500 City Park Ave., 486-2559; www.budsbroiler.com
3701 Iberville St., phone n.a.
3201 Esplanade Ave., 948-0077
More than three years since Hurricane Kartina, it might be reasonable to assume restaurants shuttered since the disaster aren't coming back. But that's not true. While plenty of new ventures have come (and, in some cases, gone) in the interim, and though the economy has lately paralyzed other business investments, restaurants continue to return.
Three recent examples show the varied paths to resurrection. The original Mid-City location of Bud's Broiler reopened with new owners, Santa Fe reopened in a different neighborhood and Katie's Restaurant is expected to reopen in late May with a modified concept.
New Orleans is hardly lacking for hamburgers, nor is it short on the diminutive but distinctive burgers charbroiled at Bud's, which has seven other locations. But many people missed the local chain's first Orleans Parish restaurant along City Park Avenue — an odd building of Dr. Seuss-like angles and rusting, neon-traced signs which has evolved into one of Mid-City's quirky icons since first opening in 1952.
Billy and Shannon Wright live a few blocks away and not long after they were married last year successfully petitioned Bud's owner Joe Catalano to let them reopen the restaurant as franchisees. As word spread, it seemed all the Wrights' conversations ended with someone telling them their favorite order at Bud's, as identified by its menu number. Whether they preferred the No. 1 (a plain burger with mayo and relish sauce), No. 3 (with a pile of grated cheddar thicker than the beef patty) or a No. 9 (a split hotdog with smoky hickory sauce), everyone seemed to have a story about the place that went beyond the food.
Mid-City artist Eric Hartman decided to celebrate the restaurant's return by painting a night scene of its exterior. When he sent emails advertising prints for sale, he began hearing from former New Orleanians living all over the world.
"This was the fast food local people grew up with before the big chains," Hartman says. "I think it's just the appeal of an unusual place that people identify as their own, and they're glad just to hear it's back."
In the weeks after Katrina, the message "We Will Be Back" appeared in spray paint on the flood-streaked wall of Katie's Restaurant. Owner Scot Craig says he had no idea just how long it would take to fulfill that pledge, but Katie's is finally on the verge of reopening after some financial wrangling, a meticulous renovation and the addition of a new co-owner, Steve Seeber. Lustrous cypress now sheaths the restaurant's interior, and the new kitchen opens onto the dining room. Craig says the new Katie's menu will include many of its pre-Katrina dishes, plus a new focus on deli sandwiches.
Not far away, one of the original operators of Santa Fe opened a new incarnation of the popular restaurant in a new location. Alan Gilbert cooked Santa Fe's unique, seafood-laden twist on Tex-Mex food from 1986 until Katrina under founding chef Mark Hollger. New owners bought and reopened Santa Fe in 2006, but the venture quickly folded. Gilbert says he has wanted to take his own shot at reviving the restaurant ever since.
He finally found a location along Esplanade Avenue, in the triangular building previously home to the pizzeria La Vita, and in mid-April began cooking shrimp enchiladas, nachos with nuts and raisins and asadero-stuffed chicken. Old regulars will even recognize the menu's font, revived from the original Santa Fe's printing archives.