Gear up, folks, because come mid-March another chef stunner/Sylvain alum Alex Harrell will join the crop of remarkable new restaurants opening in New Orleans this Spring. Restaurant Angeline is set to take over the former Stella space in just a few weeks, with promises of reasonably priced refined Southern food—including fried quail and ricotta fritters—and an experience aimed solely at hospitality.
Eater National's Hillary Dixler sits down with chef Harrell this week to discuss the revamp, an exciting bar program, and what menu item is already making him anxious to open (FYI: a new take on barbecue shrimp). Keep calm and prepare thy feasting bib.
In terms of timing how far out are you?
We're looking right around mid-March.
Can you tell me about some of the changes you've made to the space, if any?
Sure. Originally, before we took it over, it was restaurant Stella!, very high-end much refined dining; white table cloth, white glove service. I wanted to change the space so it reflects more of my personality insight that I enjoy cooking.
We removed carpet, we took wallpaper down; we really lightened up the space. It was a lot of wood and dark fabrics. We wanted to make it more warm and a lot more comfortable. We put a large leather-wrapped banquet in the main dining room.Put hardwoods down; painted it historic New Orleans' French Quarter colors.
The restaurant is in the French Quarter so it needs to have a sense of place and a sense of history. It's in a historic building, so we wanted to tie it to that neighborhood.
Tell me about what you're thinking for the menu and if there are any dishes you already know that are definitely going to be on there.
The way I cook and the way I've been turning the food at Angeline is refined Southern.
Yeah. It's named after my mother so I'm pretty specific about that. It's my mom's middle name ... and our family name.
Are there any dishes that you're already pretty excited about?
I'm really excited. I grew up professionally speaking in New Orleans. I'm originally from Alabama. One of the dishes that we've kind of reinterpreted to fit Angeline is a traditional New Orleans barbecue shrimp dish.
The way I'm interpreting it is—I'm thinking a lot of the same flavors that you find in that dish—a little bit of rosemary and lemon and a little Worcestershire and maybe a beer, stuff like that. I'm just kind of elevating you a little bit. We're using Sherry instead of beer to give it just a little bit of a sense of sweetness, a little more acid, a little slice of fried lemons. You get a different texture than sugar-glazed. Its rich sherry sauce, its shrimp stock base. It'll be glazed with Sherry, a little bit of lemon juice and just a touch of Worcestershire and molasses and then finished with butter and served with local greens or sprouts, whatever we have at the time, and some shaved radish. It's a little bit more brightness ... it's a little bit more seasonal. It's not as heavy as the original dish. The original dish is just soaked with butter, it's just so butter-rich. It's studded with tons of black pepper and it's an incredible ... The original is the original but we wanted to adapt it.
Do you have a beverage plan laid out in your mind? Are you working with any particular bartenders or have a vision for what bev is going to look like?
The general manager of the space—his name is Jeff Grdinich—he has a ton of background with bar management. He's working in Jackson Hole with the guys from Death & Co. He was working out with those guys managing their concept down in Jackson Hole most recently before moving to New Orleans. He was working behind the bar at Sylvain and that's how he and I met.
He's really handling the beverage program. Conceptually it's going to be very similar to the food. We want it really accessible from a price standpoint, really well-crafted cocktails that are really food friendly.
We're going to try and present stuff that is recognizable and that people will feel comfortable with and then try to keep some other options that are a little bit more interesting; a little bit lesser known but super high-quality, really well-made products.
Are there any other details or stories that you want to share about your opening process?
The biggest trouble with opening a business has been wading through all the processing stuff. Step one is "what?" I didn't really have a clear path. I had no direct guidance and so there was a lot of frustration associated with that because you're so passionate about a product and it is, I'm emotionally invested in it. You approach people who are not emotionally invested in it and they're trying to walk you through these steps and there's a lot that's information that you never really know who to go to and that kind of thing.
Overall, it's been incredibly educational. The coolest thing about it is, it's mine.It can be whatever I want it to be and that to me is the most exciting thing. Taking these ideas that I've been formulating for 18 years working for other people.
You mentioned how it's cool because you're getting to write and imagine what your working culture is going to be. I'd love to hear what some of those ideas that you have are.
From a guest relation standpoint, our focus is total hospitality; making sure that the customers, no matter who they are or what they come in for or what they spend in the restaurant, feel like they're appreciated. Everybody's welcome, everybody.
I was talking to somebody recently and I saw a quote somewhere that, "Hospitality is the next new trend in restaurants." How can it be trendy? That's what you're supposed to be doing the entire time, which was really interesting to me. That's our focus. It's incorporate... give people a really good product. Make sure that they feel appreciated, that we're gracious with our interactions and hopefully gain a loyal clientele. That's really important.
Can you talk a little bit more about your approach to modern Southern cuisine.
Most restaurants in New Orleans fall into Louisiana French or Creole, kind of Cajun influence. And so, the focus of what I'm trying to do with Angeline is a little bit more broad within the regional distinction. So when I say southern I mean of the south. It's not... I do have a lot of background, like I said, I grew up in Alabama and grew up professionally in New Orleans. I respect all of that culinary tradition and history but I felt more interested in expressing what I grew up with and kind of bringing that in and bridging it with kind of a northern Mediterranean style of cooking.
It's super seasonal, super fresh, local. It's minimally prepared. We're kind of letting the food speak for itself. My philosophy of food is you get really good product and you don't mess it up in the process and you do stuff that just kind of helps it along. And the product, that you serve customers, is going to be high quality.
So when you say the food is really of the south, ingredient wise you'll be pulling from the region only?
I'm not afraid to reach out of the region as well, if something's really great. You know, you can't get salmon in New Orleans, right. So if I can get great Pacific salmon, you know we'll use that. And I enjoy that, that's fun for me. So we will reach out but it will have a southern sensibility to it, a lot of those flavors, a little bit of that style, that kind of thing.
1032 Chartres Street
New Orleans, LA 70116
Projected Opening: mid-March