Thursday, October 4, 2012

Maurepas Foods

"I give up. I surrender. The hipsters have won." -- Anthony Bourdain

The proliferation of new restaurants in the Bywater has been an unstoppable rebel force like the never ending "Call Me Maybe" video parodies. From Filipino pop-ups to eateries paying homage to the pirate history of New Orleans, the hipster haven has seen more restaurant growth than any other New Orleans neighborhood. And none of them have been more lauded than Maurepas Foods.

Don't believe me? Ask the New York Times. Or check out this video from............. wait for it................ American Hipster!

Chef and owner Michael Doyle has created the flagship neighborhood restaurant for the stretch of city between the Press Street railroad tracks and the Industrial Canal. The renovated corner building features vaulted ceilings lined with what looks like an elegant hardwood floor laid with thin planks and a stairway leads to a small second level enclosed by a Warhol graphic of an unknown mustachioed gentleman. Both the diners and the servers are comprised of what any Treme fanatic would consider the indigenous inhabitants of the Bywater - young, bohemian, donning fedoras and/or sporting ink. Outsiders such as myself probably wonder if this scene is indicative of "true" New Orleans or post-Katrina New England transplant New Orleans.

The menu is heavy on small plates categorized as "Vegetables, Starch, and Grain" - reading like a list of the freshest produce offered by your favorite Crescent City Farmer's Market vendor. At times these plates arrive as if they had been simply pulled from the ground, washed, cut, and artfully presented on the plate. Freshness is the modus operadi at Maurepas, but at times the minimalist approach taste of shortcomings.  Squashes are quartered lengthwise, lightly grilled, and dressed with shiso oil (a Japanese herb belonging to the mint family; yes, I had to look it up) and scattered with plump blueberries and green peppercorns which could neither be found nor tasted. Snap beans are tossed in a charred tomato puree which barely coated their crunchy skin and adorned with two slivers of tofu in an imaginary shrimp crust.
Tempura and roasted sweet potatoes with maitake mushrooms.
Bold flavors those are not, but you have to appreciate Doyle's faith in his purveyors, whose product is fleeting on Maurepas' menu due to a strict adherence to seasonality. A bit more manipulation leads to better results. Market greens, potatoes and pork are swimming in sweet and sour pot likker worth drinking, and the sweet potatoes are simply divine. Thick tempura fried slices are topped with even sweeter roasted julienne pieces and then dressed with thin, wide marinated maitake mushrooms. Umami at its finest, hopefully returning soon to the menu.
Chicken leg quarter with market greens, grits, and slow-poached egg.
The meat and fish section is a tad more consistent in its offerings. Spicy pimenton sausage and grilled squid is sandwiched between thick, soft house baked focaccia slathered with romesco and aioli with added mustard greens for crunch. The combination is as much unconventional as it is delicious, and the accompanying salad of bitter greens seasoned simply with salt and a spritz of oil helped balance the richness of the sandwich. Chicken leg quarter was cooked to juicy perfection and paired grits acting as a landing pad for a slow-poached egg. My only complaint was the jus pooled on the plate was a bit overkill in a dish which looked overly wet.

Goat tacos ($8) imitate Mexico’s favorite street food but with bolder flavor and a dryer cut of meat stuffed in corn tortillas and welcoming the vibrant chimichurri and pickled green tomatoes. A rotating "meat plate" special may feature discs of silky lamb roulade served atop a ginger snap wafer and long, wide ribbons of pickled cucumber. On another night, you may be offered a slow cooked Filipino short rib lacquered with adobo and soy and place atop rice pilaf with the added crunch of pecans.

Mint chocolate ice cream cookie sandwiches.
If you ever heed one piece of advice from us about a restaurant, it should be to save room for dessert at Maurepas, specifically the best ice cream cookie sandwich in town. Freshly churned mint chocolate ice cream sits between chocolate wafer cookies which easily break between your teeth without squishing out the sides. The chocolate snack cake is a high class ding dong (use that one at your next firm function) filled with creme fraiche whose sour twang highlights the depth of the chocolate. Pecan pie served with a scoop of sweet potato and root beer ice cream is a trio of flavors which taste like they belonged together all along. Drink selections include a list of original cocktails and a creative selection of wines all offered by the glass, carafe, and bottle.

The staff at Maurepas could not be more welcoming, careful to explain the menu without a trace of arrogance and willing to admit ignorance when they themselves may not have sampled a certain dish. In a city where neighborhood restaurants are often classified by their offering of veal parmesan or trout meuniere, Maurepas is one of several forerunners in a new era which should be applauded for the quality of food served in a comfortable space at affordable prices. While the originality of the menu can be intimidating to some, it's best to squeeze into your skinny jeans and dive right in.

Maurepas Foods - Birdie
3200 Burgundy Street
(504) 267-0072
Thur - Tues: 11am - Midnight

All photos by renee b. photography.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hipsters are already passe so there's no point in hating on them.

Alfred W. Bostick said...

What bullshit ... the place and this review.

Anonymous said...

I disagree, Alfred. If anything Maurepas and Chef Michael are anything but bullshit.

I've been waiting for this type of restaurant in my hood for some time now. I'm no hipster, and that term should be retired as it's thrown around like so much bullshit these days, but I see the appeal for the under 35 set anyway, many of whom plan to call New Orleans home for life and live in the neighborhood and hold jobs...so maybe they're local?
It's got the technique of fine dining but no pretense of being anything more than a neighborhood restaurant. Except it's a menu built on seasonal local produce, that never panders to the masses, which is still a novelty in town, other than the city's most high end places. It's got a real fucking bar, with career bartenders, nice cocktails (cheaper ones off the cocktail list, even the list is not hotel prices) great wine, service, and a youthful crowd mixed with old fogies like me and you who have seen all of NOLA in its peaks and valleys, plus the tourists who read about it in the Times.

It's a dining room for the neighborhood, and they're always open. Getting to know the chef, he's definitely a no bullshit guy. And I don't think he's a hipster since he has a wife, mortgage, kids, carpool, and a serious work ethic for the 10+ years he's been in town. Sorry, but he opened a place on a corner that's been closed up for over 25 years. Proud to be a regular there, along with many of Bywater/Marigny's resident musicians, artists, small business owners and regular working folks... This review isn't knocking the good food we all love to eat, and there's a place for our mom and pop red sauce and brown gravy neighborhood joints, but this place is mom and pop too. And the difference between them and Joey K's (not knocking them, love that ham bone and white beans) or Mandina's is that their mustard greens come from a giant can. Maurepas comes from the farm, and I met the farmer while eating lunch one day. And they don't have to charge the prices of August to eat our local harvest and employ a real pastry chef.

Fat Harry said...

Nothing is more obnoxious than inbred locals hating on people who didn't go to high school here. ~ MLK

Anonymous said...

Nice review as always, but how can someone with such an excellent food blog not know what shiso is? :)

Anonymous said...

Noisy inside that Maurepas. Too noisy, left in a hurry to saev my sanity. Promised never to return. Food was fine.