“I have always loved this building,” says Tom Branighan, the executive chef of new restaurant MaMou on North Rampart Street, in New Orleans. “There’s something so inviting about an old corner-store space in the French Quarter.”
The darling one-room spot, which formerly housed Meauxbar, received a refresh with splashes of fuchsia and emerald green courtesy of the design team Jennie West and Jason Richards of Studio West. Thickets of faux flowers now dangle from the ceiling of the intimate, forty-two-seat room, and a long stretch of custom wine refrigerators spans the front wall. Those are the domain of Branighan’s business partner, the sommelier Molly Wismeier, formerly of Restaurant R’evolution.
The duo has created a space in MaMou that testifies to both of their careers, with Wismeier contributing a grand list of enviable bottles and a rotating, Coravin-poured selection of rare labels, and Branighan nodding to his culinary journey—from Emeril’s New Orleans, to the Culinary Institute of America, to the Michelin-rated Café Boulud and Bouley in New York City, as well as Lacroix in Philadelphia—with the bill of fare.
“We have many straightforward, French plates on the menu like the poisson a la Florentine, which comes with a caviar beurre blanc,” Branighan says of MaMou, which is named for his great-grandmother. “However, we also wanted to imagine the city through a new lens. What would our dishes look like if we had stayed a territory of France?”
Those reimaginations include the Gulf fish “Court Bouillon” with oyster dressing and rouille, and his best-selling starter: braised celery hearts with smoked beef tongue. “I think it’s the most interesting dish on the menu,” Branighan says. “Our bar washes whiskey in butter. We then take that butter back and emulsify it with tomato. It’s a sauce poured over the smoked beef tongue pastrami, atop a celery that we get a nice sear on before braising in celery and tomato broth.”
But perhaps the most comforting dish to emerge from this old-world French gastronomy meets hearty, rustic Louisiana ingredients is the red bean cassoulet. For the unctuous, savory, creamy dish, the beans get braised slow and low until barely al dente, releasing hard-earned nuances of pickling juice and hot sauce, and then topped with toasted crumbles of cornbread.
“I developed this dish over about two years of the pandemic,” Branighan explains. “We would have friends over, socially distanced, of course. Making red beans is just something you do in New Orleans. Whenever I cook them, I like to make cornbread with pickled jalapeños on the side. Then, I season the red beans with the pickling juice. We make our beans a little soupier, like a traditional cassoulet. I decided to put it on the menu, and I was speaking to someone and trying to figure out how to finish it. That person suggested doing slices of headcheese on top. It made complete sense, as the headcheese sort of slowly melts into the red beans.”
That’s how Branighan serves the cassoulet at MaMou, but he notes that headcheese is not necessary for the at-home version, which he shares below. If you can get to a specialty meat shop for a few, thin slices of it, though, you won’t regret the effort.