For restaurants attempting to find innovative ways to stand out, one trend is to combine modern techniques and sophisticated flavor combinations with nostalgia. Notable local dishes in this arena recently have included foie gras cotton candy, sashimi ice cream cones and gourmet hot dogs, all of which pluck at childhood heartstrings while showing off something novel.
Enter District Donuts.Sliders.Brew, a recent addition to a growing Magazine Street restaurant scene. Its focus is clear by the name: freshly made donuts, as well as miniature burgers, french fries and the like. The "brew" part of the title refers not to beer but coffee. There's also soft-serve ice cream, which goes in soda, milk or coffee floats.
District is a modern version of the classic neighborhood malt shop, only instead of formica tables, a Wurlitzer jukebox and soda jerks in paper hats, there are naked Edison lightbulbs, exposed brick walls, iPods and baristas with sleeve tattoos.
The contemporary decor is casual and comfortable, whether one is sitting on a stool at the long wooden bar or in one of the few booths.
District gets crowded in the morning, so expect to wait for donuts and other breakfast fare such as biscuits or kolaches. After 11 a.m., the lunch wait can be just as long, especially on weekends. The question then, of course, is whether it's all worth the patience.
The donuts, baked fresh throughout the day, range from simple to very fancy. Simple choices like glazed and chocolate frosted were a joy, and not on the small side. The fancier fare was uneven. A banana pudding donut oozed flavorful cream that contrasted nicely with the texture of the dough, but a maple Sriracha option had subtle flavors that were overpowered by a topping of candied thyme. With choices including "Vietnamese coffee," "five spice," and "passion fruit with chocolate mousse and cocoa nibs," those searching for curious flavor combos won't be disappointed.
There's something very wholesome and wonderful about a perfectly executed little burger — a single handful of America — and here District does not disappoint. Its cheeseburgers, featuring Creekstone Farms beef, hit that nostalgia spot dead on. I easily could have plowed through four of them, though two turned out to be plenty, especially when paired with hot, salty waffle fries. The fried chicken slider, made with thigh meat, was similarly enjoyable and nicely complemented by candied jalapenos. Featured sliders, including fried oyster with tarragon aioli and cracklings, as well as a BLT with thick-cut bacon, tomatoes and arugula, also were a hit. Unfortunately, the lone vegetarian option — lemongrass chili tofu with a vegetable medley on Bibb lettuce — was bland.
District's extensive beverage list is worth noting, particularly the stellar cold-brewed iced coffee (available in growlers, if you you want to carry home 64 ounces of it) and the intriguing nitrogen-infused brew — thick with a frothy head that makes it more like a pint of Guinness than a cup of joe.
District's stab at modernizing the malt shop works out nicely, and — judging by the lines — has quickly become a welcome addition to the Lower Garden District.