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Arts & Culture

Cool off at John Besh’s Soda Shop: A Delicious Time Capsule in New Orleans

If you need to cool off with a homemade ice cream shake, or fill up with a hand-crafted affordable lunch, Chef John Besh’s New Orleans Soda Shop has it all.

The chalkboard at the Soda Shop (photo by Sara Hudson)

According to ancient lore and caffeine addicts, soda shops did more for Prohibition than all those sermons promising flames of fiery vengeance upon alcohol drinkers. Now, New Orleans ain’t gonna touch anything resembling Prohibition anytime soon, but we’re still giving a V for Victory to Chef John Besh’s latest enterprise: the Soda Shop at the World War II Museum.

The Soda Shop is the place to go when you want artisanal yet affordable sandwiches full of flavor and flair; have overheated children and/or adults in need of the whimsy of cupcakes or energy of all-natural sodas; or believe ice cream is a meal. The latter explains how I wound up there. Time and time again.

The flavor possibilities at the Soda Shop are endless! (photo by Sara Hudson)

Just because New Orleans pledges allegiance to the sno-ball doesn’t mean we won’t double-dip with other deliciousness. The Soda Shop makes creamy, all-natural ice cream in-house, giving it intense, organic flavor. The problem? Choosing flavor-form combinations. Plain? Atop a Sector Cream Pie? In a sundae, shake or malt? Sigh. Flavors sample every color on the New Orleans flavor grid, including Bananas Foster, Very Very Local Berry, and my personal favorite: Creole Cream Cheese Red Velvet. (I would not lie to you. It exists).

A very happy patron at the Soda Shop (photo by Sara Hudson)

Now, if for some reason you don’t want ice cream, they do have “real food.” The rotating menu of sandwiches and salads based on locally-sourced ingredients make for one of the best inexpensive, yet crafted lunch breaks around. Popular favorites include the Bad Mamma Jamma (pork gravy, Tabasco mayo & tomme) and Joe Dobie Chicken (pecan smoked chicken, heirloom tomatoes, avocado & Benton’s Bacon). Got kids? Check out the triple decker PB+J with homemade PB and mayhaw. Yowzers.

And if you want a meal as Southern as it gets, stop in for breakfast and “build your own biscuit.” Start with an organic egg – exactly how grandma used to do it, we point out, even though she didn’t call it that back then – and add your heart’s desire: Chisesi ham, country gravy, Poche’s Andouille, Allen Benton’s Bacon, La Provence Sausage patties…again, still not lying to you. Promise.

World War II era artwork adorn the Soda Shop walls (photo by Sara Hudson)

Like the American Sector – Besh’s restaurant down the road – the Soda Shop channels the 1940s with signature aesthetics and whimsy. (Love this mural addition, for example.) Perhaps the greatest genius in his celebration of the greatest generation? Bringing old favorites back to the menu. Pimento sandwiches come grilled, with country ham and roasted jalapeño, while the tomato sandwich radiates elegant simplicity: Creole tomatoes, Blue Plate mayo, white bread. And like every New Orleanian (convert though I am), I rejoice in the nectar soda, an old New Orleans combination of vanilla, almond, cream and egg white, inspired by the nectar soda served at old K&B counters. Other flavors include melon, pineapple and a rotating seasonal option.

Too busy to stay? The brilliant grab and go option keeps you full through your busy day checking out the galleries of Julia Street, or the fabulous museums nearby, including the WWII Museum, the Civil War Museum and my personal favorite, the Ogden Museum of Southern Art.

New Orleans is filled with Chef Besh apostles and many will first visit the Soda Shop because they too, know and love August, Lüke, American Sector, and Domenica, to name other Chef Besh favorites. But once you set foot in the airy, comfortable Soda Shop, you’ll love it on its own terms, best described by Chef Besh himself as: “Simple, fun, and [telling] a story of who we are and where we’re at.”