In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Dough Bowl pizza parlor owner Jeff Baron and seasoned fine-dining chef Bart Bell began planning to open a restaurant together. It wasn't until after Hurricane Gustav mostly missed New Orleans last year that they decided to change those plans and open the Mid-City breakfast spot called Huevos.
The pair's original concept, hatched during a carpe diem moment when the two friends were displaced after Katrina, was Crescent Pie & Sausage Company. They envisioned it as a casual restaurant serving gourmet pizza and dishes using Bell's handmade sausages. Last summer, while renovations were underway to convert a former appliance repair shop into a restaurant, they tested out recipes by cooking on a mobile grill at neighborhood events and festivals.
The plan suffered a setback in August when Gustav blew down the dilapidated corner building. Eager to get cooking and start making money, Baron and Bell seized on a new idea. They held the lease to the small, sturdy, stucco-and-concrete building next door to their rubble heap, and in short order, they set up Huevos. Plans are going forward for Crescent Pie & Sausage, but Huevos is already earning a following, thanks to a tiny menu built around some beautifully crafted prime ingredients.
The headlining dish is called huevos con tamal, which features three thick tamales stuffed with braised, shredded pork and slathered with a thick, deep-scarlet sauce of carrots, onions and chilies. A pair of poached eggs sits on top, resembling scoops of cream, and tart tomatillo salsa glistens over it all in green contrast.
Huevos rancheros are mellow-flavored to the point of plain but brought up to satisfying speed by a load of acidic, roasted, fiery-tasting tomato salsa. Bell's house sausage glows with paprika and red pepper, and dense patties of it anchor breakfast sandwiches on crusty French bread rolls and egg plates. The chaurice-like sausage also is the key to the menu's Blue Jay special, a modest, palm-sized breakfast burrito named for the mascot of nearby Jesuit High School.
Grits are creamy, toasty and hearty, laced with cheese and moist but not soggy. There's no fryer, but few would miss it after a taste of the hash browns and onions crisped on the grill and doused with homemade spicy vinegar. Coffee from the Bywater-based roaster Try Me Mills is strong and worthy.
A few lunch specials turn up later in the day, but they are unpredictable. The best items borrow ingredients from the breakfast menu, like a BLT set off by charred tomato salsa from the rancheros recipe.
The tiny dining room can grow cramped during the late weekend morning rush, but in calmer hours, the place exudes a mixture of hip and homey thanks to lots of local art, tables hewn from cypress and a colorful clientele.
Meanwhile, the new building for Crescent Pie & Sausage is rising next door. The expected completion date is just before Jazz Fest in April, though even if that ambitious timetable doesn't come to pass, it's already clear these nimble proprietors can handle some improvisation.