Restaurant and microdistillery Lula Restaurant-Distillery (1532 St. Charles Ave., 504-267-7624) opens today.

Co-owners Jess Bourgeois and Bear Caffery hatched the idea for the project several years ago when the duo met while traveling in New Zealand. That led to a weeklong distilling course at Dry Fly Distilling in Spokane, Washington, followed by more research before the team eventually started to plan its own operation, the first of its kind in Louisiana and the Southeast.

[jump] The business is named for the Lula Sugar Factory in Belle Rose, Louisiana. Bourgeois and Caffery are using local sugar and molasses to distill vodka, rum and gin, and the bottles fill the pale olive-colored shelves that line the restaurant’s sprawling bar. Distilling the spirits takes about a week, and the duo also will age spirits in whiskey barrels.

The 10,000-square-foot space held a furniture showroom for many years, and the owners have retained much of the building’s original infrastructure, including exposed wooden rafters that give the yawning space a rustic feel.

The restaurant is anchored by a distilling room, partitioned but still visible to guests through a glass wall. There are 3,000-gallon copper and stainless steel stills - designed by German manufacturer CARL - used to boil and distill spirits.

Bourgeois is the chef and his menu of upscale-casual Southern-inspired fare is meant to complement the selection of spirits and draught cocktails.

Smoked pompano tops creamy avocado dip served with toast points; a sweet molasses and fig sauce accompanies boudin-filled egg rolls; pork sausage is wrapped around sugarcane stalks; and broiled escargot bathe in a dark, buttery sauce thick with garlicky oyster mushrooms, “trotter” sauce, and are served with thick bread.

Entrees include a pork tenderloin sandwich with pears, Havarti cheese, arugula and garlic aioli on a brioche bun; grilled skirt steak is served with fries and salad; braised rabbit is served with white beans, pickled pork and breadcrumbs; and grilled Gulf fish is served with green onion popcorn rice, grilled vegetables and green salsa.

Lula can make up to 5,000 cases of liquor a year and will sell bottles at a separate retail operation attached to the store, starting in a few weeks.

Lula Restaurant-Distillery is open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Tuesday and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday.