Food & Drink

Inside NOLA’s Newest Neighborhood Joint

Get a taste of Thalia, the new restaurant from the acclaimed duo behind Coquette

photo: Courtesy of Thalia

Thalia, a new restaurant opening this week in New Orleans.

There’s an affable femininity to Thalia, the new New Orleans restaurant by acclaimed chefs Kristen Essig and her partner/co-chef Michael Stoltzfus, who have owned and operated the nearby Coquette for a decade. At Coquette, diners find chandeliers, old brick, and mahogany spread across two floors of dining, while at Thalia, the design—from the physical space to the menu—is meant to be breezier, more affordable, and lower-key. The single room’s sunny, pale-yellow walls extend 20-plus feet up to a lofty ceiling, the barstools have lavender metal legs, and large, glittery folk art by local artist Devin de Wulf occupies a prominent position. After a delay in July for Hurricane Barry, which mercifully caused less damage than feared, the restaurant is finally set to open on Tuesday, August 6.

photo: Courtesy of Thalia

Chef Kristen Essig at Thalia’s colorful entrance.

 “We wanted something that felt great, and that was first-and-foremost for the community and the neighborhood,” says Essig, who will now most frequently be at the helm of Thalia, though both chefs plan to switch between their restaurants. The menu includes fun flourishes of Southern cuisine. Essig’s Blackened Catfish a la Veracruz is served with Louisiana long grain rice, and the Coca-Cola BBQ Shrimp comes garnished with rosemary, black pepper, and peanuts. Family-sized, shareable plates will the norm.

The building, like most in New Orleans, has a varied history. It was a boarding house and a barroom. But its most infamous tenant, from the 1930s to the ’60s, was the Shamrock Tavern. “This was one of the last segregated bars in New Orleans,” Essig says, pointing out two, rough-wood support beams. They look stark against the restaurant’s colorful palette. “Those posts held the wall that separated the black diners from the white diners during the time of segregation,” she says. “We do not want to cover these beams, or paint them, or change them in any way. We want to drive that story of what used to be and of how far we’ve come.”

Eager to bring brighter days to the space, Essig and Stoltzfus focused on creating a vibe that is intentionally family-friendly and accessible in price point (dinner entrees from $18), as well as entirely accessible. “Both our restaurants are ADA compliant,” Essig says, “and we had our tables built in Thalia specifically so that someone in a wheelchair can sit anywhere.” 

A second-but-equal focus is to significantly lower the environmental impact of food waste in both of their restaurants. “I do not believe it would be possible for us to truly be a zero-waste restaurant,” Essig continues, “but we are a 40-seat space, rather than our 120 seats at Coquette. That smaller footprint allows us to lower the cost on everything and to use every single thing that we buy. We built the menu for Thalia around the trimmings from Coquette. One example is our short rib. It’s cured for 24 hours and smoked over pecan wood and braised. We will be taking the scraps and trimmings from that preparation at Coquette that previously would have been tossed, and we are grinding them for our Bolognese sauce. It’s then folded with pureed chicken liver.” 

photo: Courtesy of Thalia

The house bolognese.

The house Bolognese recipe is one she’s developed over time, in her own home, and for Garden & Gun, she made a simpler-at-home substitution of ground beef instead of the braised short rib. She’s fond of cooking this recipe for loved ones. It makes a much more thoughtful gift than a bottle of wine, and Essig always has small batches waiting in her freezer. The sauce is rustic, hearty, comforting, and caloric. At Thalia, she serves it over a house-made gemelli. 

“It’s perfect atop pasta, but you can also serve it with rice with an egg or over spätzle,” she offers. “You could certainly put this on top of nachos. It’s fantastic to batch in large quantities,” she says, “because it freezes so well. You can then take portions over when someone has a new baby or has lost a loved one. It’s comfort food at its finest, and I hope it’s going to become a favorite at Thalia for our regulars.”


Chef Kristen Essig’s Big-Batch Bolognese

The house Bolognese sauce at Thalia, NOLA’s newest neighborhood joint, is an old-school, comforting recipe—as at-home on noodles as it is on nachos

Ingredients

  • Makes 9 quarts

  • For the meat mixture:

    • 3 lb. pork shoulder, roughly cubed

    • 4 lb. boneless chicken thighs, roughly cubed

    • 10 cloves garlic, chopped

    • 5 medium onions, chopped

    • 4 medium carrots, chopped

    • 3 sprigs rosemary, stripped

    • 6 sprigs marjoram or oregano, stripped

    • 9 sprigs thyme, stripped

  • For the sauce:

    • ½ cup of oil, blended (3 parts canola, 1 part extra virgin olive oil)

    • 6 cups milk

    • 6 cups white wine

    • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

    • 36 oz. tomato paste (6 6-oz. cans)

    • 12 cups chicken stock

    • 4 medium carrots, chopped

    • 5 celery stalks, chopped

    • 2 medium onions, chopped

    • 2 lb. ground beef

    • 4 oz. chicken livers, pureed


Preparation

  1. For the meat mixture:

    Toss together the pork, chicken thighs, garlic, onion, carrot, rosemary, marjoram or oregano, and thyme leaves in a mixing bowl. Combine well.

  2. Using the grinder attachment on a stand mixer, fitted with a medium plate, grind all ingredients together. (Note: Alternatively, you can buy pre-ground chicken thighs and ground pork and pulse with the vegetables and herbs in a food processor.)

  3. For the sauce:

    Add the oil to a large Dutch oven and heat over medium-high. Once the oil is hot, add the ground meat and vegetable mixture. Stir often to avoid burning. Cook through. 

  4. Add the milk and reduce heat to simmer. Stirring occasionally, reduce by three-fourths. This should take approximately 25 to 30 minutes. 

  5. Add the white wine and reduce again by three-fourths, for another 15 to 20 minutes. Season well with the salt and pepper.

  6. Add tomato paste. Cook down for an additional 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

  7. Add the chicken stock, chopped carrot, celery, onion, ground beef and liver puree. Cook until almost all the chicken stock has been absorbed. Taste for seasoning, and adjust accordingly.

  8. Chill properly, label, date and refrigerate.

Recipe from chef Kristen Essig of Thalia in New Orleans


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