By Lorin Gaudin
Mix Louisiana soul food with a touch of voodoo spirit, music and chill local vibes, and you get the magic of Gris-Gris restaurant.
Chef and co-owner Eric Cook is joined by Executive Sous Chef Brook Foster, Bar Manager Ferrel Dugas and a crack staff. All of them are cooking, concocting, crafting, and ready to cast their spells.
Inside a wedge-shaped, historic building in the Lower Garden District, at the very beginning of Magazine Street’s Uptown six-mile stretch, Gris-Gris has taken shape. By adapting the space’s existing open kitchen and expanding the industrial-chic wood and metal furnishings, Chef Cook has created a space with a great feel. It’s the carefully placed fun local art, personal knick-knacks and touches of Louisiana heritage, spirituality and culture, which provide an ambiance worthy of its name. Get Chef talking, and he’ll share stories about how everything spookily came together; a harmonic convergence producing waves of chill-bumps (but in a good way).
The menu is a reflection of Cook’s own Paroisse de Vermillion (Vermillion Parish) origins mingled with Chef Brook’s Southern style. Of course, Louisiana seafood is prominent in the salads, sandwiches and entrees. But there’s also gumbo, a messy roast beef po-boy, cast-iron seared fish and chicken & dumplings.
For the pre-opening “Friends and Family” lunch, we ate butter-soft sous vide (that’s fancy talk for slow-cooked boil-in-bag) gizzards, covered in a rich brown gravy on top of a grits cake; crisp golden fried green tomatoes, their tartness lifted by smoked tomato-butter and sweet local shrimp; and a simple BLT, here called a “BBT,” which has aromatic, slightly minty basil leaves and a generous smear of bacon fat mayonnaise for extra oomph. It also came with a big pile of hand-cut French fries.
Upstairs at the bar, we pored over bar manager Ferrel’s clever cocktail and wine list, opting for her namesake drink, “Ferrel’s Storm” — a cool, tart twist on an old-school Hurricane. The hand-painted chalkboard boasts local beers and daiquiris made with watermelon or hibiscus. A single, unobtrusive, but visible television makes sense, because after all, this is the Sportsman’s Paradise and the Saints are coming. Just off the bar is a big, table-filled wrap-around balcony, perfect for catching sunsets and breezes while dining.
Also on the second floor is the “Samedi Room” private dining space. The long dark-wood table comfortably seats 10 – 12 people on velvety Parson’s chairs. All around the room are touches of unique New Orleans voodoo ephemera and local art.Chef Cook’s preserved peaches and okra also line the shelves. The room also comes with its own third floor– a big-windowed parlor filling the space with natural light. Sophisticated furnishings and giant Stephanie Witt paintings create continuity with neighborhood homes and storefronts, bringing the outside in. Cozy seating on the outdoor balconies – one facing Magazine Street, the other looking towards the river – offer stunning views and more private space. Everyone will want to have their next party here.