“Would you like a cocktail?” Max Ortiz asked me as I walked into Root last Friday. “What do you recommend?” I replied. He just smiled and said, “The Face Off.” Max explained that the Face Off is concocted using house-made bacon-infused bourbon. But this isn’t just your average bacon. “Face bacon” is made using the face of the pig – the ears, snout, etc. Yes, I know it sounds a little strange, but this is just one of those times you should put your trust in Max. Your taste buds will thank you for it.
Max and Executive Chef Phillip Lopez worked together at Restaurant August before deciding to branch off and do their own thing. The two friends opened Root in November of 2011.
“We’re constantly tweaking and refining,” Max said. Chef loves to experiment and tighten his technique.” He described how Chef Lopez puts chicken gizzards in a circulator for 48 hours until they emerge as the word’s tastiest chicken nugget. This is just one example of how Root is using new technologies to enhance taste and texture.
“I think more and more people are looking for a dining experience rather than just going out to eat,” Max said. “At Root, we want to blur the lines between fine dining and a casual night out.”
I’d say Root got it right – the menu features craft cocktails and charcuterie, but there are no white tablecloths here! Diners can eat thoughtfully prepared food in an exposed brick room decorated with simple hanging lamps.
Max and I also chatted about his newest project, Square Root, which will open on Magazine Street this spring. “The whole downstairs section is basically one big chef’s table with the kitchen in the center.” Diners can ask questions about the ingredients and the process as they watch their food being prepared.
The upstairs section of Square Root will be a bar-lounge-restaurant hybrid, featuring a balcony perfect for late-night cocktails. As Max described his plan for the new restaurant, I couldn’t help but envision future happy hours and and foodie nights out with my friends!
In addition to his day job as a restaurateur, it’s also worth noting that Max is an extremely loyal Saints fan. He is known for attending games dressed not as himself, but as his alter-ego, Darth Saint.
“It started off with a little make-up and spiraled out of control,” Max told me. Next time you attend a Saints game at the Superdome, keep an eye out for this molecular-gastronmist-turned-Saints-super-hero.
“New Orleans is truly a unique collection of characters,” Max told me. And he considers himself one of them.
Twenty Questions with Maximilian Ortiz
1. Who is your favorite New Orleanian, dead or alive, real or imagined?
Drew Brees. He wasn’t born in New Orleans, but he has done more than enough for the city to be considered a true New Orleanian.
2. What first brought you to New Orleans?
I was born and raised here.
3. In your opinion – what’s the best neighborhood in New Orleans?
The Warehouse District. The neighborhood is home to some of the best restaurants in the city. Not to mention it’s in walking distance of the French Quarter and the Superdome!
4. City Park or Audubon Park?
5. Describe the best meal you’ve eaten in New Orleans.
It is really impossible to narrow it down to just one, but I’ve had some especially memorable ones at Restaurant August and Stella.
6. Where’s your favorite brunch spot?
Dante’s Kitchen. The Bloody Marys are always delicious!
7. What’s your favorite po-boy? Where do you go to get it?
I love the Roast Beef Po-Boy from R & O’s. My parents used to go there every Friday night. The po-boys are just as good now as they were 20 years ago.
8. You’ve got friends visiting and it’s their first time in New Orleans – where are you taking them?
9. What’s your favorite neighborhood bar?
Lucy’s – It’s less than 100 yards from the front door of my condo.
10. What is your favorite New Orleans cocktail and where do you go to get it?
It’s gotta be the “Face Off” at Root. Bacon infused Bourbon. Delicious. Do I need to say more?
11. Snowball or Daiquiri? Where from and what flavor?
I like to get snowballs from the Lakeview area, and I don’t discriminate when it comes to flavor.
12. Best spot to see live music?
13. Favorite New Orleans musician or band?
Rebirth Brass Band – you can see them at Maple Leaf on Tuesday nights!
14. Favorite New Orleans Festival?
I really enjoy VooDoo Fest.
15. Favorite Mardi Gras parade?
16. Where do you shop in New Orleans?
The Shops at Canal Place are great!
17. What is your favorite New Orleans museum?
The Museum of the American Cocktail – only in New Orleans!
18. Where do you go to watch The Saints play?
The front row of the Superdome! I tend to get… shall we say… dressed up.
19. Describe New Orleans in one word.
This city is full of character and full of characters.
20. When was the last time you fell in love with New Orleans and why?
Mardi Gras. Anywhere else in the world it’s just another Tuesday.