Dubbed a “spirited restaurant” with a beverage program as serious and sophisticated as the food,SoBouis the latest venture from the legendary Commander’s Family of Restaurants in New Orleans, spearheaded by “cocktail chick” Ti Adelaide Martin and backed by her all-star team: Alex Brennan-Martin of Brennan’s of Houston, Brad Brennan, Chef Tory McPhail and General Manager Steve Woodruff. Bar Chef Abigail Gullo, most recently ofFortDefianceinBrooklyn,NY, heads the state-of-the-art cocktail program, with consulting from Lu Brow, corporate bar chef for Commander’s Palace. Executive Chef Juan Carlos Gonzalez and Consulting Chef Tory McPhail of Commander’s Palace have created a modern Creole saloon.
The concept, established July 2012, has been “bubbling for years,” Martin says. She describesSoBou, which stand for “South of Bourbon Street,” as aLouisiana streetfood-inspired restaurant with an intensely focused beverage program and a menu of sharable dishes and snacks meant to encourage tasting. An indoor “beer and wine garden” with self-serve wine and beer taps in varying pour sizes further reinforces the sampling-friendly, comfortable, and casual vibe theSoBouteam has looked to create. “Guests can come for cocktails and nibble on snacks like pig-fried pecans, or they can enjoy a multi-course dinner with wine pairings,” Martin says. “The space is meant to be used as a bar or a restaurant to accommodate either style of dining.” In addition to breakfast service, the restaurant hours blend lunch and dinner for an all-day, come-as-you-are, eating and drinking opportunity.
Inside the sleek and stylish W New Orleans – French Quarter hotel, SoBou captures the true essence of New Orleans with “a serious food and cocktail program that doesn’t take itself too seriously.” The casual, yet urbanized dining environment blends warmth and humor with first-rate hospitality, for which the Big Easy remains known.
CHEF AND CUISINE
Modern Creole cuisine defines the style Chefs Gonzalez and McPhail have sought for the SoBou saloon: a range of Louisiana-centric snacks, as well as small and shared plates that pair perfectly with well-made cocktails, distinct wines, and craft beers. The menu also draws upon Cajun and southern food influences that bring new twists to NOLA “street food” and classic dishes. In small plate form, that takes shape as Duck Debris & Butternut Beignets with chicory coffee ganache; Tasso & Andouille Flatbread with Manchego cheese, grilled green onions, and a three-mustard glaze; and Sticky Pork Belly lacquered with Steen’s molasses, served alongside dirty rice and ham hock-stewed Louisiana red bean purée. The Shrimp and Tasso Pinchos with grilled pineapple and spicy pepper jelly, draws from Gonzalez’s Puerto Rican heritage.
From not so small plates, guests can choose among a variety of burgers and sandwiches, including the house SoBou Burger with brûléed onions and pickled okra mayo and the Suckling Pig Cuban Sandwich. Other entrées include Andouille & Tasso Boulettes, or Cajun meatballs, come served with spicy sofrito sauce, while the Wild Gulf Shrimp “A La Plancha” arrive tableside perfectly seared in the shell with charred cebollitas (green onions) doused in lemon. Lighter offerings include the Melon Gazpacho as well as a Three Tomato Salad with green and yellow tomatoes, baby arugula, and black pepper biscuit croutons.
A range of snacks, from simple pork cracklins and a pecan version with roasted garlic and rosemary, to more creative treats, such as Crystal Hot Sauce Cotton Candy served on a Don Q rum-brined sugarcane swizzle and Yellowfin Tuna Cones with basil and avocado ice cream, feed the hungry bar-goer. For dessert, sweet-seekers can nibble on comfort food favorites with a twist, such as the Louisiana Peach Tartine with candied ginger biscotti, pecan bacon butter, and gorgonzola dolce ganache, or the Cherries Jubilee Bread Pudding with brandied cherries and Tahitian vanilla bean ice cream. A cheese plate combines artisanal varieties with seasonal fruit preserves, salted local honey, spiced pecans, and more.
Co-author of In the Land of Cocktails, Ti Martin has a new, physical space to share her long-held reverence for well-made cocktails with a dose of New Orleans and Brennan family lore. Commander’s Family of Restaurants celebrated Bar Chef Lu Brow stepped in to help develop the sophisticated cocktail program, with perfect execution overseen by in-house Bar Chef Abigail Gullo, an award-winning New York City-area mixologist, blogger at www.ryegirlnyc.blogspot.com, and a respected member of the Ladies United for the Preservation of Endangered Cocktails (LUPEC). An experienced theatre actress and passionate singer, Gullo hopes continue entertaining guests at SoBou bar while teaching about the history of cocktails and the craft in New Orleans. “Nothing is as ubiquitously New Orleans as a strong cocktail,” Gullo says. “We’re taking things a step further by using fresh juices and making our own bitters and tinctures in-house, along with mixing up any other unique ingredients we can get our hands on.”
Brow and Gullo have designed a menu with expert craftsmanship and artful creations to surprise and delight while remaining true to NOLA classics such as the Sazerac. A twist on the classic old-fashioned features locally made New Orleansrum, while the Brooklyn Boys reflects a modernized corn whiskey sour. Fresh, seasonal produce plus local honey form the basis for the Clever Club and Georgia Rush, while the Faubourg Punch blends a refreshing mix of Earl Grey-infused gin, fresh lemon, cassis, and a little bubbly. For the adventuresome, there is the Black Alligator Stomp with smoky Ardbeg Aligator Scotch, Cynar, and vermouth, while heat-seekers may enjoy the Smokin’ Hot Apricot that combines tequila, smoky mezcal and apricot liqueur. The cocktail program also focuses on barrel-aged cocktails, kegged for four to eight weeks, along with an emphasis on rum-based cocktails to shepherd in the trend toward classic Tiki cocktails dating back to the ’40s and prepared with housemade syrups and exotic, fresh-squeezed juices.
WINE & BEER
Spearheaded by “Wine Guy” Dan Davis and General Manager Mark Mansfield,SoBou’s wine list offers a range of pour sizes designed to encourage better tasting at a better value. Self-serve wine taps, located near the central bar allow guests to pour as little as 1 ounce for spirited sampling, or up to 6 ounces to enjoy their favorites. Electronic cards track the pours for an end-of-tasting final charge.
The wine menu also reflects a tasting-friendly approach. Pours of 3 or 6 ounces from nearly 35 choices make for an eclectic, yet approachable and affordable selection. Each wine by the glass comes with its own taste description, and the menu features “categories” of flavor profiles arranged top to bottom, from light to more full-bodied, for a simple and educational read. The more than 200 bottle selection runs the gamut, with plenty of French, European, South American, and Australian choices, along with a strong American component, a lengthy bubbly selection, and a special Commander’s Palace reserve collection.
At the indoor beer garden, offset from the main bar, beer taps also allow guests to pour pints at their own pace with selections of local brews such as Abita and Tin Roof on draft. The bottled beer selection, updated frequently, focuses primarily on craft and again on local brews, with many seasonal offerings.
DESIGN AND DÉCOR
SoBou’s design captures the spirit of New Orleans as the birthplace of both the cocktail and jazz in a city with diverse cultural currents. Specially commissioned artwork and decor make multiple references to the apothecary as the founder of mixology founded, speaking in particular to the origin of the Sazerac, which historians say first came about in the mid-1800s as an elixir created by apothecary Antoine Amédée Peychaud. Saxophone themes signal the strong jazz culture for which New Orleans continues to be recognized. Antique glasses, barware, and other artifacts from the Museum of the American Cocktail also pay homage to this art of eating and drinking.
Melding the worlds of dining and design, SoBou’s sleek dining room and bar areas are meant to attract local tastemakers and trendsetters. Completely reconstructed and reinvented, the space now boasts a modern design and an open layout for distinct dining and drinking experiences. Medium and dark wood finishings throughout, combined with soft brown leather and a color palate of bold grays and rich golden tones, create a casual and warm, yet contemporary feel.
The restaurant seats up to 163 people among five dining spaces averaging 20 seats each, plus a bar and an indoor beer and wine garden with self-serve taps on hand for a diverse range of dining experiences and options. The private dining area near the rear of the restaurant provides a more intimate setting to catch up over a glass of wine or rekindle the romance while the bar and the casual dining areas at the front of the restaurant offer a livelier, more informal atmosphere. At the indoor “beer garden,” offset from the bar, a mix of picnic-style tables with beer taps and smaller tables with access to the wine machines signal an all-day lounging and socializing affair.
Snacky Things: $1-9
Soups & Salads: $7-9
Small Bites: $8-13
Not So Small Bites: $8-MP
Sides & Such: $1-9
Wines by the glass: $2.50-18 (3 oz.); $5-36 (6 oz.)
Available through OpenTable; walk-ins welcome