The Fresh Factor
Since opening The Munch Factory, chef Jordan Ruiz, who had stints at Commander’s Palace and Ralph’s on the Park before venturing with his wife and business partner Alexis Pearson Ruiz to open the Gentilly-area eatery, has been pleasing patrons’ palates with delicious classic and contemporary Creole cuisine.
The menu features classics like shrimp and grits, blackened red fish and Nola cakes (Chef Jordan’s remoulade sauce atop lightly sautéed crab cakes) along with a few surprises and twists like Aunt Irma’s Hawaiian Tuna Salad, which features mixed greens, carrots, cucumbers, avocado, toasted sesame seeds and seared tuna tossed in Hawaiian dressing and topped with wonton strips or the chef’s take on a tasty and timeless New Orleans treat—Munch Factory Beignets. Instead of drenched in powdered sugar, these crispy donuts are covered in a drizzle of caramel, condensed milk and chocolate sauce.
To be sure, they must be doing something right. The Gentilly eatery has been so successful that in September of 2012, the Ruiz’s moved from their original Franklin Avenue location, which was a bit cramped, to more spacious digs at 6325 Elysian Fields.
“We have a wonderful parking area that we didn’t have before,” Alexis Ruiz says. In addition to the increased space, also new to the Elysian Fields location is a full-service bar offering a wide selection of beer, wine, champagne, cordials and specialty cocktails.
Though it might seem as if the Ruizes were destined to walk a path to restaurant ownership, the couple sort of happened into the business.
Alexis and Jordan met in college. Alexis earned a degree in international studies. Jordan studied computer science. And while they were working on their degrees, they also worked in restaurants just to make extra money—Alexis mostly as a hostess, Jordan as a cook. He liked it so much so that he decided to attend culinary school, graduating from the Culinary Institute of America in New York.
“We decided that after he got out, we would open a restaurant,” Alexis says.
And in April 2011, the couple did just that, first on Franklin and now to its expanded space on Elysian Fields—but still in the heart of Gentilly. In fact, Alexis says when they opened about two years ago, it was with neighborhoods in and around Gentilly in mind.
Alexis Ruiz says she wanted to provide Gentilly-area residents with a truly local, casual dining option that the community had been lacking, adding that she believes The Munch Factory has played a role in the revitalization of the area since Hurricane Katrina.
“A lot of people are here and they need some really good, fresh food,” she says. Being a neighborhood restaurant, we don’t get the tourist traffic; but we have been very supported by the Gentilly neighborhood.”
In fact, the restaurateurs say moving to the new location would not have been possible without the support of loyal customers. Munch Factory is open Tuesdays through Fridays from 11:30 a.m. until 9 p.m. and on Saturdays from 5 p.m. until 9 p.m., serving fresh food prepared one order at a time.
And when Jordan and Alexis say “fresh”, they mean fresh.
“Every single thing we make is from scratch and to order,” says Jordan Ruiz. “From the salad dressing, homemade mayonnaise, seafood stock—everything is prepared in the kitchen. All chicken is de-boned by hand. There are no canned products, and nothing is frozen. Our fish are often caught the same day.”
The Munch Factory regularly receives rave reviews from customers and food critics alike.
“We believe people taste the quality in our food,” says Alexis Ruiz. “And that’s the goal. We want to create a family atmosphere and offer great food.”
Reprinted from The New Orleans Blackbook.