Fatoush serves a lot of hummus and falafel. But this casual, everyday eatery in the Faubourg Marigny is a Turkish restaurant, so diners who approach it like a typical kebab joint are in for a surprise.
Instead of pita you get pide, formed either into crusty round rolls for dipping or as flatbread stuffed with lamb or vegetables — like a long, open-face calzone. Dolmas might be the usual stuffed grape leaves, or they might be stuffed bell peppers. And if the familiar Greek moussaka resembles lasagna, the Turkish version served at Fatoush is more like a casserole of thinly-sliced vegetables and ground beef baked under a tangy cap of bubbling kashkaval cheese.
Perhaps the biggest surprise for first-time visitors is Fatoush's setting inside the New Orleans Healing Center. This sprawling multipurpose complex is home to a grocery with a focus on organic products, a bookstore, a music club, a fitness center, wellness and self-improvement programs, a Voodoo shop and even a police substation. With its multimodal design, its whitewashed open spaces and craft tables and art displays frequently spread throughout the atrium, the Healing Center seems like a student union plunked in the center of the gritty, but increasingly artsy, St. Claude Avenue commercial strip.
Fatoush may be unique for New Orleans, but it fits well at this location. Up front, there's a sunny coffee shop with a sandwich menu and a case of pastries. The main restaurant is in back, under a drop ceiling partially camouflaged by a fleet of paper lanterns. There's a circular flow to the Healing Center, so sit down with a plate of imam bayildi, an aromatic Turkish classic of pan-fried eggplant filled with peppers, tomatoes and onions, and watch as yoga students with neatly rolled mats cut through the dining room. There's a juice bar in the works, but in New Orleans fashion, the restaurant's service bar came first. The wines are undistinguished, but young servers pour them generously.
Fatoush is the nickname of proprietress Fatma Aydin, a native of Turkey who has operated restaurants in New Orleans for almost 30 years. Chef Hakki Erce, also is Turkish, and he runs the kitchen with a modern sensibility. Meats are sourced from local farmers, and Erce grinds beef and lamb for house-made gyro cones. The result, piled in crisp-edged slices on the crusty pide rolls, has a little more flavor than the standard, processed gyro, and it offers more satisfaction for people who track the origins of their meals.
Fatoush is a new kind of restaurant for its neighborhood, though it seems in sync with the area's momentum. The unaccustomed sight of 20-somethings using laptops at cafe tables on the sidewalk of St. Claude Avenue could stop more traffic than the Press Street rail crossing. But change is everywhere around here, even on the gyro spit.