In New Orleans, the term "fast food" might conjure thoughts of a greasy late-night burger or a bucket of fried chicken eaten on the curb on a Mardi Gras day. But just because food is fast doesn't ipso facto make it fast food. At N. Rampart Street eatery Mister Gregory's, which opened in August, the theme "Fast and French" is proclaimed loud and proud, and the staff is out to prove cuisine served cheerily and with alacrity can be of excellent quality as well.
In this case, the focus is obviously French but in a simple fashion that's not as easy to find in Nouvelle-Orleans as one might imagine. Think not of classics like beef bourguignon, coq au vin or cassoulet, or even the rosemary-crusted chicken at that other casual French spot, La Madeleine. Mister Gregory's is a cafe in the purest, most truly Parisian sense, offering coffee and the kind of basic fare one might grab at a small neighborhood stall in Paris while on the way to work or during a quick lunch break.
While coffee, soups, salads, sandwiches and pastries might not seem very exciting — especially in a small but sunny room that resembles a French school cafeteria — there are some lovely things coming out of that diminutive kitchen across from Armstrong Park.
Being a lifelong sucker for the glory of melted cheese, I was instantly drawn to the hot croque sandwiches, featuring "blow-torched Gruyere cheese atop grilled bread with cornichons." In this regard, Mister Gregory's does not disappoint. The Provencal was filled with thick, Irish-style rashers of smoked bacon, fresh thyme, tomatoes and Havarti, then topped with the promised gruyere and bruleed until caramelized and oozy. Equally satisfying was the Saltimbocca, loaded with roasted chicken breast, sage, bacon and goat cheese. And if two cheeses aren't enough, there's always the four-cheese variant, which adds Swiss and cheddar to the mix. Lactaid and Lipitor be damned; this is hot, meaty and melty all together in unabashed splendor.
A sign on the wall reads "This is a good place for a diet. This is a bad place for a diet." (Magritte would approve.) Indeed, the menu features dishes on the lighter side as well: Salads are generously piled with fresh vegetables, perfectly hard-cooked eggs and additions like pecans, herbs, chicken or Gulf shrimp. There also are quiches and a soup de jour (a robust Cuban wedding soup, on one visit), as well as a silky French onion version. All these are perfectly respectable, but hardly as lustworthy as a croque monsieur.
The cold sandwiches, too, fail to match their hot cousins. A roast beef with blue cheese, fried shallots and Dijon missed the mark (the beef, while abundant, had a school-lunch tinge to it), while the shrimp on the Vieux Carre sandwich were small and underseasoned.
However, a few knockouts still were in store, namely 24-hour cold-brewed iced coffee, as well as excellent hot French press coffee ground and brewed to order. Then there were the baguettes: warm, crusty, authentic French loaves handrolled by Bellegarde Bakery in Broadmoor. For $4, you can load one up with smoky jambon and thick, creamy wedges of "good French butter" (a dollar less without the ham), for a cheap, decadent breakfast or lunch.
Butter and bread may be basic, but when it's this good, it's divine.