Competition is the American way. But near Magazine and Erato streets in the Lower Garden District, partnership has served businesses as well, turning a once-blighted pocket into a food and drink destination.
“This didn’t exist five or 10 years ago. You didn’t see this same camaraderie, this spirit of one owner helping out another,” said Geoffrey Meeker, owner of French Truck Coffee.
Meeker said he’s seen significant growth in the span between Interstate 10 and Sophie Wright Place, a change he credits in no small part to newer establishments.
French Truck and its business neighbors, Barrel Proof and the Courtyard Brewery, were all undergoing renovations at the same time, a momentum that helped to establish a critical mass for the corner, Meeker said.
“A few years ago, this was a dangerous place, a needles and guns place,” he said. “Now you see people riding bikes and walking after dark. It’s pretty dramatic.”
Tom Thompson, who manages the bourbon-centric bar Barrel Proof across the street, points to the success of a nearby monthly flea market, with live music and food trucks, as an example of how pop-ups and businesses are helping the neighborhood gain foot traffic.
And meanwhile, the cluster of small, independent businesses around Magazine and Erato have created a symbiosis through staggered hours and diverse offerings.
“It’s a mutually beneficial relationship,” Thompson said.
Damian Brugger, who runs Black Label Barbeque out of Barrel Proof, agreed. “We’re not competing,” he says, adding that the Courtyard Brewery supports his business by posting its menus. “It’s a great partnership.”
French Truck Coffee
www.frenchtruckcoffee.com 1200 Magazine St.
The secret to a great-tasting cup of coffee? “It’s about freshness,” said French Truck Coffee Co. owner Meeker. In May 2012, the former chef and restaurant consultant launched French Truck from his laundry room. For some 2 1/2 years, the company’s iconic fleet of tiny vintage Citroen vans have functioned as mobile coffee stands at farmers and arts markets around town. Eventually, he secured a warehouse space a stone’s throw from his newest incarnation: the company’s first genuine counter service. While the diminutive front shop offers stools and a warm, wooden vibe, it caters mostly to those buying beans and getting thick, foamy shots to go. Most of the building is devoted to roasting; a transparent glass wall allows customers to see the process.
French Truck also maintains a robust wholesale business supplying local restaurants; Meeker’s staff roasts some 2,000 pounds a week.
GOOD TO KNOW: Whenever possible, Meeker buys organic, free-trade beans; the company’s packaging is recyclable, and its paper to-go cups are compostable. French Truck Coffee can be purchased at the 1200 Magazine St. location, Whole Foods and Lagensteins. ($12 and up for a 12-ounce bag).
The Courtyard Brewery
1020 Erato St. www.courtyardbrewing.com
With its galvanized steel and repurposed wood finishes and a side-burned bartender in a 5-gallon hat, this newcomer to the beer scene feels like an easygoing, he-cleans-up-well, Texas icehouse. Clustered indoor and outdoor seating can equally accommodate a dozen friends or a casual date.
And while “courtyard” may be a stretch, there are welcoming twinkling lights and space aplenty in front of this cozy roll-up warehouse for an alternating lineup of popular food trucks, including Taceaux Loceaux, St. Clair pizza and Saigon Slim’s (good to know and even better to eat: Saigon’s Slim’s lemongrass banh mi, $7.50, and fried bananas Foster with Old New Orleans Rum sauce, $5). Between moderate truck menus and reasonable 16-ounce draft prices, the Courtyard offers what many New Orleanians are starting to fear may be disappearing from the city: good, affordable grub.
The brewery’s offerings include an evolving selection of housemade beers with names like See You in Mexico, a tangy summer wheat, as well as a deep, hardy imperial stout.
NOTE: The Courtyard closes at 9 p.m. and is better-suited to happy hour and evening drinks. Late-night drinkers can head down the block to Barrel Proof.
Open every day
1201 Magazine St. www.barrelproofnola.com
Since its opening last summer, Barrel Proof has expanded its stock to 240 types of bourbon. It offers half a dozen local or regional beers on tap. With its exposed brick and deep gray ceiling, dim lights and scattered candles, Barrel Proof’s look is both rustic and chic, not overly done or precious.
And while I’ve heard some call the bar pricey, a good look at the drink menu shows an unusually wide range that can satisfy both the underfunded and well-heeled with beers from $1 to $27.
The “Passport to Getting Drunk” page, with its calculated combinations of shots and beers, includes options at both $5 and $45. And while a round of 25-year-old Laphroaig single malt will set you back $80, bourbon and scotch priced by the ounce allow for sampling.
Manager Thompson says Barrel Proof’s clientele ranges from tourists to down-the-street locals; weekends tend to see a younger crowd and visitors, while Tuesdays draw in the local connoisseurs. More than anything else, Thompson sees Barrel Proof as a neighborhood bar. “It’s a good place to hang out and for people to come together,” he said.
Black Label Barbeque
Wednesday through Saturday, 4 p.m. to midnight or until the food runs out. Inside Barrel Proof. blacklabelbbq.net
Black Label is the creation of Brugger, a former Marine and self-dubbed “pitmaster” who claims to offer the only genuine Texas-style barbecue in town. The difference, Brugger notes, is a quality cut of meat, Angus whenever possible, flavored simply with salt and pepper and then slow cooked from start to finish in an “old-school” barbecue pit.
Inspired by the family gatherings of his Texas upbringing, Brugger began Black Label as an occasional pop-up. But his run at Barrel Proof has proven so popular that he’s now barbecuing exclusively from the bar.
“I love what I do and make my food just the way I would want to eat it — hot and fresh,” he said.
Menus change every other week, yet Brugger remains true to tradition.
“In Texas,” he says, “brisket reigns king,” and while beef prices have greatly fluctuated, his standard plate of a quarter-pound brisket, two sides (think blue cheese slaw and beans), Texas Toast, and sweet and spicy pickles runs about $15. The deeply carnivorous also can buy meat by the pound.