6325 Elysian Fields Blvd., New Orleans, 504-324-5372
THREE STARS (out of four)
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. It opened a few years ago in Gentilly, but relocated last year to a larger and more accessible address in the neighborhood, this time up by the lakefront and the UNO campus.
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. It's casual, family-friendly and has an easygoing style.
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. The restaurant also delivers around its Gentilly and Lakefront neighborhoods.
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 Buffalo shrimp (or oysters) get a spicy, butter sauce , 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.
When the Munch Factory moved to its larger new space, it also expanded and solidified its menu, which previously revolved around nightly specials. Now, the fines herbes chicken, a bistro classic of roasted bird with a creamy, herb-laden sauce, is available nightly. Augmented with croquettes of smoked gouda and tasso, plus a pile of green beans, it's a home-style dish done with culinary school care. For more specifically Creole flavor, get the blackened redfish, a generous and well-seasoned slab of fish with crawfish cream sauce smothering fried grit cakes. The halftime ribs are hearty and flavorful, glazed with a peppery-sweet New Orleans-style barbecue sauce. The cool, creamy spaghetti salad on the side is a homey counterpart and the pile of "Elysian peels," the kitchen's playful name for its fried potato skins makes this a formidable barbecue platter. Get the peels with any of the sandwiches, especially the roast beef po-boy (lunch only) and the open-face fried oyster "boat." The burgers, or "backyard twinz," come two to an order, but they are substantially larger than sliders. If you're the type to eat a pair of burgers at the backyard barbecue, this is the plate for you.
The bread pudding is the most familiar and the tres leches might sound like the most decadent. But while both are recommended, the first choice has to be the beignets, adorned with both caramel and condensed milk with chocolate sauce for dipping.
There's a full bar, with a short list of familiar wines and bottles beers and specialty 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.
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. It can fill a lot of different roles, as a good neighborhood restaurant should, and it does so with a lot of distinctive New Orleans character.