Despite the "Geaux Saints" marquee outside and the purple glow of the Abita Beer neon within, Cherrywood Coffeehouse (1400 E. 38½, 538-1991), insists proprietor Ryan Marks, is not New Orleans-themed. He concedes, however, it can't help being chock-full of Southern Louisiana flavor. "I grew up eating my grandma's and mom's food and at fresh seafood joints in New Orleans," says Marks. "If you notice my sign outside, it says in big ol' letters, 'Real Food.' That's the guiding principle."
Marks moved to Austin in 1993, and after a few ventures, in 2005 he opened the Garden District, a small SoCo coffee shop, now mostly run by wife Jennifer. The Marks live in French Place and have had their eyes on Cherrywood since its Pato's Tacos (and later, Quack's) days. In February 2009, they moved in with a starter menu of beverages, baked goods, breakfast tacos, burgers, and sandwiches.
Chef Kevin Jackson (Shaggy's, the Woodland) and Marks are discussing daily specials, from red beans and rice – "the traditional New Orleans Monday meal," notes Marks – to fried chicken on the bone. "Another dish we might do? Crawfish enchiladas. I had them at Jazz Fest last year. Chef made some yesterday; they were pretty damn good."
Marks' family goes to the New Orleans Jazz Festival every year – since 1987 as vendors Cee Cee's Snowballs. "My family makes the best chocolate snowball there is. It's not like any in New Orleans or here, which is basically Hershey's syrup and simple syrup mixed up. That ain't it."
And when Marks talks about what excites him most at Jazz Fest, he gets wistful about jazz legend Allen Toussaint but really goes off on the food: "The crawfish enchiladas, try those! The cochon de lait ... the duck and andouille gumbo, and Crawfish Monica. That's something else that might end up on our menu ... but it won't be called Crawfish Monica."
"Hmmm. And Cherrywood is not New Orleans-themed, right?" I poke.
"My New Orleans flavor comes out in the dishes that we serve. It's not New Orleans-themed. You know, our breakfast tacos aren't New Orleans flavored. I wish we could do beignets, but that's a totally different field."
"How about a beignet taco?" I ask.
"That could be open for discussion," Marks grins.
At Jazz Fest, visit Cee Cee's Snowballs, which is usually near the Gentilly Stage next to Mr. Williams' Pies. www.nojazzfest.com.
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