Munching in motion
Like full-grown food courts, restaurant rows across town have placed widely diverse dining concepts right next to each other. In one corner of Gentilly, a few different concepts seem to coexist under the same roof.
The Munch Factory is a restaurant where you can assemble a tableful of dishes that spring alternately from traditions of the French culinary canon (roasted chicken with fines herbes), the Louisiana family kitchen (Creole gumbo) or the sports bar deep fryer (waffle-cut cheese fries topped with roast beef debris, ranch dressing on the side).
It plays out as more multifaceted than split-personality, and it’s proven a savvy approach for a restaurant that answers different needs and cravings in a part of town that’s short on dining options. In the process, the Munch Factory has grown into one of the more consistently satisfying and genuinely welcoming new-generation New Orleans neighborhood restaurants.
Restaurant owners Alexis and Jordan Ruiz both grew up in Gentilly. Jordan worked in restaurants since he was a teenager, eventually went to culinary school and worked in a progression of big restaurants here and in Las Vegas. To test the waters for their own restaurant, the young couple first rented a commissary kitchen and began delivering phone-order hot lunches, first to family and friends, then to a circuit of regular customers.
Encouraged, they initially opened the Munch Factory on Franklin Avenue in 2011. They relocated to the current address the following year, and while it was a move of only about a mile it represented a quantum leap for the Munch Factory, marking its evolution into a more full-realized restaurant.
The dining room is twice the size, the hours, always limited on Frankline Avenue, have been expanded and there’s now a full bar. The setting is comfortably urbane, with plush seating, mellow lighting and walls hung with French posters.
Ruiz has expanded his menu as well, with new dishes and some that had been weekly specials joining the daily line-up. One is the roasted chicken ($17.50) mentioned above — taut, juicy, finished with a fines herbes sauce redolent of tarragon and parsley and paired on the plate with croquettes of smoked gouda and tasso and a bushel of green beans. The redfish ($23) is another standout. A long, fat fillet — blackened and glistening — is set over a foundation of crunchy grit cakes and dabbed with crawfish-studded cream sauce.
These dishes qualify as the fancier fare at the Munch Factory. Others are more like what you’d cook at home if you had a well-stocked kitchen and a playful streak. Salmon bites ($11) offer a different spin on the traditional fish fry, with thick-cut strips of the oily salmon in a soft batter and a tart ginger soy sauce. “Elysian peels” ($5), a pun on the street outside, are thin, heavily-seasoned potato skins that split the difference between fries and chips.
Order the “backyard burger twinz” ($13) and you get two burgers — not quite full-sized, but definitely bigger than standard sliders — with loose-packed patties and seared crusts. For dessert, beignets are puffy bars of batter, painted with concentric rings of caramel and condensed milk.
The pork ribs ($14 half rack/$22 full rack) come from the unofficial but instantly recognizable New Orleans school of barbecue. Oven-roasted and finished on the grill rather than slow-smoked, the meat is yielding but not exactly falling off the bone, and these slabs shine with a thick, sweet and tangy barbecue sauce. Spaghetti salad — a tangle of cool noodles dressed with parsley, mayonnaise and lots of garlic — is an old Ruiz family recipe that serves the same role as potato salad on this barbecue plate.
Most appetizers are big enough to split and the same goes for many of the entrees. People tend to leave with take-out boxes, and Alexis Ruiz acknowledged that was part of the marketing plan as the restaurant establishes itself. After all, leftovers can be better than fridge magnets for keeping a restaurant top of mind.