The Longway Tavern seemed like a breath of fresh air when it opened in 2018. The Leblanc And Smith project was located in the heart of the French Quarter where you seem to only come across storied institutions that you’ve visited many times before or tourist-oriented establishments that don’t have anything exciting to offer a local. The contemporary, exquisitely-renovated gastropub drew in those who had become weary of the Quarter as well as tourists who were looking for something different than the usual.
After some rocky months of shutdowns and lower-than-average tourism rates, The Longway Tavern decided to shutter for good in 2021. With that announcement, however, came the news that a new Leblanc And Smith project entitled The Will & The Way would take it’s coveted spot.
Walking up to The Will & The Way, the first thing you see is the sign that features the word “Drinks” prominently. In fact, Will & Way is more beverage forward than food forward as opposed to its predecessor. The cocktails and dishes are written on the long black wall opposite the bar which is always lined with people drinking, socializing, and laughing together. It certainly feels like an old school Quarter gathering spot but with the addition of natural light pouring in from the open French doors at the front and the gorgeous, inviting patio at the back. This venture did away with the rather closed in private table area at the right side of the entrance to create more bar seating and a small lounge area. Walking through the building into the bright courtyard, you are met with tables and lounges that were designed to allow patrons to have lunches and dinners that can last for hours. And don’t be surprised if you strike up a conversation with those seated near you. It’s a very communal and congenial experience.
On this sunny afternoon, I was treated to colorful, lovely food and drinks that stand out against the dark walls and bricks of Will & Way. The Saint Giles Rookery was a light, yet somewhat earthy, blend of gin, gunpowder tea, and cardamom garnished with a plump blackberry and slice of lemon. This pink drink paired perfectly with the Little Gem Salad that had pops of pink from watermelon radish which sat upon a bed of crunchy lettuce, parsley, avocado, radish, shrimp, Fresno chilis, and citrus. This refreshing and sweet salad is an ode to Executive Chef Josh Williams’ former place of employment: Compere Lapin.
Chef Williams loved his time working under Chef Nina Compton before he moved to Leblanc & Smith’s The Chloe, but he was thrilled to take on the challenge of running the kitchen here at Will & Way. He felt that he was given the opportunity to “bring Uptown flavor back Downtown” so that locals would feel at home and tourists would get more than they’re hoping for.
Chef Williams brought out a dish that he said has been selling like crazy, and it’s obvious why. The Korean Hot Fries are inspired by Andy Capp’s Hot Fries, the bright orange, tangy potato chips that young kids and those young at heart love to munch on. These bright orange French fries get their color from the garlicky, spicy seasoning they’re tossed in, and the dish is piled high with kimchi, peanuts, and scallions. The dish is not complete without hot bits of brisket that are so tender thanks to the rich bulgogi marinade.
The Cash Money Dillionaire cocktail was a perfect palate cleanser in between the hot fries as the next two dishes. This cocktail looks like a carrot: it’s tall, orange, and has a bright green sprig sticking out of it. As you sip the pisco-based drink with tounge-tingling carrot ginger shrub, lemon, and soda, your nose is tickled by the fluffy, fragrant dill sprig. The herbaceous flavor mingles so well with the Chili Crunch Salad which features crispy forkfuls of crispy pig ears, charred red cabbage, shallot, parsley, popped sorghum, crispy rice, and more. All of that intense flavor, color, and mouthfeel is soothed with a few full mint leaves that pepper the plate.
Not to be outdone, the Louisiana Hot Chicken is also a hot seller. The juicy, deep red chicken sits on a beach of sweet buttery roasted yellow corn grits, and it’s all topped with a healthy dose of housemade ranch. The chicken is unlike any that you can get in this city. It’s got that deep, seething Nashville heat and fiery flavor from a rub of coriander, chili flakes, toasted garlic, and smoked paprika. The chicken brings the heat, the creamy ranch cools it off, and the sweet grits make it all better.
After all of the crunch, the color, the sweetness, and the savoriness, I really needed something to bring me back to reality. I thought the Sherry is Caring would be good for that, but it’s such a strange delight in its own that my head stayed in the clouds. This bright green drink of Fino sherry, vanilla, and lime topped with a charred round of citrus tasted somehow like a toasty sugar cookie with a dash of spice to it. This is the perfect flavor for the upcoming holidays. I realized that as homey as The Will & The Way is supposed to feel to you, the culinary and cocktail programs are not meant to taste like homemade food. You will be dazzled and awed by what is put in front of you.
You can check out the menus and learn more about The Will & The Way here, but you may miss it if you try to walk by it. Remember: the sign says “Drinks.”