By Frank Sabatini Jr.
After a three-month renovation, Local Habit will reopen with a New Orleans-style bang on March 28 as the restaurant unveils a new menu of “Cali-Creole” cuisine to the gaiety of a traditional second line parade headed by the Euphoria Brass Band.
Though after the ensemble and their handkerchief-waving marchers loop around the block and return to the restaurant at 3827 Fifth Ave., consulting chef and former co-owner Nick Brune assures Local Habit will be “a lit-up standout” every day of the week thereafter.
The opening party runs from 7 to 11 p.m., and features a whole 250-pound hog cooked onsite. The cost is $20, which includes food plus a beer or cocktail of choice.
When the demands of his catering company began mounting, Brune and business partner Barry Braden sold Local Habit more than a year ago to four brothers: Ignacio, Javier, Guillermo and Antonio Fragoso.
“They were looking for something already up and running at the time,” Brune says. “But they had a few struggles keeping the regulars around, so they called me up to change the concept and help manage the place a little.”
Brune, a native of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, steered the brothers into a New Orleans model by recreating 40 percent of the menu. He also helped them redesign the space, which now includes a front patio framed by iron rails that extends 5 feet out to the sidewalk — a first on the east side of this Fifth Avenue block.
Rollup windows were also installed along with a 24-foot-long interior mural painted by acclaimed “live artist” Sean Dietrich, whose rabbit-themed fresco dominates a wall at The Rabbit Hole in Normal Heights. His mural at Local Habit, says Brune, reflects the restaurant’s new cuisine and cocktails as it depicts “New Orleans flowing into California.”
Classic dishes such as gumbo, etouffee and jambalaya will appear as occasional specials to augment the daily farm-driven cuisine that Brune describes as “Cali-Creole.” Those meals, to name a few, translate to whole heads of roasted cauliflower with whipped goat cheese, Southern-fried chicken “with a little Thai influence” and a “gumbo-meets-ramen” soup with dark roux noodles in pork and chicken broth, a recipe started years ago by the Vietnamese community of New Orleans.
In addition, Brune will return periodically to present his popular crawfish boils, which he held at Local Habit in the past. The next one, he says, will take place shortly after Easter, although an exact date hasn’t yet been established.
In his absence, the kitchen will be helmed by chef Jimmy Tessier, a culinary arts graduate of Johnson & Wales who worked at Union Kitchen & Tap in the Gaslamp District and at Emeril’s in Las Vegas. He has also been featured on Food Network’s hit show, “Chopped.”
Local Habit’s previous focus on beer will remain, although with a full liquor license now in place, customers can get their absinthe fix poured with whiskey over a torched sugar cube in a classic Sazerac, which is Louisiana’s official state cocktail and considered one of the oldest in the United States.
There will also be hurricanes, hand grenades, milk punch and blackberry-mint juleps slung to the rhythms of jazz, zydeco and other NOLA genres through a sound system, or sometimes live once a regular entertainment license is secured.
“When you look at what New Orleans has done for the world in terms of food, cocktails and music, it’s amazing,” says Brune, adding that Local Habit will be open late on most nights and that “every Tuesday will be Fat Tuesday” with oysters and absinthe taking center stage.
“Local Habit is still my baby. It’s a very important place to me and I’m excited to be helping out.”
For more information, call 619-795-4770 or visit mylocalhabit.com.
—Contact Frank Sabatini Jr. at email@example.com.