Café Cour offers courtyard dining and a creative menu that draws from Louisiana's rich culinary history, delighting locals and visitors alike.
-by Reda Wigle
- photos by Ellis Anderson
520 Royal Street
Café Cour shares hours with The Historic New Orleans Collection: Tuesday through Saturday, 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and Sunday, 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. A full liquor license is on the horizon for the Café. Locals rejoice: bicycle delivery in the neighborhood is slated to begin mid-October.
Local musician Anders Osborne claims that, for him, the most enduring element of the city of New Orleans is a kind of ravenous curiosity.
“People who live here, people who visit here are curious about the moment, about life and about each other. That curiosity creates a new type of food, a new style of music or a new type of architecture.”
That curiosity - and forging of the new with respect to the old - are the guiding principles behind recently opened Café Cour.
Tucked in the courtyard of the Historic New Orleans Collection at 520 Royal Street, Café Cour is helmed by the team behind popular Carmo café, a "slow food" staple in the Arts District.
The menu at Café Cour was born of a conversation between museum directors and Carmo owners, husband and wife team Dana and Christina Honn. Café Cour manager, Voice Monet, explained the concept:
“Our menu honors the heritage food ways of Louisiana,” she said. “We research and then pull from all the different cultures that have made Louisiana Cuisine what it is – Haitian, Spanish, Italian, French, West African, Vietnamese and Cajun.
The menu at Café Cour, like the museum that surrounds it, is a carefully-considered historical survey. The café leans on the city’s culinary legacies while observing the modern needs of dietary restrictions and sustainability. On the day of our visit, employee Adrian Crawford was just back with fresh fish in tow. “We source our food directly," he said. "Yesterday I was in Houma picking up tuna right out of the boat.”
That Louisiana tuna is the star of Café Cour’s pescatarian muffuletta. Paired with a swipe of anchovy paste, pecorino cheese and oil-steeped onions, peppers and olives, the bright and briny sandwich sings between pieces of seeded, local bread. Plant-eaters get a place at the party, too, with a vegetarian and vegan version that substitutes wild mushroom pate for animal protein.
The recently added sfinucci, a rectangular focaccia-style pizza, is available with a variety of toppings to suit carnivores and vegans alike.
Both the sfinccuni and the mufuletta pay homage to the neighborhood’s Sicilian heritage. Many of the first Italian immigrants arrived between 1880 and 1920. The Quarter had fallen out of favor, and an exodus of residents sought Uptown accommodations. The Sicilian contingency settled in the lower reaches of the French Quarter, renting homes, establishing grocery stores and selling their wares in the French Market. The Italian influence was so strong that the area was known for a time as “Little Palermo.”
Global influence is evident elsewhere on the Café Cour menu. On the day of our visit, a Spanish- inspired “Tortilla Hispaniola” was being pulled from the oven. The delicate layering of egg, herb, onion and potato was deliciously balanced by an heirloom tomato salad. The dish is a nod to New Orleans’ 40 formative years under Spanish rule.
Pressed between a Bellegarde bakery baguette, the “Bocadillo” is another Spanish staple, a simple meal elevated by its ingredients. The sandwich is offered with twin gifts from the Old World -- Manchego cheese and dry-cured Serrano ham.
The influence of West Africa is in the black-eyed pea calas, served with pickled okra and house-made hot sauce. The dish is meant to be shared, and as a vegan- and gluten-free option, accommodates most.
Café Cour’s “Goi Gai salad” is a nod to the city’s Vietnamese population, who, drawn to the climate and Catholic community, made New Orleans home in the 1970’s after the fall of Saigon. Organic greens, shredded chicken, crunchy vegetables and sprouts are topped with peanuts and finished with flavors of fish sauce and lime.
France - common colonizer of Vietnam, Haiti and Louisiana - makes an appearance on the Café Cour menu with croissants, baguettes, charcuteries and the Assiette de Fromages plate with four different artisan cheeses.
The French connection continues in the courtyard of Café Cour. The home and courtyard were originally built for Francois Seignouret, a Bordeaux-born wine merchant and veteran of the Battle of New Orleans. Today the sunny space is bordered by ochre walls and emerald green balconies. Several tables are scattered throughout, and a glass window cut into the flagstone patio reveals a centuries-old water well. At the back of the courtyard is THNOC's sleek new exhibition space, the Tricentennial Wing.
The clientele, like the food itself, is a healthy mix. Crawford points out that the staff has worked to build the local base, since it offers quick turnarounds for those on short lunch breaks and a discount to THNOC members.
It’s an approach that’s working. Monet said the café has already become a favorite with locals who live and work in the neighborhood, especially those “looking for healthier alternatives from the abundance of food options in the Quarter.”
“We also have quite a few visitors who are interested in the history of the menu after they’ve toured the museum,” said Monet.
Café Cour also contributes to the betterment of the community through recycling, compostable to-go containers and a commitment to ethical labor practices. “We’re all in this together,” Crawford said. In addition to local and sustainable sourcing, the restaurant serves only organic and fair trade coffee and tea.
We finished our meal with a cup of the former and dessert with a scoop of history. Café Cour’s outstanding chicory coffee and chocolate chip cookie recall the time when the Union Navy blockaded the port of New Orleans, effectively eliminating access to coffee. Residents added chicory to their daily cup to stretch dwindling supplies, and a tradition was born.
In keeping with most things about Café Cour, it was a lesson of the past beautifully rendered for the present.