When the lunch special is a salad built around bread at a cafe built around a bakery, you say yes.
At NOCHI Café by Gracious this brought a panzanella salad with grilled fish ($15) that was quick, light, satisfying and just about perfect for a busy workday when the hot weather was hinting at its imminent arrival.
It also helped bring into focus the unique niche NOCHI Café by Gracious has made in downtown New Orleans since opening in January.
The latest from the local Gracious Bakery + Café brand, NOCHI Café is a spot for pastry, quick sandwiches and good coffee that has a dual identity as a modern Mediterranean diner.
Tahini, yogurt, olives and sumac are as important on this lunch menu as sugar and spice are to the dessert case.
Since local baker Megan Forman opened her first Gracious in 2012, she and husband, Jay Forman, have been doing some heavy lifting to restore the idea of the neighborhood bakery in New Orleans.
At each of their four locations, I know I’ll find baguettes with that balance of shattering light crust and airy, chewy inner crumb. I know I’ll succumb to the temptation of the pastry case, and that I will not regret it.
NOCHI Café starts with the same foundation as its sister locations. But this one adds a much fuller lunch and breakfast menu, utilizing the new, wide-open kitchen Gracious inherited.
NOCHI Café is part of the New Orleans Culinary & Hospitality Institute (or, of course, NOCHI), the new culinary school that revived an impressive but long dormant cluster of interconnected buildings at the edge of downtown.
The school built out this cafe space with a full bar for a quiet drink, a spacious seating area for those times when meals double as meetings and a bank of windows framing views of streetcars making the turn onto Carondelet Street (and the doors of the neighborhood’s fine wine shop, Keife & Co.).
To call the cafe chef-led seems lofty for a place that still doubles as a walk-up coffee counter. But there’s no doubt a chef is leading this kitchen.
That’s Michael Doyle, who is known for Maurepas Foods, the restaurant he ran in the Bywater from 2012 to 2015. Even as farm-to-table sourcing has become a given for a certain stripe of restaurant, Maurepas Foods stood out for just how varied a perspective it brought to the local harvest, drawing from a broad swath of small, local producers.
Doyle’s style is toned down at NOCHI Café, but the ripple of farmers market freshness in the ingredients and the way flavors build across them are vivid and compelling. This is a chef working on a smaller stage, building a following on lunch regulars and drawing from the building blocks a craft bakery provides.
That panzanella started with tomatoes, peppers, cucumber, red onion and multicolored carrot, all roughly hewn, cut with parsley and whipped with fresh dill, a colorful ode to warm-weather cravings. The fish was a new one on me: permit, which has a flavor like pompano but gives a thick, meatier cut. Its surface was marked with grill lines and speckled with peppercorns. Together with the bread — crust-on ciabatta, softened, but not yet soggy, from the vinaigrette — it made this a meal instead of just a salad.
Some of the best dishes here are understated. Another grilled fish salad ($17) brought two cuts of amberjack aromatic with sumac over greens, dark olives and a pool of spicy lushly herbaceous anchovy dressing, crunchy bits of toasted couscous sprinkled about.
The south coast mezze plate has beet hummus, carrot hummus, whipped feta, pickled okra and field pea salad to make sure you remember you’re in the South, and multigrain bread to remind you of the bakery.
You can get a turkey sandwich here ($9.50) with pesto and bacon, or tarragon chicken salad on a bakery roll ($9.25). But if you see the lamb sausage on ciabatta, cut with harissa, the chunky, darkl -spicy red pepper sauce, and dressed with yogurt and zhuog, the pulsing, green, pesto-like hot sauce, you can’t help but connect the dots to this menu’s real Middle Eastern focus.
No matter what, you will have to contend with the dessert case. Ignoring it is not an option. There is little to fear from the two-bite chocolate tarts, however, which you will finish on the walk from the diner counter to the door. Let the sweet taste linger as your day continues. The name here is NOCHI Café, but this is still Gracious after all.
NOCHI Cafe by Gracious
725 Howard Ave., 504-635-0033
Mon.-Fri., 7 a.m.-7 p.m., Sat. 7:30 a.m.-4 p.m.
See also, Gracious Bakery + Café 1000 S. Jefferson Davis Pkwy.; 2854 St. Charles Ave.; and 4930 Prytania St.
You may have noticed the whimsically painted food truck outside The Park Cafe. The truck (which used to live at Pour House) will serve as a prep space for Park’s kitchen staff over the summer during a much needed restaurant glow-up.
Park Cafe operating partner Xan McLaughlin says starting June first (ish) they’ll take out the buildings in the back (see photo below) where they prep and have their walk-in and this summer they’ll prep in the food truck as the back of the restaurant gets built out. The kitchen will operate as usual. Then in the beginning of August, once the “shell” is complete out back, they’ll close the restaurant for about three weeks to finish up before the busy fall season.
McLaughlin says he got in touch with his friends at Artist & Craftsman to see if they could find someone to doll up the truck and they connected him with local artist Rachael Nerney.
“She agreed to do it and I didn’t see any of her work before then,” says McLaughlin. Turns out, Nerney was already creating works that emulate the essence of the cafe — quirky still lifes of avocados, eggs, fresh fruit. “It was 100 percent perfect, serendipitous.”
While the truck — named Juniper, of course — draws the eye to the front of the restaurant, construction will be going down in the back.
- Board of Architectural Review screenshot
- The orange highlighted space is what’s getting knocked out and improved, folks
Before it was the neighborhood haven we all know and love, The Park Cafe was Granville’s Cafe, and for a short time, Biggie’s Gastropub. When Karalee Fallert and McLaughlin took over the space in 2014, McLaughlin says it was only about a five week turnaround before Park Cafe officially opened its doors.
“We took it over and renovated so quickly and now knowing what the soul of our business is we’re ready to refine that look a little bit more,” says Fallert. “Give it a fresh face, instead of taking Granville’s and putting a dress on it.”
Other than some annual floor painting, this will be the first major reno for the cafe. Already bright, warm, and welcoming, Fallert and McLaughlin plan to keep that feel, but spruce it up a bit. Think knocked down walls; higher ceilings; “classic, earthy, warm” dark wood tables and chairs; new light fixtures; and even more natural light, if ya can believe it. They’ll “take it down to the concrete slab” and re-pour a thin layer to get “the whole thing level between the patio and inside.”
“We’re adding 30 seats, pushing everything back, the side wall by the booths will come out, we’ll add four seats to the bar, open everything up,” says McLaughlin. He says they’ll be able to do a lot more events, seating up to 90 people instead of 50 — they’re actually booked through 2020 with events. Ever since the cafe ended dinner service in summer 2017, they’ve been hosting a helluva a lot of parties, with a full-time event coordinator on staff.
Even with the new and improved look, don’t expect dinner service to come back any time soon. Between, as Fallert notes, a talent shortage, market saturation, and the emotionally draining ask of staffing and serving three meals a day, they’re gonna stick with breakfast, lunch, and weekend brunch for now.
“We’ll know when it’s right to decide to open for dinner,” says Fallert. “There are some things … we need to reap the rewards of our work before that would feel comfortable.”
The fate of the plant wall is still up in the air — it’s a lot of upkeep — but the fate of the food coming out of the kitchen, and the wait time for said food, is certain.
“It’s been a challenge, thankfully we’re busier than we ever thought we’d be,” says McLaughlin. “We’ve pushed the limits of this building, serving 400 people on a Sunday out of a 400 foot kitchen, it makes so much sense [to expand], when there are people waiting regularly.”
“Chef Pat has just blossomed in an amazing way,” says Fallert. “Xan and I want him to have all opportunities to explore what he’s capable of.”
730 Rutledge Ave.
Breakfast, Lunch, Weekend Brunch
Cafés and Breakfast
Nominated by Rose Woodard, Rob Rodriguez, and Kat Melheim
Kristina Jackson is an exemplary member and leader in the specialty coffee community. Her work is centered first and foremost on the city of Boston, where she is the founder of the Boston Intersectional Coffee Collective, but it reverberates worldwide by offering a radical example of inclusion. Her work provides a roadmap towards confronting marginalization for coffee professionals of all backgrounds and identities, and to ensuring that the next generation of coffee pros see a place for themselves in coffee culture.
Sprudge readers are familiar with Jackson’s work through our coverage of the Boston Intersectional Coffee Collective, and from Jackson’s Fall 2018 appearance on Michelle Johnson’s Black Coffee event panel in New York City. She is also an exceptional working barista at Intelligentsia Coffee’s Post Office Square location, a facet of her professional work captured vividly in this nominating essay (one of several Jackson received) from Rob Rodriguez:
“[Behind the bar], she often creates an experience and space where, despite how many people are in the shop, you feel as if you are her singular focus. This is reflected consistently in her exceptional coffee brewing skills. Each cup and shot regularly consistent and thoroughly enjoyable. While I could speak endlessly on her hospitality and coffee service skills, what sets Kristina apart from the rest is that her vision for an inclusive and equitable coffee community in Boston is strictly unmatched.”
What issue in coffee do you care about most?
I care about creating a supportive and positive experience for the traditionally marginalized people in coffee. I care about the ways of serving their needs so they can have fulfilling careers.
What cause or element in coffee drives you?
Creating the most positive experience possible for both our guests of color and those who want to pursue a job in coffee. We are the ones growing, serving, and buying the product. We deserve respect, living wages, and opportunity for a successful life of our choosing. It should not be dictated by the traditions set by a white male-driven industry.
What issue in coffee do you think is critically overlooked?
The devastating effects of climate change and pollution on the longevity of the industry.
What is the quality you like best about coffee?
This entire industry has some of the most resourceful and talented people I’ve ever met. It’s a “come as you are” industry. Almost everyone comes in because they enjoy drinking it, but you can go in a million directions all for the sake of the drinking experience. The common purpose is wholesome and pure.
Did you experience a “god shot” or life-changing moment of coffee revelation early in your career?
While I was working at my first shop, I attended a Black Lives Matter rally in downtown Boston at the State House. Somehow I ended up in a short tv interview. The next day several of my customers said they saw it and said how proud they were to see their local barista on tv speaking her mind. I think that was the first time I felt like a person in my community and not a nameless face at my shop, and I could possibly make a difference in someone’s life.
What is your idea of coffee happiness?
Coming in early in the morning alone with my music in my ears and dialing in. I love the focus, the ritual, the isolation. It’s the most peaceful 45 minutes to hour of my shift.
If you could have any job in the coffee industry, what would it be and why?
I don’t know if this particular job exists… I want someone to pay me to be their coffee life coach. I guess that would be an advocate. But I still want to make coffee as a part of my job. And I want to help connect companies to new talent. But I want that talent to be Black people. But mostly Black women cause we get shit done. Does that job exist?
Who are your coffee heroes?
Lem Butler was the first Black person I remember seeing online and being blown away. I had never even heard of Barista Competition before he won, so it was shocking to see a Black man become the best barista in America. I met him in 2017 in New York at Barista Nation. He didn’t talk much at that event but he did mention the importance of seeing more Black faces in coffee. That was a real turning point for me.
If you could drink coffee with anyone, living or dead, who would it be and why?
I wish I could drink coffee with my dad. He passed away when I was 14. He was very young and very intelligent and loved food. I wish I could’ve known him as an adult and talk about him about everything.
If you didn’t get bit by the coffee bug, what do you think you’d be doing instead?
Early on as a teenager I was very interested in studying physics. I went to a high school very strong in math and science so I latched on. But I can’t imagine going thorough life not being involved in something creative but also practical so arts administration is appealing to me.
Do you have any coffee mentors?
Unfortunately no. There are a few people I trust to answer my questions honestly and be open with me. But I think what I’ve been missing in Boston is someone more experienced than me who can help me set realistic goals and grow with me.
What do you wish someone would’ve told you when you were first starting out in coffee?
I wish someone had told me not to work for a company just because they have good coffee.
Name three coffee apparatuses you’d take into space with you.
My Yeti, Kalita Brewer, and my electric kettle.
Best song to brew coffee to:
Can it be a whole album?! I often listen to Black Messiah by D’Angelo at home when I brew coffee.
Look into the crystal ball—where do you see yourself in 20 years?
Hopefully settled down with a family, helping them create their own coffee rituals!
What’d you eat for breakfast this morning?
A bowl of Farina with strawberries and pecans and a little sugar, a side of bacon, coffee, and water.
When did you last drink coffee?
20 minutes ago
What was it?
I had a shot of Intelligentsia Kurimi. Probably my favorite coffee that we serve. Just a straight up tropical fruit bomb.
Zachary Carlsen is a co-founder and editor at Sprudge Media Network. Read more Zachary Carlsen on Sprudge.
Starbucks is beset on all sides by those looking to undo them. When they aren’t battling a scrappy young upstart with a projected $500 million IPO and a can-do spirit for the top spot in the world’s largest growing coffee market, they’re artfully dodging questions about what sort of stretching regimen former CEO Howard Schultz employs that allows him to simultaneously put his foot in his mouth and his head up his ass.
But this time, the call is coming from inside the house. Ok maybe not inside the house exactly. More like the next-door neighbor’s house, the one’s you decided to convert your two driveways into a basketball court with. According to Reuters, Starbucks is being sued by French press maker Bodum for “product disparagement.”
It all started with a recall. Per Reuters, on May 1st, the Big Green Mermaid issued a recall for all 263,200 co-branded Bodum/Starbucks French presses “made from recycled materials” being sold in their US and Canada locations, the shared basketball court to continue the already tenuous metaphor. Starbucks states the recall is due nine instances of the plunger handle breaking, leading to “lacerations and punctures.”
Bodum, on the other hand, sees it a little differently. In the court filings, the French press maker states that “Starbucks had no basis to ‘unilaterally’ conduct the May 1 recall because the Bodum + Starbucks presses were not defective and met required specifications.” The company also alleges that “Starbucks recalled the presses even though laboratory tests found no evidence of product or design defects, because it had become ‘particularly sensitive to recall issues’ after paying large fines in an earlier recall.”
This, Bodum states, is giving the public a general impression that all Bodum French presses are defective, which has led to a media backlash and “significant brand damage.” The lawsuit is seeking Starbucks to pay for all costs associated with the recall as well as damages to the Bodum reputation.
The exact amount being request in Bodum Holding AG et al v Starbucks Corp is not yet available, but we do know the retail value of those quarter-million+ French presses eclipses the $5 million mark. Throw in a few extra Ms for reputation damage and that’s probably a good place to begin guessing.
How does cannabis affect the flavor of a dish?
Like wine grapes, cannabis comes in countless strains with various flavors including, for example, citrus, berry, mint and pine. These flavours are created by aromatic oils called terpenes, which are secreted in the same glands that produce cannabis compounds including Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD). Terpenes form part of the flavour profile of a cannabis-infused dish so it’s important to select ones that complement the other ingredients.