If you want to show visiting out-of-towners a vignette of New Orleans as a bustling city of young, well-groomed professionals, take them to The Store on any given weekday at lunchtime. That's when this small, casual, CBD spot buzzes with law firm junior associates, bank assistant vice presidents and nonprofit executive directors
Of course, for this scene to be convincing, you'll have to keep your visitors distracted while passing many empty CBD commercial properties en route, but that won't be hard. Just recite The Store's many offbeat menu items and you'll likely have their attention all the way to the deli counter. The trick should work best on Thursdays, when The Store serves its crawfish risotto, a deep, gleaming bowl of Parmesan-sticky, tomato-tinged Arborio goodness, crowned with grilled asparagus and plenty of crawfish tails. Wednesday's special is called a hash, but really the chunks of sweet potato and the lusciously soft, heavily sauced pulled pork are neatly squared away and framed by a run of al dente string beans. The everyday draw, however, is the shrimp and grits, larded with tasso-spiked cream gravy that plays to the best qualities of the hearty dish's two marquee ingredients. It's a good way to spend $9.25 and a quick lunch break.
The Store is an upscale deli, but a chef's hand runs through these specials. That would be owner Reuben Laws III, who was executive chef at Fire! A Restaurant before that Lower Garden District spot relocated to Florida in 2007. Laws stayed put and opened The Store that same summer.
Keep his name in mind when ordering the Rueben sandwich, which takes creative license with the deli classic. It features tiny bits of pulled rib meat, which remain surprisingly moist, and a velvety layer of caramelized onions and Gruyere, all pressed into a warm, melting rye bread package.
The Store's other great sandwich is a barbecue shrimp po-boy, which again strays far from the familiar script. There is a buttery, peppery New Orleans-style barbecue shrimp sauce, but it's used to wet down fried shrimp, and instead of shredded iceberg, this sandwich is dressed with dripping, hearty collard greens.
Great bins of mixed greens are constantly being plowed into substantial entree salads. The rows of chopped turkey, bacon, avocado, egg and crumbed blue cheese for a Cobb salad are laid out as smartly as stripes on a flag. Candied pecans cover another salad so thoroughly they form an almost continuous crunchy shell.
The Store does so much right, it's surprising when some basics go wrong, like the lifeless french fries and a curiously dry, canned-tasting artichoke and mozzarella sandwich. Skip the dips, but order the country-style gumbo or smooth black bean soup.
Shrimp and grits make a repeat appearance on The Store's breakfast menu. But even that richness is eclipsed by the poached eggs Gravier, made by topping English muffins with pulled pork, sauteed spinach and marchands de vin. It's enough to make you want to march right back to bed. But The Store's clientele must persevere. They look like they have full days ahead of them in the CBD's office heights, and they might even have a return trip to The Store penciled in at lunch.