Ah, New Orleans. As we learned from our recent trip back to the Big Easy, some things never change. From the second you step foot in the French Quarter, it’s as if the city grabs you by the Mardi Gras beads and continually blasts jazz into your ear, while force-feeding you seafood, butter, and alcohol (I say this lovingly and as one of the positive aspects of the city). It’s an exhaustively fun experience that I don’t believe is replicated anywhere else in the country.
But as much fun as the debauchery of Bourbon Street is, everyone needs a break (especially that one guy we saw being carried into our hotel by his bros–he knows what I’m talking about). Everyone needs a quiet place to relax, enjoy some coffee, and reflect on the mistakes that were made the night before.
That place is Merchant, a small, zen-like crêpe shop just a few blocks from the French Quarter.
Before you even order your food, you’re met with a strikingly clean, modern design. Its serene design fits the calm atmosphere—a welcome change from the noise outside. And despite what could be a cold, sterile environment, the southern hospitality shines through and provides a warmth from the friendly staff.
The menu (which is updated based on seasonality of ingredients) mirrors the simplicity of the shop’s design, while having the complexity to make you feel as if you couldn’t get the same food anywhere else in the city. And although you can find illy brand coffee elsewhere, it’s hard to beat the capable hands of the Merchant baristas.
It will come as no surprise that this beautifully designed coffee house is co-owned by architect, Marcel Wisznia, and illy coffee distributor, Rosario Tortorice Jr. Surprisingly though, Wisznia did not design the shop, rather it was Ammar Eloueini, a Tulane professor and world-renowned designer.
I enjoy my coffee sweet and creamy (and always with whip), but for some reason while at Merchant it just feels right to order an unsweetened cappuccino. No syrups or several ounces of sugar needed. An iced cappuccino on a sweaty summer morning perks you up and quenches your thirst, while a hot cappuccino on a cool fall day warms your soul.
A good crêpe is a beautiful thing. Its popularity and simplicity has spawned many chain shops pumping out overly thick, chewy, flavorless blankets of flour. Not at Merchant. The crêpes here strike a perfect balance which help showcase the fillings. You can’t go wrong with any of their savory or sweet combinations, and although I’m typically drawn to any combination of Nutella, bananas, and berries that I’m offered, we’ve recently been wooed by the simplicity of a crêpe with granulated sugar and fresh squeezed lemon juice.
If you’re going to judge this place on anything besides crêpes, might I point you in the direction of one of their breakfast sandwiches. You can choose your own adventure as far as the bread choices, but how can you not take advantage of the quality croissants available (thank you, French influence!)? As if a buttery, slightly crisp croissant alone wasn’t enough, Merchant’s options include toppings you might find at a local farmer’s market (because most of them ARE) fresh basil, arugula, turkey, speck, fontina, soppressatta, other seasonal specials. However, the real pinnacle of breakfast deliciousness is created through the egg. A perfectly fried egg with a golden runny yolk satisfies not only your tastebuds, but also your heart.
So if you’re looking for a place to relax and forget about the prior night’s public vomiting, throbbing music, and constant barrage of gentlemen who want to guess “where you got your shoes,” head to Merchant for a cappuccino, egg sandwich, and lemon crêpe. It may not cure your hurricane hangover, but it’s a great start.