Long before Freret Street got its groove back and emerged as a restaurant row, the Creole soul restaurant Dunbar's Creole Cooking was the commercial strip's go-to destination for fried chicken, meaty red beans, an exemplary Creole gumbo and perhaps the sweetest of all sweet teas.
Its building was badly damaged during Hurricane Katrina and Dunbar's found a new home inside the student center of Loyola University's law school, where it operated like a food court eatery when classes were in session. Dunbar's did not reopen there with the current fall semester, however, and owner Celestine Dunbar has a new plan.
She will reopen Dunbar's Soul Food as a full-service restaurant in Gentilly at 5328 Franklin Ave., the former address of Vasquez Restaurant. She is planning to open in spring 2013, possibly in March. Dunbar's Soul Food will have different menus at lunch and dinner.
"I'm going to keep all my menus from Freret Street for lunch there," Dunbar says. "It will be like the old Dunbar's, the all-you-can-eat fried chicken, the red beans, the cornbread, all that."
At dinner, the restaurant will focus on Creole flavors, but the menu will feature more elaborate dishes, like grilled seafood and roasted meats, she adds.
Dunbar's opened on Freret Street in 1985 and it grew into an institution for neighbors, students at nearby universities and diners with a nose for Creole cooking. Dunbar says she's excited to open in a new neighborhood where there are currently few options for a sit-down restaurant meal.
"Freret is swamped with restaurants now, they have everything you can think of over there now, they're doing fine," she says. "So I think it's time I bring my energy to another neighborhood that's coming up now."