by Ian McNulty
Long before Freret Street got its groove back and emerged as a restaurant row, the Creole soul joint Dunbar’s Creole Cooking was a go-to destination along this Uptown commercial strip for all-you-can-eat fried chicken and meaty red beans, a standard-setting Creole gumbo and perhaps the sweetest of all sweet teas.
After Hurricane Katrina, with its building badly damaged from flooding, Dunbar’s found an unorthodox new home inside the student center for Loyola University’s law school, where it operated like a food court eatery when school was in session. Dunbar’s didn’t reopen there when the semester resumed this fall, but owner Celestine Dunbar has a new plan underway.
She plans to open Dunbar’s Soul Food as a full-service, family-run restaurant in Gentilly. It will be at 5328 Franklin Ave., the former address of Vasquez Restaurant. She expects work on the building to begin soon, and she is planning to open this spring, possibly in March. Dunbar’s Soul Food will have different menus and aims at lunch and dinner.
“I’m going to keep all my menus from Freret Street for lunch there. It will be like the old Dunbar’s, the all-you-can-eat fried chicken, the red beans, the cornbread, all that,” she says.
At dinner, the restaurant will still focus on Creole flavors, she explains, but the evening menu will feature more elaborate dishes, like grilled seafood and roasted meats.
“We’ll be doing something different, doing more of my dishes we didn’t have on Freret,” she says. “We’ve added a lot to the menu.”
Dunbar’s had a long history on Freret Street. It first opened there in 1985 and over the years it grew into an institution for neighbors, students at the nearby universities and well-informed visitors with a nose for Creole cooking. In the years since Katrina, developers and entrepreneurs have transformed Freret with many new businesses, especially restaurants. Dunbar says now she’s excited to open in a new neighborhood where there are currently few options for a sit-down restaurant meal.
“Freret is swamped with restaurants now, they have everything you can think of over there now, they’re doing fine,” she says. “So I think it’s time I bring my energy to another neighborhood that’s coming up now.”
Meanwhile, Dunbar’s former spot at Loyola is now occupied by Jazzman Café (501 Pine St., 861-5451), a coffee shop with grab-and-go wraps and boxed sushi.