Tiki-inspired cocktail bars are having a moment, and Beachbum Berry's Latitude 29, which was named recently to Esquire's list of the nation's top bars, gives New Orleans a top-notch contender. Jeff "Beachbum" Berry's homage to all things tiki shows what tiki can be — with an emphasis on quality ingredients and recipes instead of kitsch appeal.
Housed on the ground floor of the Bienville Hotel, the lounge's rum-heavy drinks and island-themed decor are a testament to mid-century tiki cocktail culture and evidence of Berry's expertise on the subject.
Professor Remsberg's Punch, a nod to local rum collector Stephen Remsberg, mixes Guadeloupean rum, lime and a Caribbean spiced syrup. Garnished with a lime twist and served over a single large ice cube, the drink tastes similar to a classic daiquiri but gets subtle heat from the spices in the syrup. Fresh mint, pineapple, lime and honey combine in the Missionary's Downfall, an icy blended drink (made with peach brandy and either rum or vodka) that is refreshing and potent.
There are classic and rare recipes, many of which pay tribute to tiki legends Don the Beachcomber and Trader Vic. All drinks are presented beautifully, often decorated with fresh flowers and impressive ice creations.
While there's no question the drinks are the focus of the show here, cocktails of this caliber — and high alcohol content — beg for a worthy accompaniment and executive chef Chris Shortall has made an ambitious pitch with his menu of Polynesian-inspired dishes.
Crispy slices of taro root are seasoned with curry powder and fried to deep golden brown. The chips have a warm, nutty aroma and are well-complemented by two accompanying sauces: creamy Sriracha mayonnaise and briny kimchi ketchup.
Dumplings come in burger form: the pork and cabbage filling is shaped into a patty, grilled and served on a seaweed-laced bun. The burger, which exudes flavors of garlic and ginger, arrives charred and tastes wonderfully porky. A dunk into the "black magic" — a garlic and soy sauce mixture speckled with green onions — helps balance its richness while adding notes of umami.
A quarter rack of St. Louis-style pork ribs is cooked for 24 hours before getting crisped and glazed. The ribs are tossed in thick soy reduction that adds slow-building heat with each bite but doesn't overwhelm the flavor.
A creamy pasta dish pays tribute to a Hawaiian blue-plate staple, macaroni salad. Noodles are tossed with pickled turnips and shredded carrots, smothered in a creamy mayonnaise mixture and peppered with flecks of fresh basil. Shortall's adaptation includes pineapple Creole mustard, which cuts some of the heavier aspects of the dish.
Most of the small plates and appetizers hit the mark, but some dinner options fall short. On a recent visit, a Caesar salad topped with fried calamari was a disappointment. Wilted Romaine leaves were weighed down with too much dressing and the lukewarm fried squid topping the salad tasted only slightly less stale than the toasted sesame croutons tossed haphazardly on the plate.
A dish of chilled buckwheat soba noodles arrived beautifully presented — tightly coiled in a mound topped with thin slices of radish, corn kernels and microgreens. Unfortunately, the noodles, which are coated in an avocado and grape seed oil emulsion, were gummy.
A number of sandwiches provide good fodder for soaking up one too many cocktails, and the best is the Hawaiian Cuban, a South Pacific riff on the Latin staple. A generous wedge of pork belly that has been slow-roasted with honey to a deep caramel color is combined with ham, cream cheese and Creole mustard between thick slices of pineapple bread, which the chefs make in house.
The short dessert menu includes Key lime and roasted pineapple cake from local layer cake maker Debbie Does Doberge. But diners would fare just as well by taking their dessert in liquid form and finishing off the evening with one of Latitude 29's fantastic nightcaps.