I had been working in restaurants since I was a teenager, so it was important to us to give people in the industry somewhere to go when their shift is over that serves the whole menu, not just a limited late-night thing.” Limited it’s not, but the spread isn’t overwhelming either.
Divided into snacks, bruschettas, and small plates, McCabe-Johnston’s menu is eclectic with a bit of a French twist. I’d recommend ordering two plates per person and making your own little painter’s palette of food with a spoonful or slice from each dish.
Then get a bit of freshness and crunch with the lively market salad, which is subject to change but for now features figs, fennel, dry jack cheese, and a vinegar-heavy dressing made with walnuts. Finally, get into the real meat of the meal with the braised pork shoulder (Brasa’s influence really comes out in this dish) with roasted red peppers atop little squares of stiffened grits.
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Carrie McCabe Johnston and her husband Jasha Johnston dreamt of a little place of their own for over a decade. But as these things go, they had to wait for the right place at the right time. Imbibing at the CC Club one night, the couple said they kept glancing over at the gutted convenience store at 26th Street West and Lyndale Avenue. “That’s it,” they agreed.
You’ll find some subtle NOLA influences throughout, like the shrimp and grits that will appear on the eventual brunch menu, but there’s also a blue booth that Carrie discovered at a beloved New Orleans eatery. She handed that one image to Kate, and the designer got busy. “She also told me that she liked mid-century modern mixed with vintage, and she loves New Orleans, so I just started Googling words and images,” Kate says. “I Googled thousands of them. Finally I came up with this one image.”
That’s where those comfy blue booths come in, as does buttery white upholstery on the chairs and barstools that pop against the otherwise dark room. Wood floors give the effect that the place has been around forever, which is where the classic part of the equation comes in. “We had to be very careful about that—so it will stand the test of time,” Kate says
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That mentality kicks off with the kinds of nibbles that naturally pair up with the bar’s libations: addictive olives, well-appointed cheese and charcuterie plates, a few fresh oysters and creamy, dill-flecked deviled eggs garnished with a luxurious caviar finish. They’re all fine; terrific, even. But then the real fun starts.
The spectacular meatballs could be the centerpiece of a first-rate red sauce joint, that’s how good they are, an almost pillowy blend of chuck roast and pork shoulder, milk and Parmesan, served in a lively, marjoram-packed tomato sauce. Because McCabe-Johnston rarely repeats herself, it’s difficult to grow restless, although the reasonable prices will encourage repeat visits.
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This Uptown small plates eatery is a labor of love for the couple, who fuel their enterprise with culinary careers that include stints at the renowned haute cuisine / sophisticated famille fare duo of Alma and Brasa (Carrie) and 14 years of bartending at Mortimer’s (Jasha). And when it came to putting together the restaurant’s beer menu, they found another love story at the heart of a beer brand that they’ve turned into the Nightingale hallmark: Boom Island Brewing Company, the Belgian-style beer made and sold by Qiuxia and Kevin Welch. “They came out here and we did a tasting with them, and it was husband and wife, doing their thing, and husband and wife, doing our thing,” recalls McCabe-Johnston. “It was great seeing people living their dream as a couple. It mirrored what we’re doing here.”
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