When restaurateurs Justin Devillier and Mia Freiberger-Devillier saw the chance to pursue their longtime dream of opening a brasserie in the French Quarter, they turned to the obvious source: Paris.
What emerged from days and nights of eating (Tough research, they know) in those neighborhood bastions of French dining was a respect not only for tradition, but also an admiration for a newer wave of brasseries looking to reinvigorate the classics.
For the Devilliers and their travel partners, the husband and wife design team Sabri and Caroline Farouki, that contrast between old and new wasn’t a contradiction but the inspiration for their latest culinary offspring, Justine, which opened on Chartres Street in January of this year.
“We definitely wanted something different,” Mia says. At Justine, different means Spotify has been nixed in favor of a live DJ softly spinning records and eye candy like meandering fan dancers, even burlesque acts after 10 on Friday and Saturdays.
“Don’t worry, it’s tasteful,” Mia assures. “No pasties. Still, we couldn’t exactly get away with that Uptown,” she says, referring to the couple’s other venture, the exceptionally charming La Petite Grocery, where husband and chef Justin’s take on New Orleans cuisine earned him a James Beard in 2016.
“We felt like something with this particular concept was lacking in the French Quarter,” says Mia, who also serves as Justine’s Director of Operations.
Also critical to the team was that the restaurant harness the Vieux Carré’s energy.
“We couldn’t do just traditional, or it would feel like a rip off,” says Caroline, who along with husband Sabri, oversaw the project’s design. “We wanted French, but with a New Orleans funky vibe. We didn’t want it to look like we’d just plopped a Paris brasserie here.”
In a neighborhood where square footage comes at a premium, Justine feels downright expansive. Most New Orleanians remember the Chartres Street space’s earlier incarnation as the furniture store Hurwitz-Mintz.
Farouki Farouki inherited a blank canvas, working to add character and definition and ultimately carving out four distinct dining spaces, each with its own slant and vibe. Of these, the second space, with its long marble and zinc bar, padded banquettes and herringbone wood floors, most exudes the feel of a classic brasserie. The restaurant incorporates several vintage finds, the most impressive of which is the life-sized cast iron statue rising from the back of the bar.
Meanwhile brass touches can be found throughout, adding vintage glamour. Lighting proved its own endeavor; given that the ceiling wouldn’t allow for nary a single recessed can, Justine is awash in sconces. The result is a soft diffused glow that as the afternoon fades to dusk gives the impression more of a beloved restaurant that’s been around for ages, not one open less than a year.
“We wanted French, but with a New Orleans funky vibe. We didn’t want it to look like we’d just plopped a Paris brasserie here.”
Farouki Farouki has quickly made a name for themselves in New Orleans restaurant design circles. Their previous New Orleans projects include Maypop where Chef Michael Gulotta’s eclectic menu aims to fuse two delta cuisines: Louisiana and Vietnam (Note: the budget-conscious design earned the Warehouse District restaurant an Eater New Orleans’ Design Award in 2017); and more recently, Otra Vez, also bordering the Warehouse District, whose light-filled, serene interior incorporates natural textures and plants evocative of the Mexican coast.
As with Justine, Maypop and Otra Vez benefit from what’s becoming a Farouki Farouki design signature: the large scale mural. The choice not only demands attention and helps to anchor spaces, but also serves to quickly establish each restaurant’s identity.
At Justine, murals can be found both in the café area flanking the sidewalk where a collage of pale grey cement tiles and colorful enlarged images culled from vintage French journals gives the effect of peeling wallpaper as well as in the last dining room where the history of the restaurant’s two sources of inspiration, Paris and New Orleans, unfolds from opposing walls in the form of expansive, map-like murals by local artist Ellen Macomber.
Cocktail tips: While Justine’s food prices skew high-end, its craft cocktail prices at $9-12 are in keeping with other upscale bars in the Quarter. Consider pulling up a stool and soaking up the ambiance while ordering a round from the inventive, French-centric spirits menu.
We recommend the slightly sweet Banana Republic made with Armagnac, Varnelli Caffé, Tempus Fugit Banana, Roulaison Amer and Angostura bitters or Justine’s take on the Sazerac, made with Calvados and demerara.
And don’t forget to check out les toilettes with its vintage payphone.