The Chicory House is a new cafe at The Rink in the Garden District | Food and drink | Weekly Gambit
There’s something new and tasty happening at The Rink, the collection of shops that’s been a staple of the Garden District for decades. Built at 2725 Prytania St. on the site of the Crescent City ice rink around 1884, the 19,000-square-foot mini-mall changed hands in 2019, but the pandemic overshadowed its transformation.
The Chicory House restaurant is a project of Barkley Rafferty and Carroll Gelderman, Garden District residents who also bought the popular Garden District Book Shop last year. The renovation ditched the dark, dusty spaces in favor of a new, bright and luminous ice rink. In July, the new bespoke restaurant opened with Executive Chef Martha Gilreath at the helm.
Gilreath, 39, is a Northshore native who grew up near Houston. Gilreath has worked in restaurants since he was 16 and served as valedictorian of the fourth class of the New Orleans Culinary & Hospitality Institute (NOCHI). Drawn to food thanks to her mother, who cooked the family dinner for her brood of six every night, Gilreath has a steady hand at Chicory House, crafting a scratch menu of breads, granola bowls, entrees for the breakfast, pressed sandwiches and salads. She loves simplicity and fresh ingredients, and her cooking is elevated and comforting.
“We interviewed several chefs, and Martha was the only one who really understood what we wanted to do,” says Rafferty. “Martha cooks beautiful, delicious food in a hybrid restaurant with counter and table service. We love linen napkins and genuine silverware. We grew up with Still Perkin’ so, of course, we have great coffee. But we are much more than a café.
Under the new owners, the physical space of the rink was reconfigured, with a bank taking over what was Still Perkin’ family space. The street-side Mignon children’s clothing store has moved, leaving a large building footprint for The Chicory House’s kitchen and dining room, which includes outdoor seating on the porch.
Rafferty and Gelderman’s plan is to cross-promote between the bookstore and the restaurant, creating author and catered events in the building’s bright central atrium.
In his new position, Gilreath leads a team of five serving an all-day menu. One of the bakers featured in Matt Haines’ “The Big Book of King Cake,” she came to a bookstore event last season to sell her McKenzie-inspired satsuma-flavored brown butter-iced royal cake. Rafferty and Gelderman flipped his cake.
“I didn’t know which direction I was going to go, but I knew I didn’t want to work for another chef anymore,” says Gilreath. “The universe just opened up, and after cooking for them, Barkley and Carroll offered me this job.”
Gilreath is candid about his past, a difficult road that included homelessness and drug addiction. She is now proudly approaching three years of sobriety. “Pastry is such a structured and precise art,” she says. “It has been very good for me.”
Its pastries are revealing for lovers of sweets. Cases are filled with Pumpkin Ginger White Cookies, Apple Brownie Blondies, Cereal Milk Cookies and Candied Bacon Pecan Scones. She makes bagels, cookies, sourdough and a white country bread whose thick slices adorn the sandwiches.
The Gayle sandwich includes house-smoked Creole ham, crispy andouille, and Grisontaler cheese from St. James Cheese Co. There are also vegetarian options, like the Go-Go, which is a white bean and vegetable hummus . Gilreath’s pimiento cheese is called chirping cheese, made from smoked mascarpone, white cheddar, smoked paprika and marinated and charred peppers, and it’s available as a sandwich or side dish.
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Tasty breakfast sandwiches are served on a homemade English muffin, like the Julia, with potatoes, bacon, cheddar and green tomato chow chow. Salads are tossed with seasonal fruits, nuts, ancient grains and vinaigrettes made with candied lemon and local blackberries. Soups will simmer as the weather cools.
There’s also a kids’ menu with grilled cheese, a ham sandwich, and buttery noodles made with home-cultured butter. And on game days, look for purple and gold cookies for LSU, where Gilreath’s father was a teacher for 41 years.
“We are so thrilled with how the neighborhood has welcomed us,” Rafferty said. “Neither of us have a restaurant background – I was a teacher and Carroll worked in film. This is 100% new to us. We learned a lot. It was an eye opener for me. We are very grateful for Martha’s experience.”