A customary tradition when visiting someone’s home in New Orleans is being offered a cold beverage, hot food, and inquiring about your family. According to Manager Jeff Hebert, that’s also what you’ll find at Herbe Sainte in Aksarben Village—a Cajun style bar and restaurant that offers some of the most authentic New Orleans cuisine in the Midwest. Hebert, a New Orleans native, said he wouldn’t hesitate to serve the restaurant’s signature dishes to his family back home. In fact, some of the biggest compliments have come from Louisiana locals.
Open now for more than two years, Herbe Sainte was one of SamFam Restaurants’ first concepts. Because of its limited space, building out a full kitchen wasn’t an option, so owner Ron Samuelson, corporate chef Jeff Owen, and Head Chef Justin Gipe chose a lighter menu: an oyster bar, salads, and muffuletta sandwiches to compliment the beer, wine, and craft cocktail menu. “Out of the gate, customers wanted food,” Samuelson said. “This style of cuisine was underserved in the area, so we needed to find a way to give them what they wanted.”
When their second restaurant concept, Della Costa, opened nine months later, they were able to utilize its full kitchen and expand the Herbe Sainte menu as well as offer desserts made at Della Costa’s bakery, Café Costa. The result is a robust menu of authentic Cajun and creole dishes such as Nola Shrimp, Gumbo, Etouffee, red beans and rice, beignets, buttermilk drop donuts, and doberge—a cake with multiple thin layers of fruit. “Working in a kitchen this small and without a fryer, we had to be selective about what we serve and think outside the box,” Samuelson said.
Coupled with the food menu is a traditional Nola craft cocktail menu, most notably for its Sazerac. “The craft cocktail movement came out of New Orleans, but we’ve demystified the craft cocktail concept,” Hebert said. “The bar is its own kitchen, with our bartenders creating their own cocktails and layering ingredients. They’re also able to make them quickly, so you don’t have the wait that often comes with traditional craft cocktail bars.” Frozen rose cocktails are also popular, especially in the summer, and are reminiscent of the drive-through daiquiri shops that are popular in New Orleans.
Whether for lunch, happy hour, dinner, or weekend brunch, the popularity of Herbe Sainte is proof of concept. The steel beams in the restaurant’s ceiling are original to the building, and the brick wall behind the bar as well as the built-in shelving were designed to give it an authentic look and feel, rather than modern, new construction. The lighting, furniture, and seating arrangements, including couches for lounging, are all meant to give customers choices with how to use the space. “The entire Aksarben Village neighborhood is a mixed-use space, and we have an incredible variety of guests we serve,” Samuelson said. The area includes everything from a yoga studio to the world headquarters for HDR. “I’ve never been in a location where everyone who comes in is so friendly and happy,” he added.
With several hotels in the area, many travelers frequent Herbe Sainte, often on a regular basis. “They come here because it’s authentic, hospitable, and you can experience it in a different way each time you visit,” Hebert said. Whether it’s just for dinks before a movie or an event at Baxter arena, brunch on the weekend, or for a relaxing lunch on the patio, according to Hebert, it’s an example of good food, good drinks, and a good atmosphere, New Orleans style.