Chad Galiano has been around and seen a lot as a chef, but he’s not immune to surprises. When Milford’s on Third, the Louisiana-flavored Jewish deli on Third Street downtown where Galiano is executive sous chef, opened this fall, he was a little taken aback at the speed and volume of interest.
“The first few days were a rush,” Galiano said. “People lined up out the door. And I had had maybe three full days in my kitchen at that point.”
But despite the initial rush, and a near-catastrophic pastrami miscalculation (more on that later), Galiano and Milford’s have settled into a stable pattern, providing a new dimension of possibility to the downtown breakfast and lunch crowd. For both, strong traditions, deep roots and diverse experience set a plan for success.
Milford’s, sister restaurant to the recently opened Watermark Hotel and its lobby restaurant, The Gregory, gets its name from the hotel’s owner and operator, Milford “Mike” Wampold III. Well, it’s a little more complicated than that. Milford’s on Third is actually the second Milford’s. Milford the first (that’s Milford III’s grandpa) owned the first Milford’s, a grocery store and Jewish deli in Alexandria. So Milford’s on Third, which is owned by Milford III, and the first Milford’s are both named after the first Milford. You can see why Milford III goes by “Mike” (his dad was “Mac”).
Wampold, who owns a number of hotels in Baton Rouge, honors his grandfather’s business by serving some of the same family recipes sold at the original Milford’s. Potato salad, pickles and others are made to recipes half a century old.
But Galiano certainly doesn’t feel tied down by the commitment to tradition. A son of Lafourche Parish, he recognizes that culinary traditions are meaningful and worthy of preservation. He lamented the way Cajun food has been co-opted and commodified across the country.
“As far as cuisines from within America, I think Cajun food was one of the first, if I can use the word ‘bastardized’, to be kind of taken and just twisted up so you have, like Cajun McChicken sandwiches at McDonalds and stuff like that,” Galiano said. “You couldn’t do that with other cultures without people getting upset. Our cuisine has really been run through the mill for a long time and people really don’t have a clue what it is. It’s very country, it’s very rustic, a lot of outdoor cooking, a lot of community, getting-together type flavors, large-scale, there’s always sharing of food. It’s not your typical spicy, whatever you see in New Orleans or Creole-type dishes.”
It’s fitting, then, that Galiano’s first real experience with the Jewish deli tradition he would later peddle in Baton Rouge came in Miami. Of course, Miami is a miasma of varying ethnic communities, but Galiano said he admired the way individual communities maintained the authenticity of their cuisines. Miami eschews the “melting pot” idea and “fusion” foodie trends, he said.
Wolfie Cohen’s Rascal House, a legendary but now defunct Jewish deli outside of Miami, introduced Galiano to Jewish deli food, and, by extension, the Reuben sandwich. The Reuben: the litmus test of any deli, a combination of corned beef (or pastrami for the sacreligious), sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and Russian dressing served up on grilled rye bread. Galiano’s first Reuben was a eureka moment.
“It was like the first time you put Bearnaise sauce on a steak,” Galiano said. “You’re like, oh, this just makes sense.”
He confessed to preferring pastrami on his Reubens, and while DIG’s formal complaint to the International Sandwich Council is pending, that’s how he serves them at Milford’s: customers have a choice between pastrami and turkey. Perhaps he’s onto something—within a week of the deli’s opening, Galiano, not expecting a huge demand, soon found himself struggling to keep the kitchen stocked with enough pastrami.
“I was scrounging, on the phone, trying to get some pastrami in the house,” Galiano said. “Like, ‘oh my God, I can’t believe this many people want a pastrami sandwich right now.’ At the same time, it was awesome. We hit a market we didn’t know was there.”
With Galiano at the helm and generations of history behind it, Milford’s hopes to keep discovering those hidden markets and carving out its niche in the difficult downtown food scene.
Reuben. As we said before, this is the litmus test for any Jewish deli, and Milford’s certainly passes (can you actually pass a litmus test?). We tried it with pastrami. While the lack of a corned beef option is a little disappointing, you won’t complain about Milford’s delicious pastrami. We could have done with a little more cheese and sauerkraut to balance the mountain of meat, but overall this is such a winning combination of flavors, any complaints are minimal.
Ham and Cheese. What a surprise this was. We weren’t expecting much out of a ham and cheese sandwich, but this was our favorite of the lot. Ultra-thin sliced ham is topped with slices of cheddar, provolone and Swiss, lettuce and tomato and pressed. The combination of cheeses gives a nice mild complexity, but the bread is the real star here. Using semolina bread from New Orleans’ Wild Flour Breads, the sandwich picks up a light nuttiness to complement the fillings.
Brisket. While chef Chad Galiano admits this is far from Milford’s Jewish deli wheelhouse, it’s nice to get some Louisiana flavor on the menu. It’s decadent beast piled high with slow-cooked brisket, topped with cheddar cheese and served on a huge brioche bun. Milford’s tosses the brisket in Jack Miller’s BBQ sauce, a savory, tomatoey sauce from Ville Platte that will be a familiar taste to those from Cajun country. “It’s a very nostalgic flavor for me,” Galiano said.
Wakey, Bakey. The only breakfast sandwich we tried, this bacon, egg and cheese sandwich is, well, a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich. We tried it on a croissant, which was as light, buttery and flaky as you could ask for. The bacon was perfectly cooked as well—not too crispy, not too soft. While the egg was off-putting at first, with it’s McDonald’s-style perfectly cylindrical shape, it was nicely spiced, even if it did overpower the other ingredients a little. At $6, this is as good a breakfast deal as you’ll find downtown.
Photos by Sean Gasser.