3200 Burgundy St., New Orleans, 504-267-0072
The Bywater restaurant scene is booming right now, and one of the places that really set the pace is Maurepas Foods. Chef Michael Doyle opened it early in 2012 and has been a hit from the very start with an original and refreshingly honest approach to high-quality local ingredients, moderate to inexpensive pricing and a colorful, lively setting that makes you feel like you've wandered into a neighborhood party.
The restaurant is located in a historic corner building that required an extensive overhaul. The renovation includes a great deal of recycled and repurposed woodwork and a long bar for dining or just sipping drinks. It's an open design that can get loud when it's busy (see below) but that also lends a certain buzz to the place.
The quality of service and level of attention your table gets is particularly susceptible to the crowd level at this very popular restaurant. In all cases, though, the kitchen gets food out quickly. The unconventional menu can take some getting used to, so don't be shy about asking questions. The restaurant doesn't take reservations, and dinner is almost always very busy. Expect a wait at night. Lunch, however, is much more mellow. Daytime might be the right time to visit if you're looking for a quiet meal. The menus are identical day and night.
Doyle's menu doesn't follow the standard appetizer/entree arrangement but instead divides dishes into 'vegetables, starches and grains' in one column and 'meat and seafood' in the other. Most (but not all) dishes fall somewhere between appetizer, small plate and side dish in terms of size.
This menu is always changing, which is part of Doyle's seasonal approach. Another part is a direct relationship with many small, local producers and suppliers, and this means the kitchen is full of interesting and impeccably fresh raw materials.
Something listed simply on the menu as 'broccoli' can deliver a plate of heirloom purple broccoli with tangy strands of pickle and tart kumquat. Sweet pepper puree sets off a dish of cauliflower and chard while pickled oysters and candied peanuts star in a salad with root vegetable slaw. There is usually some riff on steamed mussels (most recently with chile broth and black beans) and the broth for a shrimp hot pot was flavored with andouille sausage and kimchi and had a big, fluffy biscuit stuck in the middle of it.
A few dishes that always seem to be in rotation are goat tacos with pickled green tomatoes and spicy harissa; links of green onion sausage with arancini (fried rice balls) and roasted chicken legs with greens each is highly recommended.
Like the main menu, desserts change up constantly. Cookies and milk (just what it sounds like) is always an option, as is a mint ice cream sandwich. A recent chocolate pie with an oatmeal crust was simple and outstanding. The cheese selection is especially good here, which makes just as appropriate a dessert as a snack with your drinks.
And those drinks are pretty special. It's obvious some significant curatorial care went into picking the wines and beers. These selections aren't the most comprehensive, but they include a lot of interesting small producers, and for wine you have the option of half bottles. Cocktails are a major focus for the bar, and even soft drinks are interesting. These include house-made sodas, often flavored with fresh herbs.
The unconventional coursing means it's easy to have a few dishes here and get away with an inexpensive meal but it's also easy to build yourself a significant bill. Most dishes fall between $8 and $14. With drinks and a moderate approach to the meal two people should be able to have dinner here for about $75.
Maurepas Foods is a new kind of New Orleans neighborhood restaurant, and one that is right in synch with its particular neighborhood. It is accessible and priced for every day meals, but has the style and originality of a place driven by a creative chef. If the format takes a little getting used to, you can trust the quality and the passion driving the operation here.