Sneaky Pickle is a quizzical restaurant name that always seemed to fit this one.
It started in 2014 as a tiny, rambling, smart place that was impossible to box up like any type of restaurant. A lengthy menu on vegan dishes – (cashew) macaroni and cheese, Buffalo tofu, Reubens smoked tempeh – still made room for a burger just made with locally sourced beef and seafood from local fishermen.
Chef Ben Tabor arrived at the style by focusing on the best quality food he could get and finding ways to make it accessible at neighborhood restaurant level. This paves the way for creative preparations and less familiar flavors, with vegetables very often in the spotlight.
Today, this ambidextrous approach has become even more varied, robust and multifaceted – and even difficult to pin down.
Last year, Sneaky Pickle moved a few blocks to a new home in the Bywater, a long-dormant space once known as Maurepas Foods. The short move represents a quantum leap in what this restaurant can be by adding a dual identity called Bar Brine.
Today, Sneaky Pickle is the midday version and Bar Brine takes over at dinner. Run by the same people under the same roof, Bar Brine is a higher version of the ideas Tabor first established for Sneaky Pickle.
It incorporates new partners, new talent and far-reaching ideas for where local flavors can go, framed in a stylish and vibrant setting, complete with a destination-worthy bar.
Bar Brine’s dinner menu features more seafood and meat — including a charcuterie platter — but about half of the evening dishes are vegan.
In the kitchen, Tabor and Executive Chef Richard Jackson can achieve surprisingly robust flavors from seemingly humble ingredients.
Haruki turnips are finished with savory granola, providing a toasted nutty crunch against the vegetable’s freshness. Thin heirloom carrots are topped with crumbled Brazil nuts, ignited with gochujang, Korean hot sauce, and brightened with citrus.
Royal trumpet mushrooms make for a truly meaty entrée, with slashed surfaces and beautifully seared with garlicky pistachio pesto, all on a bed of oatmeal enriched with cashew cream.
A few of the lunch dishes also make the dinner menu – like the burger, which is all good – coarsely ground patty, bun, bacon, pickles and especially the fries on the side; and vegan Reuben, which provides the crisp, tangy, creamy appeal of the deli classic, with the springy, fermented chew of tempeh replacing the beef.
One of the niches explored by the dinner menu is the homemade pasta, and among these, the black squid ink noodles with prawns, crab and chilli are spectacular.
Hand-pulled and almost as wide as lasagna sheets, these velvety, twisty noodles just keep unraveling as you turn your fork, and the flavors also keep developing, developing, and compounding. It tastes by turns Italian, Creole and Szechuan, between the slow combustion of the heat of chilli, the sweet freshness of shrimp and crab and the brackish flavor of noodles.
Much of Bar Brine’s fish comes from Lance Naciothe bayou country fisherman who is a leading advocate for a diverse and sustainable fishery.
It represented a whole pink porgy on a first visit – a perfectly sized fish to split, meaty and succulent, crossed with smoky grill marks and richly dressed in olive oil and herbs.
Other types of seafood may only arrive one or two fish at a time, something rare in the trade that fishermen have brought, and these often become one-night crudo specialties. When was the last time you saw butterflyfish on a menu in New Orleans? It’s the kind of thing you can find here from night to night.
Sneaky Pickle remains a good value, with all regular menu items under $15. The Bar Brine menu follows suit, with most of the regular menu (except for a steak and a scallop dish) under $20.
Raising the bar
Sneaky Pickle and Bar Brine are family run, and Tabor sometimes describes the two concepts’ relationship as siblings.
In addition to his partner Olivia Clarkson, the chef’s brother Luke Tabor and his wife Michelle Fryer are now part of the company. They previously ran a highly respected cocktail bar in Providence, Rhode Island, and they’ve made the bar a focal point at Bar Brine (and, of course, Sneaky Pickle for daytime drinks).
The drink list is enticing enough to warrant a visit just for the cocktails.
The Bar Brine martini is a signature drink that lives up to its name. It doubles down on the idea of a dirty martini, with a shot of olive juice and also seaweed bitters amplifying its essence of salty air, plus a little sherry to smooth things over. It’s also fun; the cocktail comes with a chilled glass on the side that looks like a miniature salad bar of accessories to garnish as you go.
The Flatbush sour is a riff on the New York sour, here replacing the whiskey with Haitian rum and a float of the Dominican brew mamajuana, to further correlate it with the tropics.
This is a restaurant that can bring your flavors you never saw coming and also provide house standards that have their own sequel to the Sneaky Pickle era.
Although the day/night names are different, I think of this place as a whole. It’s the one that encapsulates much of the modern ethos and energy of contemporary dining in New Orleans. And he does it naturally, convinced that local, different and fresh can be accessible. It’s also attractive here.
3200 Burgundy St., (504) 218-5651
Lunch and dinner Thu.-Mon.