Chophouse New Orleans (322 Magazine St., 522-7902; www.centraarchy.com/CH_NOLA) is not a spot for the mildly hungry or the meat averse or diners in search of experimental gastronomy. Its menu is traditional, its service noninvasive and unpretentious. That's just fine with Patrick James, operating manager of the four-month-old restaurant in the heart of the Central Business District. "So much of what's popular now is all smoke and mirrors," he says. "We're trying to create an intimate and specific dining experience, one that hasn't existed here yet."
Although Chophouse opened its doors just last summer, it's a project 50 years in the making, James says. Owners and restaurateurs Barbara and Jerry Greenbaum met at Tulane and married, then moved to South Carolina to start a family, a beverage business and a string of restaurants. They did their best to infuse each new dining establishment with as much Big Easy culture as they could.
"There's a different way of dining here," James says. "We eat more slowly, we drink a lot, and while we're dining, we talk about where we're going to be eating next weekend. They wanted to convey that experience in other places."
When the Greenbaums returned their energies to the New Orleans area, they sensed a gaping void in the city's restaurant culture: a quality steakhouse that operated outside of a corporate structure, one that could rival the famous New York and Chicago institutions but wasn't trying to emulate them.
Chef Robert Bruce was a natural choice to take the helm because of his roots in the city and his culinary experience at Smith & Wollensky, a national chain of high-end steakhouses. Coupled with James' 25-year career in New Orleans restaurants, the two created an atmosphere that combines classic, quality steakhouse fare with an energy that is decidedly local. Chophouse serves only top-quality meats from a distributor in Chicago and cooks them in an 1,800 degree oven to achieve a mouthwatering char. Their jumbo Idaho potatoes are never frozen; bread is baked fresh daily, and the wine list provides appropriate pairings for almost any budget. With exposed brickwork, wood floors and scalloped metal lighting accents, the restaurant's decor strikes the right balance between the formality of an austere steakhouse and the intimacy of a family dining room.
The restaurant features live music nightly, and James has observed a steadily growing clientele, an early success he credits to Chophouse's unique ethos. "We're not trying to fit a square peg in a round hole here," he says. "The idea is to fit in with this community, and to mean something to the guests that come in."
Chophouse operating partner Patrick James (left) and chef Robert Bruce show off a selection of prime cuts.