For a long time, it was a generally (if grudgingly) accepted truth that New Orleans just was not a barbecue town. But times are changing, and as more New Orleans restaurant people pursue serious ’cue, there are new concepts and new ideas swirling around the scene.
The latest addition is LA Smokehouse (8300 Earhart Blvd., 504-265-8905), which Daniel and Aubin Wender opened earlier in March. The menu starts with an array of smoked meats, though instead of traditional barbecue platters, LA Smokehouse works them through a variety of sandwich types (deli style, po-boy, wrap, etc.), salads or grillades and grits bowls.
Plenty more smoked meat is on the way. Blue Oak BBQ, currently based in the kitchen at the music club Chickie Wah Wah (2828 Canal St., 504-822-2583), plans to open its own stand-alone restaurant nearby in the former Fellini’s Café, at 900 N. Carrollton Ave. Blue Oak BBQ partners Philip Moseley and Ronnie Evans are aiming for a debut in time for Jazz Fest, with a bar, patio seating and a menu of ’cue, sides and sandwiches.
Also in Mid-City, Ray Gruezke, chef/owner of the bistro Rue 127 (127 N. Carrollton Ave., 504-483-1571), is now developing a barbecue-based restaurant called Frey Smoked Meat Co. He intends to open in the fall at 4141 Bienville St., which is part of the Mid-City Market development. The new restaurant will have a full bar, roll-up doors opening to outdoor seating and a menu that starts with ribs and brisket and such, but extends to seafood, salads, burgers and fried chicken.
The concept sprang from Gruezke’s experience at Hogs for the Cause, where his family annually fields a cook-off team. That team, also dubbed Frey Smoked Meat Co., will be competing again at this year’s event (April 1 and 2).
Nearby, Whoo Doo BBQ (2660 St. Philip St., 504-821-0978) set up shop last fall in a former yaka mein joint, serving a decidedly more New Orleans-style barbecue (think parade vendor style: peppery and heavy on the sauce).
Across town, Central City got a new barbecue spot last summer with the arrival of Black Label Icehouse (3000 Dryades St., 504-875-2876), which adds live music to the mix.
And now Rob Bechtold, the pitmaster behind the popular but now-closed NOLA Smokehouse, is working up a new place in partnership with Aaron Burgau, chef/owner of the Uptown bistro Patois. They plan to open Central City BBQ later this year at 1201 S. Rampart St. Housed in a one-time seafood market next to the urban farm Paradigm Gardens, this new Central City BBQ will have a sit-down restaurant as well as a catering facility.
Meanwhile, McClure’s Barbecue, one of the early entries in the current New Orleans barbecue boom, recently closed its original Magazine Street shop to consolidate business at the NOLA Brewing Tap Room (3001 Tchoupitoulas St., 504-301-0117). McClure’s started as a barbecue pop-up in 2011, quickly gained a following and now feels like a good fit at NOLA Brewing, serving a mixture of regional barbecue styles (and sauces) next to the brewery’s ever-changing drafts.
Our nascent New Orleans barbecue niche is changing and growing. For fans of low-and-slow meats, the smoke signals are promising.
Follow Ian McNulty on Twitter @IanMcNultyNOLA.