Cane and Table first opened its doors during the midsummer madness that was Tales of the Cocktail 2013, despite not being totally finished with construction and, more importantly, not having air conditioning in its kitchen. "It's just part of being in the restaurant business," Adam Biderman admitted in a recent interview with Eater, though the new "proto-tiki" restaurant occupying the Decatur Street space that once belonged to Pravda has managed to avoid the biggest disaster that can befall a new restaurant: empty tables. Cane and Table has been busy, a fact that's not too surprising when one considers the Avengers-like supergroup behind its conception. Biderman joined a team that includes Cure's Neal Bodenheimer and Nick Detrich, as well as the recently relocated Atlantan, Ean Bancroft. Really, though, Cane and Table's almost immediate popularity points to a trend that Biderman has noticed lately in the city's dining scene?if you're opening a new restaurant, expect to be overwhelmed with business. New Orleans restaurants are crushing it.
Cane and Table has been up and running for about a month. How are things going thus far?
Things are great. We're growing our business everyday, people are responding to the food?it's been pretty awesome. We wanted to do it organically, not necessarily without a bunch of fuss, but we just wanted to open up, start doing what we wanted to do, and have people react to it in the positive way we knew they would. Everyday I go in, we do a couple more covers here, a couple more there. Saturday was our busiest day ever, and it was great. It's been a lot of fun so far.
Where did the idea for this "proto-tiki" theme come from? Was this something you had in mind when you were still doing the Perestroika pop up out of Pravda?
Well, the pop up out of Pravda was kind of like a way for us to get in and see what we could do with the space. We wanted to have fun with it, and do something a little different while we fine-tuned Cane and Table.
I would say that most of the idea, just in terms of the look and feel, was more thanks to Neal [Bodenheimer] and Nick [Detrich], along with all the other partners. They were formulating that when Perestroika was well under way. Perestroika at Pravda came about because the partners felt they had an opportunity that they couldn't pass up to purchase a business and get into the space. Then it kind of became, "Alright, we know Nick's the guy, we know what he wants to do, so now let's get it all straightened out." Before they got to that point, Neal came to me and asked if I wanted to do it, and of course I said yes because Nick and I had worked together with Offshore Pop Ups that we had done at Company Burger. I was pretty good friends with Nick; he was always the guy I went and sat in front of at Cure. I love his drinks?he's pretty damn good at what he does?so of course I wanted to work with him.
We were doing our Eastern Bloc thing at Perestroika, but the kink that helped bring about Cane & Table was that, towards the end of the pop up, this kid Ean [Bancroft] moved down to New Orleans from Atlanta. Linton Hopkins, the chef I opened Holeman & Finch for in Atlanta, sent Ean down to talk to me. After two or three weeks of cooking and hanging out together, I was like, "Do you want to run Cane and Table, and help me with this new menu?" He was like, "Absolutely." He's 24-years-old, he's been cooking most of his adult life, and he's essentially getting a chance to run his own restaurant. Who would pass that up? It's a pretty sweet deal?move into town and get a sweet job. We wrote the menu together, so some of it is his, and some of it is mine. I'm there to guide him and teach him the business operations side, because he's got the cooking down. Three nights out of five, he's the man there. I'm really just there now on Fridays and Saturdays, but I do come in during the week to hang out for a second.
You guys opened up during the Tales of the Cocktail madness. What was it like not having that grace period to figure things out?
Tales was nuts, and that's why we actually took a break between Tales and our real opening. We literally finished tightening up construction right before Tales started, maybe even a day before. We didn't even have air conditioning in the kitchen for the first two weeks, if you can imagine. It's all part of being in the restaurant business.
Being a part of Company Burger, and knowing what happens in this city, I think I kind of knew that if you open up a restaurant in New Orleans right now and you have any doubts about being busy, you're going to get crushed. You have to be prepared to be busy from the minute you open your doors. And not just busy in an "oh, we had a full restaurant today," but busy in a "we have a line out the door for two hours" way. Every place that opens, this is what's happening. It's amazing to watch, because I've never seen anything like it. I've been to Noodle & Pie, I've been to McClure's?all these new joints in the last six months, and it's just wild. People are consuming it, which means that our restaurant scene here is incredibly vibrant and stable, and people want more of what is new and different.
Knowing that, I was able to prepare the Cane and Table crew mentally (and operationally) for the opening-week crush. Just because we were down at the low end of Decatur didn't mean we weren't going to be busy. We were slammed. After Tales, we closed back down for a few days to finish up construction.
What items are starting to emerge as popular favorites on the menu? I saw that jerk chicken on the menu, and it looked pretty good...
The jerk chicken is really good. It's probably my second favorite entree behind the...well, they're all my favorites, but the ropa vieja is sort of a sentimental favorite because I used my own method, and I wanted to kind of make a big deal about making ropa vieja in not necessarily a super-traditional Cuban manner, but have it still have the heart and soul of the dish, just without as much tomato and a more refined method. The jerk chicken is good, but it's not covered in spices. It's marinated in a mojo that we make, then it's grilled, then it's deep-fried, and then it's covered in a jerk sauce, which emulates the exact same seasonings that would be on a traditional rubbed and grilled chicken, but the jerk sauce acts more like a chimi or a salsa verde where it's more like a blended herb-spice sauce. It's really good, and when it hits that hot chicken and sort of aerates a little bit, it's awesome. People crush that chicken.
I'd have to say, though, the clear-cut favorite right now is the ribs. Almost every table gets the ribs, which are actually gluten-free and deep-fried, something I'd never thought I'd do in my career. We braise the ribs in rum and a little bit of chicken stock, let them sit overnight, then we dip them in buttermilk and then into the dredge that we use, which is a mixture of rice flour, tapioca starch, and potato starch. You end up getting the crunch, then this soft, porky rib with a little bit of fat, and we cover it with sambal sauce and papaya chutney. It's fried, pork, a little fatty, and then sweet, spicy,crunchy?it's wild.
The island influence seems to be something that's both a little fresh and seemingly obvious for a New Orleans restaurant.
Our menus here and our food here [in New Orleans] is Creole Cajun, and it's gone along with the contemporary movement in the country where there's an attention to detail, and an interest in breaking down the whole animal, doing lots of pork-centric stuff. Vegetables, too, are starting to make their way back onto menus because farmers have caught up with trends, and they're being supported a lot more by the restaurants. You've got that more contemporary movement on menus in the city right now, but I think, for us, Ian and I, having worked in the same place in Atlanta, have the same approach to how we prepare food because we don't know how to cook any other way. We're not doing any super-crazy, modern stuff, but we pick great produce and prepare it very simply. And we do it in the style of what Ian's researched, i.e. how they might do it in the islands. There's lots of vinegar, lots of seasonings, and hot cooking.
That's what that style of food is. Ean went to eat at Coco Hut a lot, which is over by the Bayou in Mid-City. It's not strictly Jamaican, but it's island-y, and that influenced Ian a lot because the owner was super-nice and always had an interesting way to cook something. A lot of how we came up with Cane and Table was research. Ian came up with some old plantation-era cookbooks from the islands, and things that he researched with his recipes that we took inspiration from.
How are you splitting your time between Cane and Table and Company Burger?
We're fully-staffed at Cane and Table now. Ean's got two guys in the kitchen, so I'm kind of transitioning him into a chef role. For a while before we were fully-staffed, it was just me and him, and, like, one other dude. I was expoing and running food, and Ian was cooking. He cooks everyday. He is the most hands-on chef I've seen in a long time, and he is teaching our two guys how to cook everything. If you've been to Cane and Table in the last month, Ean Bancroft has cooked for you. He's the chef who makes things work.
For the foreseeable future, I'm going to be there Friday and Saturday night, and for a little while during the week. I've still got Company Burger to run, and that's my number one. I'm going to gradually scale back a little more from Cane and Table, but not much. I'm going to be there four or five days a week, I just won't be hanging out until 10:30 at night.
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