Housed in a former gas station, Cafe Freret's (7329 Freret St., 504-861-7890; www.cafefreret.com) sizable outdoor seating area, free Wi-Fi and cheery staff make for a comfortable hangout spot. "It's a very chill place. You go there and kind of laugh with the people there; the servers are always laughing," says Valencia Macklin, one of the restaurant's regulars.
The cafe's expansive, eclectic menu focuses on local favorites. The muffuletta is a popular item, packed with house-made olive salad, mortadella, Genoa salami and provolone. Macklin recommends a steak bomb or a burger.
The Bomb sandwiches are owner and executive chef Carl Guidroz's take on a po-boy, served with chicken breast or shaved steak. The meat is topped with melted Swiss cheese, sauteed onions, bell peppers and mushrooms on toasted French bread with Creole mayonnaise. The kitchen also accommodates catering needs with mini-muffulettas, cheese plates, bite-sized po-boys, crawfish etouffee and seafood jambalaya and other dishes.
The restaurant's biggest draw is the weekend brunch, complete with mimosas and Bloody Marys. "It's a full brunch: eight different eggs Benedict, the whole nine yards," Guidroz says. There also are steak nights on Wednesdays — "We do a filet ... and fresh steamed vegetables and roasted potatoes for $13.99," Guidroz says. There are red beans and rice on Mondays and tacos on Tuesdays.
While more than half of the customers come from neighboring colleges, the restaurant also caters to dog owners by serving fresh water and treats to canine companions.
"Ever since Katrina, (when a neighboring dog bakery closed) ... we started doing our own dog treats — veterinarian approved," Guidroz says. "We've got four to six different ones, and it's really to fill that niche."
While dog treats might seem out of place at a neighborhood eatery, Guidroz counts the ability to make unconventional moves among the perks of being a business owner. He enjoys the independence and creative flexibility of running his own restaurant.
"I can't work for someone else," he says. "Why give them the good ideas and take the credit? At least this way if it's a good idea it's mine, if it's a bad idea it's mine."