The name Munch Factory throws some people for a loop. They walk in to this Gentilly cafe thinking maybe it's a snack shack or a place to get gourmet popcorn. But order the gumbo and The Munch Factory's intentions start taking shape, and an extraordinary chicken dish seals the deal.
There are many different ideals for gumbo, and this one is classic down-home Creole, with a thin, dark roux brimming with shrimp, crab and no fewer than three types of sausage. At neighborhood joints where such gumbo is typically served, a roasted chicken special is practically a given, but here the dish is far from ordinary. Partially deboned, a half bird is sauteed before it's roasted, and later its crisp exterior is coated with a creamy sauce finished with fine herbs — the textbook-French culinary bouquet of tarragon, chives, parsley and chervil. Potato croquettes with smoked Gouda and tasso and green beans with bacon complete the plate, making a hugely satisfying (and just plain huge) meal.
This is what The Munch Factory does: Familiar comfort food gets refined culinary tweaks and a strong dose of Creole flavor. That plays out in weekly specials including giant portions of beef short ribs, braised and practically glazed with a deep, rich jus, and the bright and spicy shrimp remoulade, beautifully presented over green tomato slices.
This is the handiwork of chef Jordan Ruiz, and his wife Alexis runs the front of the house with such genuine warmth and personality you wouldn't think of going anywhere else. Their 2-year-old often romps around the room, toy train in hand, leaving no doubt that this stylishly decorated place is very much a family restaurant.
Jordan and Alexis are New Orleans natives who left for school but felt the urge to return home after Hurricane Katrina to join their city's rebirth. Young but seasoned in the restaurant industry, they originally started their business by renting a commissary kitchen and delivering hot lunches around town. The response encouraged them to open a restaurant, and they opened The Munch Factory in April.
There's no bar here (and as of yet no liquor license), but some of the menu still seems like gussied-up bar food. There's a casserole of waffle-cut cheese fries, and fried shrimp sit in a hot sauce reduction, like Buffalo sauce by way of New Iberia.
Sandwiches account for half the menu, and my only quibble comes down to bread preference. The soft loaves compress nicely for a proper Cuban sandwich, but I'd like a crisper crust for the roast beef po-boy, which is otherwise a beauty of falling-apart roast beef.
Nightly entree specials are what distinguish The Munch Factory. Blackened redfish is covered with crabmeat and served beside a stuffed pepper that could be a meal all on its own. It tastes a little bit Cajun, very much Creole and is all-around delicious.
It's easy to miss The Munch Factory, a small place deep in a neighborhood without many other restaurant options. But for a dose of flavor and hospitality like this, missing it is a mistake.