Conjure the image of the small neighborhood grocery and I bet the picture in your mind looks pretty appealing – something hands on and small scale, with character and personality between the register and the grocery aisles.
As a business plan, though, maybe the classic neighborhood market these days looks like a flourish of old-fashioned retail romanticism.
After all, we live in an era of superstore groceries by the pallet and online services that can drop the fixings for whole meals at your door without a human interaction in the mix.
However, there are still small neighborhood groceries going against the grain – and New Orleans has lately given us two very different examples along the same theme. One is Simone’s Market, which opened on Oak Street around Christmastime. The other is Matassa’s Market, a French Quarter grocery that goes back more than 90 years, which very nearly closed last year, but which is now back with a new look, a new plan and plenty of new flavors between the familiar standbys.
First, the new addition. Simone’s Market. It’s part of the cluster of storefront businesses that gives Oak Street the feel of a small town Main Street, and this grocery certainly fits the scale. It’s small. You can stand by the bins of Belle Chasse citrus in the produce section and holler shopping list updates to your spouse all the way across the room, by the case of deviled egg salad and lamb pot pies.
Simone’s Market is a grocery that stocks the usual staples, but there are a lot of Louisiana names on the products labels here. It feels curated, and like there’s a story behind every other item on the shelves and in the coolers. Still, there’s shopping, and then there’s eating, and Simone’s is a grocery with a deli run by a chef. For a taste of how this stacks up, try the smoked fried chicken thigh sandwich or the Scotch eggs – hardboiled, encased in sausage, fried.
The deli is the focal point for what’s new at Matassa’s Market, down in the Quarter. But the first thing you’ll notice here is the look. The once cramped little grocery has been remodeled, and behind the scenes the Matassa family has a new partner in the business who comes from the Vincent’s Restaurant family.
This grocery was started in 1924. The founder’s son, Cosimo Matassa, became a renowned recording engineer, with a hand in countless essential New Orleans songs. The family market, meanwhile, chugged along through the generations. But as the French Quarter has changed, as more tourists have replaced neighborhood residents, this old neighborhood grocery was struggling. It nearly closed. But now it’s back, with that renovation under its belt and a deli restyled as a little back-room eatery.
You can still get po-boys and breakfast biscuits and the unchanging daily specials – red beans on Monday, turkey dinner on Sunday. But now there’s a burger at Matassa’s developed by the food truck Burgers Ya Heard. There’s pizza and there’s Italian sandwiches, like the “Cosimo,” with cured meats, oily artichokes and arugula. The name Cosimo of course makes it a tribute sandwich for the New Orleans music legend. And a market that’s come back from the brink, that’s music to my ears.
1001 Dauphine St., 504-412-8700
8201 Oak St., 504-273-7706