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20 Questions

My New Orleans: 20 Questions with Chef Phillip Lopez

Chef Phillip Lopez, owner of modern New Orleans restaurants Root and Square Root, dishes on his New Orleans staples and favorites.

“It’s the Incredible Edible Egg,” said Chef Phillip Lopez when I asked him to describe his favorite dish on the tasting menu at his brand new restaurant Square Root. “It’s a dessert, actually. We make an edible egg shell out of inverted alcohol sugar and fill it with toasted almond and caramel curd. We match the weight to an actual egg and then crack it in front of everyone. Even the shell is edible!”

Chef Phillip Lopez

Opened just a few weeks ago, Square Root is Phillip’s second restaurant after the wildly successful Root in the Warehouse District. Both restaurants have been joint ventures with his business partner Max Ortiz.

“Root was a huge gamble,” said Chef Phillip. “I knew it would either be a huge success or a major flop.” Fortunately for Phillip and Max, Root was a success, and they began looking for a location to open up a second restaurant.

“The name for Square Root was always in my head,” Phillip said.  “One day I saw a ‘For Sale’ sign outside of a building on Magazine Street, so I decided to check it out. At first, I didn’t see the potential, but as I walked up the stairs, I looked up  and saw a huge ornate track light set up. It was in the shape of a square root symbol.” He took that as a sign and made an offer on the building.

When Phillip was younger, his father wanted him to be a computer engineer. He ended taking one semester of Computer Science at Florida State before mustering up the courage to call his parents and tell them he really wanted to be in the kitchen. His family was supportive.

“When I was a child, dinner time was always an event. We would sit at the dining table and talk about our futures, problems, and achievements,” said Phillip. “My mother was an avid cook and made mostly traditional Mexican food. My father was in the military and stationed in Europe, so I lived there for nine years of my childhood. I traveled all over Europe and Asia. Being exposed to all of that forced me to be a more adventurous eater.”

Today, Phillip draws his inspiration from the future of his city. “New Orleans has such great culture, history, and soul. But we have to keep evolving. I don’t want us stuck in a time warp,” he said.

Finally, I asked Phillip what advice he had for diners at Square Root. “Let us be the navigators,” he said. “Our guests have so much to worry about every day, so they don’t need to think when they come here. It’s like you’re coming over to my house. We pop a bottle of wine, you sit at the kitchen counter, and I’ll cook for you.”

Go visit Chef Phillip Lopez at Square Root or Root Squared, the more casual upstairs dining option.

Petrified Greens at Square Root

20 Questions with Chef Phillip Lopez

1. Who is your favorite New Orleanian, dead or alive, real or imagined?

Harry Connick, Jr. He’s always been a friend of my family, and I was able to see him play before he hit it big. He also gives a lot back to the community.

2. What first brought you to New Orleans? 

New Orleans was always my home. I was born here, but my father was in the military so we moved around a lot. I moved back later in life because when I thought of food and home, I always thought of New Orleans.

3. In your opinion – what’s the best neighborhood in New Orleans?

Oh come on! That’s like asking a parent to name their favorite child. Every neighborhood has its own distinctive subculture. I live in Lakeview, but I love the French Quarter and the Lower Garden District. I always know exactly where to go, depending on my mood.

4. City Park or Audubon Park?

If it’s golf time, City Park, if it’s run time, Audubon Park. I especially love Audubon because I used to get my parents to take me to the zoo every weekend when I was a kid.

5. Describe the best meal you’ve eaten in New Orleans?

I came down to New Orleans to visit my brother in 2003 and I knew I wanted to come here and work as a chef. My brother said, “there’s this guy named John Besh you need to talk to,” and he took me to dinner at Restaurant August. My first meal at August blew me away. The food was so precise and the service was impeccable.

6. Where’s your favorite brunch spot?

Stanley. I get the omelet sandwich. I will devour like 6 of those omelet sandwiches. Easy.

The Tasting Table at Square Root

7. What’s your favorite po-boy? Where do you go to get it?

I like a hot sausage po-boy from Parkway. I used to live in Mid-City right off Canal Street, so it was right in my neighborhood.

8. You’ve got friends visiting and it’s their first time in New Orleans – where are you taking them?

I’ll take them to Maple Leaf on a Tuesday to see Rebirth Brass Band. It’s the epitome of what’s great about New Orleans.

9. What’s your favorite neighborhood bar?

That’s tough. You can find me at The Saint after hours or at Nick’s in Mid-City.

10. What is your favorite New Orleans cocktail and where do you go to get it?

The Sazerac at the Carousel Bar.

11. Snoball or Daiquiri? Where from and what flavor?

Cream of Coffee Snoball from Hansen’s.

12. Best spot to see live music?

I love Maple Leaf and Blue NileOne-Eyed Jack’s is my all-time favorite.

13. Favorite New Orleans musician or band?

Lil Wayne.

14. Favorite New Orleans Festival?

I love Jazz Fest, Voodoo Fest, and of course, the Po-boy Festival. But if I had to pick one, it would be Mardi Gras.

Pork Belly at Root

15. Favorite Mardi Gras parade?


16. Where do you shop in New Orleans?

I get my groceries at the Crescent City Farmer’s Market. I really enjoy building relationships with local farmers. For clothes, I shop at Canal Place.

17. What is your favorite New Orleans museum?

The New Orleans Museum of Art.

18. Where do you go to watch The Saints play?

I’m a diehard Saints fan. I bought season tickets back in 2005 and now I go to every game.

19. Describe New Orleans in one word.

Home. I can’t put it any other way. If I go anywhere else, I always just want to come home.

20. When was the last time you fell in love with New Orleans and why?

Yesterday. Every day before yesterday as well. I’ve never in my wildest dreams thought I would have my own restaurant. To have not only one, but two, in a city like New Orleans is just amazing.

* Photos by Sara Essex Bradley

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