When I’m asked to recommend casual restaurants for true New Orleans flavor and I get to the Munch Factory, the name will often elicit a chuckle. It’s memorable, but this Gentilly cafe resonates with me for other reasons.
For one, it helped reframe my understanding of the term “family-friendly restaurant” as one attuned to the needs of a young family and a young business growing together.
That started from my first visit, back in 2011, via the two-year-old romping through the dining room, eager to show me his toy train. This was soon after Alexis Ruiz and her husband, chef Jordan Ruiz, opened the Munch Factory at its small original location, and having their young son with them as they worked was one of those accommodations that made the new business possible. Now, it feels more like part of the restaurant’s fabric. They’ve since moved, expanded and added to their family as well, and today their son, Dominic, now 6, and his 9-month-old sister, Juliette, attract as much attention from some adoring regulars as the menu.
That menu, though, is worth a close look, as it shows how the casual New Orleans eatery can modernize and cater to current tastes without discarding the legacy on which our great neighborhood restaurants were built.
Ruiz has a reverential way with Creole flavors where appropriate, but he also folds in the comfort food cravings a younger generation might bring to the table. So you can get blackened redfish and shrimp remoulade, but also waffle-cut cheese fries with debris and beignets crisscrossed with condensed milk and chocolate sauce.
Earlier this month, the Munch Factory was preparing to celebrate its fourth anniversary. But in the early morning hours of Good Friday, a car crash outside left a motorist dead and sparked a utility pole fire that burned up the building’s electrical meters. The trudge of getting permits approved dragged on, idling the restaurant and its crew. But the Munch Factory is back, and some planned anniversary specials of Ruiz’ most-requested dishes are making the rounds, too.
Gentilly doesn’t have many restaurants. It’s lucky to have one that has proven so multi-faceted, accessible enough for a family outing, yet nice enough for a special dinner. And it’s fortunate to have one that has proven this resilient.
The Munch Factory (6325 Elysian Fields Ave. 504-324-5372; themunchfactory.net ) serves lunch Tue.-Fri. and dinner Tue.-Sat.
Follow Ian McNulty on Twitter @IanMcNultyNOLA.