It has been a slow and steady trickle, but over the past few years, a small group of businesses has opened in the once beleaguered area surrounding the University Medical Center and soon-to-open Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System complex. The linchpins of this effort have been restaurants and bars, including Fharmacy, which opened on a sparse stretch of Banks Street in June.
Fharmacy has a casual comfort food theme, and the restaurant's name implies a tongue-in-cheek reference to the nearby hospital complex — and the medical professionals one can only assume it hopes to attract. Fries and potato tots can be made "extra strength" or "pharmaceutical grade," with add-ons such as cheese sauce, jalapenos, pico de gallo or grilled meats.
Hot wings figure prominently. Diners can choose from a number of preparations, including a garlic and Parmesan version that is equal parts crispy and cheesy without coming off as overkill. For an added kick, the wings can be tossed in "Emergency Room" sauce, featuring a blistering mix of cayenne pepper and ghost chilies, or the scorching "ICU" version, made with North Carolina Reaper peppers, which are among the world's hottest. Tarragon-tinged ranch sauce offers a cool and creamy respite from the heat.
The burger selection features 8-ounce patties made with a flavorful mix of chuck, brisket and short rib — a hearty combination with the right amount of fat, cooked medium with light char. The kitchen doesn't exercise restraint in most dishes — the patties are no exception — and some dishes aren't as messy as they seem. In one instance, leaves of romaine are tucked underneath a fat beefsteak tomato slice, while a slice of melted provolone clings to the patty and is topped by grilled portobello mushroom — a towering assembly that was surprisingly easy to eat despite its girth. Conversely, a lemon grass chicken wrap doused in watery peanut sauce was not easy to eat. Though it carried nice flavor, the wrap was soggy.
Though the menu is fairly straightforward, there are some creative touches that help some dishes standout. Steak frites salad elevates a classic frisee medley with the addition of arugula, crunchy shoestring fries and a healthy portion of sliced seared hanger steak. Juicy cherry tomatoes and crispy bacon bits add punches of acid and crunch. The fries might seem superfluous, but after a dunk in chunky blue cheese dressing, that concern is quickly forgotten.
Chef Nhat Nguyen cooked at nearby restaurant Namese, and one hopes the kitchen adds more Asian dishes. The excellent Vietnamese sausage sandwich packs sweet crumbly sausage accented by soy and cinnamon, pickled carrots, sliced jalapenos, cucumbers, cilantro and a healthy smear of aioli into an oversized hoagie roll.
Fharmacy is open for dinner but is busiest at lunch, for which the simple sandwich and burger menu seems designed. As the neighborhood grows, one hopes the menu will too and that the restaurant, like the street where it sits, will accrue destination appeal.