Ian McNulty: Multiplying eateries keep the options coming

Photo by Ian McNulty -- Pagoda Cafe
Photo by Ian McNulty -- Pagoda Cafe

As the restaurant boom has rolled on, buildings of all description have been converted into new eateries and the dining concepts have grown ever more particular and specific. But even after all we’ve seen lately, two very new, casual additions have managed to turn heads right out of the gate.

One is Pagoda Café (1403 N. Dorgenois St., 504-644-4178; pagodacafe.net), which opened last week in a tiny building along Bayou Road that does indeed look like a pagoda. It was originally built in the 1930s as part of a string of Chinese laundries, though it had sat empty for years as a neglected, idiosyncratic outpost in the Seventh Ward before Tulane University architecture professor Dan Etheridge and business partner Shana Sassoon redeveloped it. They serve a short menu of breakfast tacos, salads and grilled sandwiches (one with Serrano ham, manchego and arugula pesto on Bellegarde Bakery ciabatta hit the spot), and the café doubles as an espresso bar.

The building is scarcely bigger than a food truck, and the open kitchen takes up practically the entire space. Seating is outside on a wrap-around deck and across a narrow yard. It all looks like something you’d find on a beach instead of Bayou Road, and during its first week in business it’s inspired frequent double-takes from passersby. Pagoda Café is open Tuesday through Saturday, from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., though hours may expand.

Meanwhile, District Donuts Sliders Brew (2209 Magazine St., 504-570-6945; donutsandsliders.com) opened Uptown this month with a menu focused almost exclusively on the three items spelled out in its name.

Brew in this case is coffee, including cold-brew coffee on tap (a new trend in specialty coffee circles). Peer over the long bar counter and you’ll see mini-burgers sizzling for sliders (there are fried chicken and vegetable versions too). In back, you can also watch pastry chefs making gourmet donuts, the most elaborate of which resemble plated restaurant desserts more than any old donut shop dozen. One has candied thyme set in a maple and Sriracha hot sauce glaze, for instance. Another has spiced almonds, goat cheese and poached pears.

District has turned a one-time clothing boutique into what looks like a post-modern diner, with battered pianos, vintage office equipment and a collage of repurposed lumber all worked into the décor. Hours start early (6 a.m. daily) and run late (midnight on Friday and Saturday, 10 p.m. otherwise).