The opening of Cafe Henri signaled a change of pace for owners Neal Bodenheimer, Kirk Estopinal and Nick Detrich, the trio best known for their ambitious beverage programs at Cure and Cane & Table. Although their newest venture caters to an audience much wider than twenty- and thirty-somethings who don’t hesitate to pay $15 for a handcrafted cocktail, that same clientele can be found at the bar at Cafe Henri seated next to the longtime Marigny resident in his sixties who can’t help but smile at the young parents bribing their toddler with French fries in order to buy a few more minutes of tranquility while they finish their burgers. A neighborhood restaurant, Cafe Henri offers the warm embrace of a welcoming dining experience across all demographics, plus remarkably uncomplicated and delicious food.
Painted sky blue and surrounded by large picture windows, the corner building that houses Cafe Henri underwent a much needed transformation to expel the demons of its former tenant, the now defunct “blogstraunt” Booty’s Street Food. White subway tile and light wood replaced the ominous black unicorn mascot and faux patina, and the globally-inspired street food smorgasbord has been succeeded by an eclectic but familiar bistro menu. Start with an order of johnny cakes served warm in a cast iron pan, or a bowl of gumbo loaded with turkey necks, crab, shrimp, sausage and giblets. More substantial preludes include an amphibious salad of fried oysters and beef carpaccio (an idiosyncratic combination that pairs wonderfully) and avocado kissed by the grill for warmth and texture and then dressed with an oily and salty mix of sautéed shallots and bacon.
Main courses include a simple pan-seared salmon filet resting atop snow peas and a thick, juicy burger on a brioche bun slathered in Russian dressing. Lasagna is constructed of fresh sheets of pasta layered with tender brisket and a restrained amount of tomato sauce and cheese. The classic steak frites is an eight-ounce flat iron drizzled with chimichurri and served with fresh-cut fries (hint: ask for a side of aioli or Russian dressing for dipping). A standalone weekend brunch/lunch menu begins with crumbly drop biscuits or cast iron cornbread smeared with butter whipped with cane syrup and progresses with an expertly executed omelet with a daily selection of fillings and a buttermilk fried chicken biscuit with enough restorative power to cure the worst of hangovers.
The cocktail list harkens back to the days before bartenders were called mixologists and most drinks had fewer than five ingredients. Patrons can indulge in a properly made Manhattan (with the house bourbon blend), a rum and (Mexican) Coke, or a (frozen) Negroni. Desserts focus on comforting favorites such as a slice of pie, chocolate tart, or warm cookies fresh from the oven. Going back to the basics has never tasted so good.