For seven years, Mason Hereford and the team behind Turkey and the Wolf have won acclaim for making New Orleans a destination for unexpected riffs on familiar breakfast, brunch, and lunch staples. Now they have their sights set on the dinner and drinks scene with Hungry Eyes, their new ’80s-themed restaurant at 4206 Magazine Street.
The 50-seat, full-service restaurant — a departure from Hereford’s counter-service restaurants Turkey and the Wolf and Molly’s Rise and Shine — opened this month with former Turkey and the Wolf chef Phil Cenac in the kitchen. Cenac is partners in the restaurant with Hereford and Hereford’s wife, Lauren Agudo. It’s also run by former Turkey and the Wolf general manager Kate Mirante. Drinks, a major emphasis, are created by bartender Carlos Quinonez (formerly Columns, Coquette), and the wine program is run by Lahzie Takada (formerly Faubourg Wines).
Hungry Eyes, which doesn’t take reservations, opened on April 10 to a crowd lined up on Magazine Street. A few diners arrived prepared for a long wait, lawn chairs in hand, but they weren’t needed; the wait’s not that bad and can be spent next door at Second Vine Wine after giving your name to the host.
The food menu is a succinct list ranging from $2.50 “drinking snacks,” a mix of peanuts, coconut, and puri, “sold as loosies;” to medium plates that top out at $20, like a seafood and turmeric curry with calamari, catfish, and hearts of palm served with roti. Diners can order bread service with chicken fat-infused butter; $4 “carbs on the side” that include ciabatta, roti, or crispy crab boil potatoes served with tartar sauce; and a $5 “chip of the day” drinking snack, for example a chip topped with crab Rangoon filling. There’s one dessert, a version of the Viennetta, the fancy layered ice cream cake of the ’80s and ’90s that has made a comeback in recent years.
Those menu details reinforce a role reversal at Hungry Eyes — the food is designed around the drinks, or at least in partnership with them, rather than the other way around. Hereford says the team was eager to apply their fine-dining experience to use luxurious ingredients in unpretentious ways, which affords customers the opportunity to stick with bread service and drinks or to try several under-$20 plates like fried sweetbreads, hanger steak, and Gulf shrimp. Quinonez’s martini list leans classic, with batched espresso martinis and cosmopolitans on tap at the bar, the cocktails, however, are anything but: There’s a deep green pandan old fashioned made with rum and bourbon, and a frothy purple Ube Baby Baby made with coconut, pineapple, and rum. Takada’s wine list will change but features some lesser-known grapes from around the world and some familiar grapes that show up in unexpected ways, Takada says, like the two-liter bottle of skin-contact Sauvignon Blanc from Austria, or the fuller-bodied rosé by the glass from Calabria, Italy.
Then there’s the interior. Anyone who’s visited one of Hereford’s previous restaurants is familiar with the team’s eclectic, quirky taste. While Hungry Eyes employs similar playfulness, the effect is much more dramatic and decidedly nighttime. It’s close to unrecognizable from its predecessor, Red Gravy, thanks to local architecture firm Cicada and contractor NFT Group and design help from the Chicago-based Eye Eaters. Black marble-topped tables, geometric furniture in primary colors, and metal-backed chairs with velvet seat covers mix with neon light fixtures by the local Big Sexy Neon, vintage Jazz Fest posters, and a Lucite hostess stand. A plant-lined outdoor patio with an Airstream trailer aesthetic that can seat 30 will open in the near future.
Below, take a look inside and check out four dishes to try at Hungry Eyes, open Wednesday through Monday from 4 to 10 p.m. (no reservations).
Artichoke hearts on the half shell
Morita chile, garlic, parmesan
Red wine barbecue marinade
Pineapple, cinnamon, Bird’s Eye chile, beer
Earl’s seafood and turmeric curry
Calamari, smoked catfish, hearts of palm, roti