5339 Franklin Ave.
New Orleans, LA 70122
Napoleon's Rating: ***/*****
The Munch Factory's name is a little out of the ordinary, but then so too is the menu at this friendly, engaging, surprisingly polished neighborhood restaurant. Found along one of the main drags in Gentilly, not far from the University of New Orleans campus, it's a place where you can get burgers and an order of cheese fries or blackened redfish and one of the better chicken dishes in town.
While this restaurant space doesn't really catch the eye from the street, inside it is a comfortably urbane setting, with mellow lighting and walls hung with French culinary posters. But to say the Munch Factory is family-friendly is an understatement. The proprietors' own toddler is often romping around the dining room, so while the room is stylish the feel is utterly unpretentious.
The owners are very hands-on here, and most likely the person serving you will be the chef's wife. The approach is very welcoming and genuine, though if the place gets busy it can feel understaffed. Still, the people here are so engaging I usually leave in a better mood than when I arrived. The Munch Factory offers take-out, and plenty of people swing by to pick up orders to bring home. Note that the restaurant serves dinner Tuesday through Friday, with lunch only served on Friday. This restaurant is a bit out of the way for anyone not living or traveling through Gentilly, and expanded hours at lunch and perhaps Saturdays would make it more accessible.
The list of first courses here reads like a menu of bar food, with items like cheese fries, potato skins and Buffalo shrimp. The intent clearly is comfort food, though the kitchen adds enough creativity and culinary touches that even these very familiar dishes stand out. The spicy, buttery sauce for the Buffalo shrimp (or oysters) is addictive, and the waffle-cut fries, carefully layered throughout with a creamy blend of cheeses, is like a potato casserole. Crab cakes and shrimp remoulade on fried green tomatoes are also very good. Most of these should be split, with the notable exception of the Creole gumbo, jammed with several types of sausage plus chicken, crab and shrimp, which you'll want to keep all to yourself.
The menu has a short list of entrees that the kitchen always prepares, augmented by a pair of nightly specials. Tuesdays and Thursdays are the nights to find what is perhaps the Munch Factory's best dish, its roasted chicken with a creamy fines herbes sauce, paired with croquettes of smoked gouda and tasso, plus a pile of green beans. It's a home-style dish done with culinary school care. The blackened redfish is served every night, and while it is a very fresh, generous slab of the delicious local fish I find the seasoning mix here too salty. The pork chop was also salty and a little overcooked the night I tried it. Another sure hit, though, comes on Tuesday with the beef short ribs, which are lusciously rich and gilded with a port wine reduction. Sandwiches are good across the board, though the roast beef, the Cuban and the fish sandwich (served only on Friday) are the real specialties.
Bread pudding seems like the traditional finale to a Creole-flavored meal here, though the dessert to get is the tres leches cake, which all but dissolves into sweet creaminess on the tongue.
The Munch Factory is BYOB, and otherwise serves the normal array of soft drinks.
Most entrees are around $16, and most sandwiches are around $10, making the Munch Factory a good mid-range option. Split an appetizer and two people can do dinner here for under $50.
Gentilly is not a hotbed for restaurants, so maybe it's appropriate that the Munch Factory essentially fulfills two different restaurant roles. It's the neighborhood place for a sandwich and a bowl of gumbo when you just don't want to cook, and it's also the mid-range place with really good food where you go for birthdays or just a nice night out. It fields both of these roles well and is a welcome addition to the restaurant scene.