If a restaurant can feel like it’s on the fringe and right in the thick of things at the same time, it’s Fharmacy.
When the little illuminated “open” sign sparked up at this new Mid-City bar and grill last week, it brought the only light to its side of the block, which it shares with a grassy lot and a tattered old warehouse.
Here, a pair or young, first-time restaurateurs, Chien Nguyen and Nhat Nguyen, are griddling burgers, stacking up deli sandwiches, slicing lemongrass chicken from the rotisserie and making trays of wings, boudin balls and loaded tots.
It feels like a comfort food outpost in a quiet stretch of the city, though the environs are likely to change very soon. Just across the street, a grilled cheese sandwich concept called Melt is preparing to open. There’s been a clutch of new eateries taking root a little closer to the courthouse at Tulane and Broad, with plans for a new Ruby Slipper just around the corner.
The biggest neighbor, and a major spur for all of these new businesses, is the Veterans Affairs medical center, which rises just down the block from Fharmacy.
The hospital connection is referenced right in Fharmacy’s name. The eclectic flavors here, however, have more of a personal back story.
Local chefs, broad flavors
Chien Nguyen and Nhat Nguyen are old friends and distant cousins who share a last name and also a fixation on comfort food traditions that don’t necessarily start in New Orleans. They both grew up in the New Orleans East neighborhood of Village de L’Est, fed on a steady diet of their families’ Vietnamese cooking. Most recently, Chien and Nhat worked together at Namese, the modern Vietnamese restaurant nearby on Tulane and Carrollton developed by their friend Hieu Doan.
But Fharmacy is more about flavors they picked up elsewhere in their restaurant careers, as the two traveled and cooked in different cities.
“It’s comfort food, it’s bar food, it’s the stuff we grew up eating and the influences of where we lived and where we worked,” said Nhat Nguyen. “It’s New Orleans, it’s New York, it’s Chicago.”
This plays out as Chicago-style Italian beef sandwiches with chunky-crunchy giardiniera built on banh mi loaves and Philly-style roasted pork with provolone (though with Southern-style greens instead of the usual broccoli rabe). They grind burger patties in house with a blend of brisket, short rib and chuck and top them with slaw or guacamole or more of that giardiniera and bacon jam.
The boudin balls show their preference for a strong liver flavor in the mix, and dense Vietnamese sausage sits next to Italian sausage links on the sandwich menu. The shawarma-style rotisserie will see a rotating selection of meats for sandwiches and salads, with a pepper-flecked, crisp-edged lemongrass chicken on the spike recently.
Fharmacy has the contours of an old time diner built in the narrow dimensions of a shotgun house (it was previously home to the burger joint Dis & Dem, which has plans to reopen in a double shotgun just across the street).
It also gives that unmistakable hands-on feel and personality of an owner-operated eatery, and that’s a good first ingredient when you want people to turn down a different block for their comfort food fix.
As for the new restaurants gearing up to join them around this part of town, the chefs are happy to have more company.
“I’m excited for them to open, and I hope more come here,” said Chien Nguyen. “We have different cuisine, different styles food is here, it’s better to have more of us here.”
Fharmacy has a full bar and serves lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday.
2540 Banks St., 504-324-6090
Initial hours: Mon.-Sat. 10:30 a.m.-8:30 p.m.
Follow Ian McNulty on Twitter @IanMcNultyNOLA.