02.26.15 / WWNO.ORG
Food writer Ian McNulty on how St. Claude Avenue has emerged as the city’s newest restaurant row, to the tune of a half-dozen diverse new eateries opening along the same stretch in the past year alone.
We were pretty well stuffed by the time we left Red’s Chinese, a very new restaurant along St. Claude Avenue, on the Bywater side. There had been fried chicken crusted with red chiles and smoked peanuts. There’d been ginger-spiked noodles and a soup the color of burnished brass swirling with mustard greens and oversized wontons.
Clearly, we needed nothing else to eat, nor necessarily another drink. But still we pressed on, making a short diagonal jog just across the St. Claude Avenue neutral ground to visit Junction, a bar with a fresh paint job outside, an Art Deco look inside and a serious specialty in burgers made from grass-fed beef between its many beer taps.
We were led on by curiosity, not hunger or thirst. After all, from one of these spots, we could look across the street and see the other. Neither had been open just a few weeks before this visit. And more to the point, neither might have seemed terribly plausible a few years before, not here on St. Claude Avenue, a hardscrabble stretch better known in recent times for used furniture stores and auto shops than dining destinations.
But St. Claude Avenue has lately emerged as the city’s newest restaurant row. Momentum that has been building for a while now has come into focus — to the tune of a half-dozen new eateries opening here between Elysian Fields and the Industrial Canal in the past year alone.
There’s a Middle Eastern style sandwich shop called Kebab, a build-your-own-pasta parlor called Arabella Casa di Pasta, the vegan-friendly café Sneaky Pickle, and Kayla’s, a little storefront diner for plate lunches and po-boys. They join other restaurants that set up shop here a little earlier — and again note how widely the flavors range: Kukhnya, inside the music club Siberia for Slavic soul food (think pierogi and kielbasa); Sugar Park Pizzeria for New York-style pies; and Fattoush for Turkish dishes. To this add a bakery, several coffee shops, a fine wine store, even a gourmet popsicle shop that all opened in close proximity in the past few years.
It’s not happening in a vacuum. Call it reinvestment, redevelopment, gentrification or whatever you like, but the neighborhoods bordering St. Claude Avenue have seen rapid change, especially the Bywater and Marigny. Plenty of new restaurants have opened within those neighborhoods too, along with lots of other businesses. But what’s significant about these new St. Claude Avenue restaurants is what they’re doing for the old commercial corridor that connects these neighborhoods, the corridor where businesses have always been, where they fit well and where there’s room for a lot more.
As we've seen recently with Freret Street, the variety and density of new restaurants grouped together like this can put an area on the map for more attention and activity.
None of this is to suggest some pristine foodie main street as bloomed here. You’d need to be wearing some pretty rosy glasses not to notice that St. Claude Avenue is still a long way from reaching its potential. But to see where it’s headed right now, all you need is a good appetite.