3625 Prytania St
New Orleans,, LA 70115
Napoleon's Rating - ***/*****
What happens when a chef leaves a career in the New Orleans fine-dining world to take on the breakfast and lunch crowd? Unsurprisingly, the answer at Coulis is good things.
The Uptown location of this restaurant had been known and loved as the Bluebird Café for some 22 years until that place closed in 2009. But before long chef James Leeming came along. He was a fixture at upscale Creole kitchens for years, including a tenure at Commander's Palace and, most recently, Dick & Jenny's. But he was ready to make a change and when he opened Coulis he found people eager to return to the old Bluebird address for his version of brunch with a twist. His dishes are imaginative, sometimes even theatrical, but they get back to bedrock satisfying flavor when it matters.
If you remember the old Bluebird you can easily picture the layout at Coulis. It's a long, narrow room with a façade of windows and a small diner counter facing the kitchen. Tables are surprisingly well-spaced considering the weekend demand for seats, so even when it's full you don't necessarily feel crowded.
Just as in the old Bluebird days, it's common to find a line of patrons waiting for tables here on the weekends. Unless you arrive early, that seems like part of the brunch experience. Go on the weekdays and you can usually walk right in and sit down. The staff keeps things moving pretty briskly and they do an admirable job managing the list of hungry, coffee-deprived people waiting out front.
If you come for lunch, the daily soup is always worth considering. The varieties change too often to predict, but they're reliably interesting. Certainly, the smooth, hearty butternut squash soup with a spot of crema I had here recently is worth a repeat.
The Bluebird made huevos rancheros a hit in New Orleans, and Coulis continues the tradition at this address by putting this Mexican breakfast classic front and center on its menu. Leeming does his version quite differently from both the Bluebird standard and from anywhere else in town. It starts with corn tortillas stuffed with pepper jack cheese, like a quesadilla, while black beans and a dark tomato sauce evenly share the base of the plate. Fried eggs go atop the tortillas, along with an exuberant pattern of drizzled crema and green onions, while dramatic shafts of fried corn tortillas rise up from the edge of the dish. It's breakfast with flair, and it tastes really good too.
That sums up Leeming's approach by and large: take a common idea, work in new touches in creative ways, but make sure it all satisfies where it matters most. Corned beef hash sounds familiar enough, but here the hash is molded into patties, crisped on the grill and topped with poached eggs, hollandaise and grilled mirliton. French toast is stuffed with cream cheese and topped with grilled andouille, caramelized apples and toasted pecans. A simple bagel is layered with thin salmon, topped by beets cut into a tangle of confetti and sauced with beet coulis.
Breakfast is the better part of the menu, and it's served all day. The burgers, the pulled pork quesadilla and the vegetarian sandwich are all good enough, though not what you'd cross town or wait in line to try. I'd skip the Cuban sandwich, which is made on sourdough instead of the expected pressed loaf. You can always get a simple plate of pancakes or waffles or an omelet done with a deft hand at the stove.
Check the counter by the cash register for baked goods. Pecan pie, made into bars, is a real stand out with dough that is thick and dense but buttery soft and a filling that's more about brown sugar than syrup.
Coffee needs to be a priority at a place like this, and Coulis serves a strong cup that proves reliably hot and fresh.
Most regular menu items cost less than $10, and while some may edge a bit above the diner standard the higher-quality ingredients and eye to presentation make up for the small difference. Breakfast, lunch or brunch for two should run you about $25 to $30.
Coulis is a solid place for brunch basics with creative twists and a few out-of-the-ordinary specialties. The likelihood of facing a wait on the weekends might be a little off-putting to some, though it seems like the norm for good brunch places of this type around town.