Designated Diner: A vegan education at Press Street Station
Designated Diner: Kelley Crawford, author of Artists in Their Own Words, a weekly column of offbeat interviews with creative people for NolaVie.
Day job: Senior Lead Mentor at Pearson Education, composition professor at Bard Early College, vice-president of Shotgun Cinema, writer, young adult novelist, and cycles around the city on her bike Blue Steel.
Restaurant chosen: Press Street Station, 5 Press Street.
Its culinary MO: The cafe supports New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, and students from its Culinary Arts program serve as onsite interns and have dishes on the menu. The chef is James Cullen, who previously ran the kitchen at Trèo in Mid-City; he's also is in charge of NOCCA's Boxcar food truck, which is usually parked near school grounds. Fresh produce is delivered daily from NOCCA's Press Street Garden. Though kind of an all-day brunch place, the home-baked breads and desserts alone make it more than an egg station.
What Kelley looks for on the menu: She went vegan (she consumes nothing animal-based) four years ago, after subsisting on trail mix and power bars during a backpacking trek in Canada. I had had exuma and a lot of joint problems from soccer, she says, and suddenly everything went away. I haven't been sick since. But a plant-based menu is not de rigeur. I have no trouble ordering at regular restaurants. You can always have a salad, and usually they'll make something for you. Everyone is always nice about it. And don't give me fake food. Faux turkey? No thanks.
What else Kelley looks for: Lighting is big. Like the Cellar Door -- the outside looks tastefully spooky, so it was enough to make me go in. I like restaurants like this with big garage doors, because of the light. And anything with a gas lantern has my name on it. I don't like rude, and look for wait staff that's interactive. I want to be with happy people. Food is social interaction, so I'm like Dr. Bob: Be nice or leave.
Worth shouting about: The sweet tea and hibiscus lemonade, both frozen drinks concocted from concentrates made in-house. The waitress told me the hibiscus was not quite ready because it's crystalizing. When you tell me things like that, I'm in. And the sweet tea is happiness in a mason jar.
What else: The grilled peach salad, with the eponymous summer fruit, arugula, pickled red onions, sweet and spicy pecans, and goat cheese (made without the latter in this instance). Dressed with a Steen’s Cane Syrup vinaigrette. Best way I've had peaches this summer.
And: The summer squash panini, with roasted red peppers, fresh mozzarella (ditto on hold the cheese) and arugula on house-made foccacia. See note on peaches above.
Sweet tooth: Desserts are made onsite and change weekly. A giant swath of pineapple almond cake was generous and sweet. I like old-fashioned desserts, and these comply.
Ambiance: The space is open and airy, with a vaulted, beamed ceiling, expansive window glass and a skylight. It's light, cheerful and minimalist without being Spartan. Concrete floors and brick walls add texture. The space works well with the menu: Both are creative, light, and contemporary.
Bottom line: It's always fun to dine creatively, in an appealing space, and for a good cause. Education like this is sweet indeed.
Renee Peck is editor of NolaVie. Email her at [email protected]