In 2011, New Orleans native, chef and restaurateur Jeff Baron opened Pizzicare (3001 Tulane Ave., 504-301-4823; www.pizzicare.com), his fourth food business in the Big Easy, in an area of Mid-City not particularly regarded as a dining destination. Today, the Tulane Avenue corridor is experiencing a surge in new bars and restaurants. Baron talked to Gambit about post-Hurricane Katrina efforts in the area, its budding resurgence and, of course, pizza.
How did you wind up opening a New York-style slice joint in a part of Mid-City not known for its restaurant options?
Baron: I started out in 2002 opening up the Dough Bowl, which was a New York-style pizza place and grill attached to The Boot. ... The "slice culture" was something missing from the New Orleans scene, something that, in New York, people tend to take for granted. Everywhere you go you can grab a slice on the run. And then in 2007 I met with my business partner [Bart Bell], and the two of us wanted to open up a restaurant with a very specific concept: house-made sausages, pies of all kinds and varieties, and craft beer, which would become Crescent Pie and Sausage Co. We landed in Mid-City because my close friend and business associate Matt Schwartz was developing apartment buildings here, and he really wanted people to open restaurants in his neighborhood to help develop the area and help bring back that part of the city after Katrina. ... In 2011 we opened up Pizzicare in the same neighborhood.
What has it been like, seeing this area evolve, particularly when it comes to restaurants?
B: From the beginning, we wanted to be a part of the renaissance of Tulane Avenue. Tulane Avenue was never really a dining destination, but we knew what was going to happen with the hospitals, and we knew that there was stuff around the periphery like Whole Foods and Costco and the Winn Dixie [on N. Carrollton Avenue]. It was a natural progression that this was going to wind up into a good corridor for other businesses. It's taken a little longer than we hoped, but we're starting to now see developers take an active interest in this area. The guys from Finn McCool's just opened up Treo; there's a new Vietnamese restaurant (Namese); and then you have Avery's Po-Boys that opened up down the street. Now you're starting to see place after place, local people, starting to take an interest in opening food establishments on this street.
So, you've seen some new business with all of the construction?
B: With the hospital site, we get a lot of construction workers in here. Every day I send over about 20 pizzas to the construction site and we'll sell them over there by the pie. It's really interesting: American pizza was invented on Coney Island by Italian immigrants' wives as a food for them to take to the construction sites, as something that would keep all day outside as they worked. They'd wrap it up in a white box. It was simple, based on an Italian pizza, but now something that was American, too. So it's pretty cool to continue in that sort of tradition. They key, though, is of course to focus on quality. Most pizza places throw all the ingredients on a pizza then throw it in the oven. Well, anybody that cooks knows that a piece of broccoli and a piece of chicken don't cook for the same amount of time. So if you put both in at the same time, the broccoli's going to come out mushy and the chicken will be dry, and so on. You have to think about that with every topping. ... It's a matter of thinking about it as cooking food, not just making pizza.