After a long night, 13 Monaghan on Frenchmen Street is a perfect place to start the day. On the jukebox just inside the door, select a few familiar, low-key tunes. Maybe Dylan, a track off Springsteen's Nebraska or the entire Velvet Underground's Loaded. Walk past the bar, where regular customers are swigging down a midday beer and reading The New York Times. Take a seat in the back half of 13 -- as it's more commonly known -- among the cool air conditioning and the dark blue walls that soak up sunlight. Order a Bloody Mary with a plate of eggs.
The frittata, a baked cake of eggs filled with vegetables and covered with a layer of cheddar cheese and crunchy flakes of ham, almost spills over the sides of the plate. The poached eggs, another viable breakfast option, are served atop slices of sweet brioche bread. The breakfast items at 13 are some of the best things on the menu. You can order breakfast all day except during breakfast hours, because 13 doesn't open until 10 a.m. on the weekends and 11 a.m. on weekdays. With the chef in the open kitchen quick to chat with customers about the food he's preparing, it's like dropping by a friend's house. All the dishes at 13, in fact, have the simple style of a meal whipped up by a gourmet to satisfy the hunger of friends who appeared unexpectedly looking for drinks and food.
The name 13 Monaghan honors the memory of Molly's on the Market founder Jim Monaghan, who was born and died on the 13th of the month. His son, also named Jim, inherited Molly's and opened 13 with Tim Farley on Friday, Feb. 13, 2004. The restaurant often throws a party on the 13th of every month. As if that weren't enough of the normally unlucky number, its address, 517 Frenchmen St., adds up to 13.
For a place that devotes as much space to the bar as the dining room, no one would ever mistake 13's food -- which beyond breakfast fare consists mainly of soups, salads and sandwiches -- for standard bar food. Nothing on the menu is deep-fried, half the sandwiches are served on multi-grain bread, and the closest thing to a burger and fries is a black bean patty on a bun with a side of tater tots.
For appetizers, avoid the spicy black bean dip. The thin dip lacked both spice and flavor. A better choice would be the roasted poblano pepper and potato quesadilla, with a filling like home-fried potato between two crisp wheat tortillas. The roasted vegetables with peppers and meaty eggplants, another tasty appetizer, had a light layer of olive oil and generous daubs of goat cheese.
The sandwiches at 13 are prepared simply but with quality ingredients. One night I ordered a turkey melt, a basic open-face sandwich with cheddar cheese melted over slices of turkey and a squiggle of tomato puree on top. The bread, though, was from Susan Spicer's Wild Flour bakery and the side salad included fresh tomatoes, red onions and frisee lettuce. Most of the sandwiches stay close to deli classics, although the specials might include the moist pulled-pork sandwich I tried one night. The vegetarian sandwiches feature meaty ingredients like a layer of baked, herb-rubbed tofu, or portobello mushroom with roasted pepper aioli. The vegetarian restaurant Old Dog New Trick previously occupied 13's location, and any regulars of that establishment will find enough vegetarian options on 13's menu to keep them coming back regularly.
The pizzas at 13 are the standout items on the menu. One night I tried the margarita pizza with basil and tomato. The crust's edges were nicely charred, the tomato sauce was tangy and the basil leaves were plentiful. Any of the pizzas at 13 would make a great late-night snack or, with the kitchen open until 4 a.m. daily, an early-morning meal.
All the food at 13 feels like a dish a solidly talented cook could easily make at home. The owners inherited a kitchen from Old Dog New Trick that had no oven hood, so frying and other high-heat cooking techniques were ruled out by the equipment. Whether by necessity or design, the lack of artifice and complexity in 13's food gives it the feel of a meal prepared by one friend for another. (That friend, though, would need to have on hand a full assortment of Susan Spicer breads, fresh vegetables and greens, and a few pounds of cheese.) I know people in the neighborhood who stop by 13 at least once a week; with most dishes less than $5, it might actually be cheaper than buying groceries. No wonder 13 has so many regulars. If you find yourself on Frenchmen Street primarily for the music, 13 offers a tasty, healthy option at nearly any hour of the night. You could watch Kermit Ruffins finish a set down the street and still find 13's kitchen open and ready to serve you a late-night dinner.
- Cheryl Gerber
- Simplicity at its freshest: The sandwiches at 13 MONAGHAN, like this turkey melt served with tater tots, feature bread from Susan Spicer's Wild Flour bakery.