part of the operation at Surrey's, and for some a glass of orange/carrot/celery juice or apple/beet/grapefruit juice may constitute the healthiest serving of the day. The juice bar serves wheatgrass by the shot glass. Otherwise, the coffee is good and strong and the fresh lemonade is a rejuvenating choice.
Prices at Surrey's are about on par with local breakfast and lunch averages, though the bill usually seems like a better deal here thanks to bigger-than-average portions and better-than-average preparations. Just watch prices on the daily specials, which tend to run higher, and also keep in mind that add-ons like tofu or lox can ratchet up the price of a breakfast plate or sandwich above $10. A meal for two should run about $25.
Surrey's has been at it for quite some time, but the place still has a new, vibrant energy to it, thanks in part to the constantly changing menu. It answers the need for a cafe where the light dishes are truly interesting and flavorful, and also where the hearty dishes are made with more finesse and fine ingredients than is normally the case at this price range.