Traditional Turkish food finds a nontraditional setting along rejuvenating St. Claude Avenue inside the multi-modal Healing Center.
Fatoush serves a lot of hummus and falafel. But this casual, everyday eatery in the Marigny is a Turkish restaurant, so if you approach it like your typical kebab joint you’re in for a surprise.
Instead of pita and you get pide, formed either into crusty round rolls for dipping or as flatbread stuffed with lamb or vegetables like long, open-faced calzones. Dolmas might be the usual stuffed grape leaves, or they might be stuffed bell peppers. And if the familiar moussaka served at local Greek restaurants resembles lasagna, the Turkish version served at Fatoush is more like a casserole of thinly-sliced vegetables awash in olive oil, lemon and ground beef and baked under a tangy cap of bubbling kashkaval cheese.
But perhaps the biggest surprise for first-time visitors is Fatoush’s setting inside the Healing Center. After all, this is traditional Turkish food in a nontraditional setting.
The Healing Center is a sprawling new multi-purpose complex on St. Claude Avenue that’s also home to an organic grocery, a bookstore, a music club, a fitness center, wellness and self-improvement programs, the offices of local nonprofit agencies, a police substation and a voodoo shop. With its multi-modal design, its abundant, whitewashed open spaces and the craft tables and art displays that so frequently turn up in its atrium, the Healing Center seems like the student union from a mid-sized university plunked in the center of St. Claude Avenue, that gritty, though now increasingly artsy commercial strip running here between the Marigny and St. Roch neighborhoods.
Fatoush may be unique for New Orleans, but it seems to fit well in the Healing Center’s unique setting. Up front, there’s a sunny coffee shop with a sandwich menu and a case of pastries, while the main restaurant is in back, under a drop ceiling partially camouflaged by a fleet of paper lanterns. There’s a circular flow to the Healing Center, so sit down with a plate of imam bayildi, an aromatic Turkish classic of pan-fried eggplant filled with peppers, tomatoes and onions, and you might see yoga students with neatly rolled mats cutting through the dining room. People are always studying here, or convening small meetings over plates of grilled squid and lamb chops or with cups of tea and honeyed squares of baklava.
Fatoush is the nickname of proprietress Fatma Aydin, a native of Turkey who has operated restaurants around New Orleans for close to 30 years, starting with Mona Lisa restaurant, the French Quarter pizza joint she opened back in the 1980s while still in college. Her chef, Hakki Erce, is also Turkish and he runs his kitchen with a modern sensibility. Meats are sourced from local farmers, and Erce even grinds beef and lamb together for his own house-made gyros. The result, piled in crisp-edged slices on those crusty pide rolls, has a little more flavor than the standard, processed gyro and a great deal more satisfaction for people who care to track the origins of their meals.
Fatoush is a new kind of restaurant for its neighborhood, though it seems in synch with downtown’s momentum. The unaccustomed sight of twenty-somethings just openlyusing laptops at Fatoush’s café tables right there on the sidewalk of St. Claude Avenue could stop more traffic than the Press Street tracks. But change is everywhere around here these days, even on the gyro spit.
2372 St. Claude Ave., New Orleans, 504-371-5074; www.fatoushrestaurantnola.com