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Gott Gourmet 

Fresh, quick and smart on Magazine Street

After leaving a big restaurant job, many chefs say they will take up catering. Dave Gotter went the other way, however, leaving the catering business to open his own restaurant last October. The result is Gott Gourmet, which successfully fills a niche for quick, affordable meals with a high degree of polish and creative interpretation.

  The place feels like an upscale diner, and only a few menu items break the $10 mark. The fare mostly includes salads, sandwiches, wraps and burgers, but they are composed in unique and creative fashions and benefit from attentive cooking, such as the braised pork on the Cuban sandwiches, and ingredients made in-house, like the honey and balsamic dressing for a platter of grilled vegetables.

  The gumbo tastes like at least two different recipes prepared together in the same pot, but the result is deeply satisfying. It has a dark, country-style roux, but there's also stewed tomato and pickled okra, adding tangy, Creole-style bite. Abundant chicken and andouille chunks are joined by sweet crabmeat, large shrimp and a scoop of cool, creamy potato salad.

  There's no doubt about the star attraction in the Gott salad. It's anchored by wedges of fried, panko-coated brie cut open so the cheese melts over the greens, leaving delicious hulls of fried crumb and cheese. Side dishes like a crunchy, refreshing cucumber and jicama salad are unusual, but have nothing on the spectacle of the café's Chicago-style hot dog, a nod to Gotter's upbringing in the Windy City. As per the fiercely regional tradition there, these dogs are dark-red beef franks lying under a garden of condiments including hot sport peppers and a dazzling green relish, but no ketchup.

  The "smothered pearl" is a cross between a panino and an oyster po-boy, with the fried oysters serving as the pearls smothered under an onslaught of wet toppings. Somehow the smoky-sweetness of the ancho-honey coleslaw, savory aioli and the meatiness of the plump oysters all made it through the process, and the grilled Italian bread held up admirably.

  The approach goes awry with a sandwich dubbed the "St. Patty's Day Massacre," an allusion to the corned beef and potatoes (french fries) sharing scant space between rye slices with a number of cheeses, dressings and pickles. Though soggy in the sandwich, the fries are just about perfect when ordered on their own — flecked with remaining skin, fried to the hue of a rusty sunset and not a bit oily.

  The St. Patty's Day idea is successfully reprised on the weekend breakfast menu as corned beef and potato hash, augmented with spicy bits of sausage and jalapeños, and blanketed by fried eggs. This is a formidable threat to most Saturday morning hangovers, which is fortunate since the weak coffee on my visit offered no relief. Yellow grits with smoked gouda and biscuits smothered in sausage, onion and mushroom gravy showed the rewards of subtle tweaks to morning classics.

  The restaurant is BYOB. In the evenings, it's common to find parties lingering over their bottles at sidewalk tables. Their meals may have been fries and curry chicken wraps, but the smart presentation and lively Uptown location elevates the occasion.

click to enlarge CHERYL GERBER

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