WHY IT’S NOTEWORTHY
My favorite kind of restaurant discovery has a menu full of new dishes, all of which are nevertheless immediately recognizable as coming from a Creole sensitivity. I was not expecting that from the Munch Factory, whose name and premises suggest burgers, salads, and simple platters. It has all of that, but a quick perusal of the menu reveals many more, much more interesting choices. Somebody in the kitchen clearly understands the New Orleans palate, and has the skills to render it imaginatively.
With the college crowd nearby, it’s inevitable that stuff like cheese fries and Buffalo wings will show up. Before giving any of that the hospitality of your attention, ask about the specials. There always are several, and they almost seem as if they’d come from another restaurant. An appetizer of sashimi tuna tacos one day, for example, was nothing short of artful in both appearance and flavor. The roasted chicken with herb sauce is one of the best chicken dishes I’ve had in lately. Pasta combinations are interesting and original.
Jordan and Alexis Ruiz opened the Munch Factory in 2011 on Franklin Avenue, where it created enough of a stir that they moved to the more strategic Elysian Fields earlier this year. Chef Jordan’s CIA (Culinary Institute of America) training shows in his food. The building was originally the home of Luigi’s Pizza, which will be remembered in infamy by students of UNO in the 1970s as a convenient alternative to the campus food services.
The restaurant occupies half of an old, utilitarian building whose former dreariness is mostly covered by colorful renovations and comfortable chairs and banquettes. The kitchen is pretty much wide open to view. The service staff is happy and welcoming, and keep their vigils over your table to make sure no needs have been unaddressed.
»Seafood and sausage gumbo
Soup du jour
Buffalo oysters or shrimp
Hand-cut fries with jack cheese and bacon, or roast beef debris and cheese
Wings, choice of sauces
Potato skins, cheeses, bacon, green onions
»Shrimp remoulade, fried green tomatoes
»Wedge salad, blue cheese, chopped egg, bacon, tomatoes
»Chopped mixed green salad
Gentilly chicken salad, roasted corn, cheese, bacon, tomatoes, greens
Buffalo oyster or shrimp salad
»Hawaiian seared tuna salad, carrots, cucumbers, cilantro, avocado
Grilled three-cheese pressed on Texas toast
»Roast beef poor boy
»Grilled or fried chicken, pepper jack cheese
Hot sausage patty melt
Fried oyster or shrimp boat
Grilled or fried fish sandwich
Shrimp and grits
Ribeye steak, butter sauce
»Blackened redfish, yellow grits cakes, creamy crawfish-tasso sauce, jumbo lump crab meat
Oven roasted salmon, citrus butter sauce, grits, sauteed asparagus
»Thick-cut pork chop, mac & cheese
»»Fines herbes chicken (pan-seared, then roasted, herb and pepper cream sauce, potato croquettes, garlic green beans
»Tres leches cake
Chocolate molten cake
Beignets with caramel and condensed milk chocolate sauce
FOR BEST RESULTS
The poor boys and burgers and the like are appealing, but the more ambitious dishes are much more interesting. Grill the servers on what they think is best that day. Lunch is on Friday only; some dishes are only available then.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
It’s too much to expect that a college-neighborhood restaurant would play the kind of music I can stand, but I can dream of jazz, can’t I. After the sun goes down, it’s too dark in here.
FACTORS OTHER THAN FOOD
Up to three points, positive or negative, for these characteristics. Absence of points denotes average performance in the matter.
- Dining Environment
- Consistency +1
- Value +1
- Attitude +2
- Wine & Bar +1
- Hipness +2
- Local Color +2
- Good for business meetings
- Quick, good meal
- Good for children
- Easy, nearby parking
ANECDOTES AND ANALYSIS
To look over a list of restaurants east of City Park and lakeside of the railroad tracks, you’d think that some weird city ordinance prohibits restaurants closer than a mile from one another in those neighborhoods. Except for an extinct cluster of eateries around the once-stylish shopping center on Gentilly Boulevard at Elysian Fields, and the row of seafood restaurants that used to line the lake shore in eastern New Orleans, there have never been many restaurants in that half of the city.
It’s too early to call it a trend, but a few tasty new restaurants have appeared during the past few years in Gentilly and the UNO area. This took a few years after Katrina–no other part of the city took much worse flood damage–but it is happening. The most encouraging of these is the frivolously-named but excellent Munch Factory. It’s the best restaurant in that part of town in over 30 years.