Chuck Taggart is a dedicated cocktailian and native New Orleanian now living in Los Angeles. He publishes The Gumbo Pages.
Heck-ola … that went well!
It seems that last year’s “Where y’all wanna eat?” post was quite popular, with printouts of it sticking out of people’s pockets as they wandered the streets of New Orleans in the 95-degree heat — not aimlessly, but with an air-conditioned target in mind. Very glad to hear it! Let’s do it again.
If this is your first Tales or your first visit to New Orleans, all the recommendations in last year’s post still stand, and don’t miss all the rules and recommendations on how to survive this event. That said, just remember one more guideline regarding your dining: In New Orleans, butter, cream and big piles of fried seafood are still good for you. (Keep repeating that to yourself.)
As last year, I’m going to concentrate on places that are within a reasonable walk of the hotels in which you’ll be staying in the French Quarter, which includes the Central Business District (CBD, toward and beyond Canal Street) and Faubourg Marigny (the other direction, toward Esplanade Ave.) I’ll also encourage you to hop on a streetcar and head to the Riverbend or up along Carrollton Avenue — not only are there great places to eat, but a streetcar ride down St. Charles Avenue is one of the most relaxing and lovely experiences you’ll have during your visit. I’m also going to recommend some places that I actually haven’t been to (mostly because they opened recently, since my last visit home to New Orleans) but really want to.
In the latter category, the places I’ve been chomping at the bit to try is Green Goddess (307 Exchange Place, right off Bienville and across the alley from The Pelican Club – about a 2 minute walk from the Monteleone), who’ve only been open for a matter of weeks — they’re still sorting their liquor license out, in fact. The head chef of this brand-new little Quarter gem is Chris DeBarr, formerly of The Delachaise, who handles the dinner menu. Last year he cooked what had to be the most extraordinary Spirited Dinner ever — and one of the most memorable meals of my life — the Tiki-Licious Luau Dinner with cocktails by Jeff “Beachbum” Berry and Wayne Curtis. (Well, it might have been a bit more memorable if I hadn’t been so thoroughly tanked by dinner’s end.) He’s one of the most exciting, innovative chefs in the city, and describes their restaurant as having “a progressive menu that blends New Orleans sensibilities with a globetrotting sampling of ingredients.” He and co-chef Paul Artigues, who does the lunch and brunch menus, will probably frustrate me more than any other chefs in New Orleans on this trip, because I want to try every single thing they’ve got on their menu, but there isn’t enough time, and there aren’t enough meals. A sampling of some recent dishes, courtesy of The Google:
They’re open for lunch/brunch Wed-Sun, 11am-4pm, and for dinner Thu-Sun, 5pm-midnight. See y’all there.
I know it’d be way too much to get Talesgoers without cars all the way out to Metairie for dinner (and it’d be a 20 minute cab ride even without traffic), but the place that’s one of the best reasons to drive out to Jefferson Parish for dinner now has a closer outlet. Drago’s Seafood Restaurant has opened another location in the Hilton New Orleans Riverside at 2 Poydras St. (a 12 minute walk, or a 3-5 minute cab ride). Drago’s Charbroiled Oysters are without a doubt one of the best dishes in New Orleans — a butter, garlic and herb sauce drizzled over oysters on the half-shell, then topped with grated Parmesan cheese and cooked on an open grill. These are insanely good, and a dozen or two of these with a salad would make a fantastic meal. (The rest of their food’s pretty damned good, too.) If you’ve never had charbroiled oysters, you owe it to yourself to try them, but beware of imitators — nobody does them like the originators. Beware of addiction.
One of the great classic Creole restaurants in New Orleans is a mere 250 paces from the door of the hotel. Galatoire’s has been delighting local diners since 1905, and in their 100th year was named Outstanding Restaurant in the nation by the James Beard Foundation. Loud, brash, fun, and with great food, dining at Galatoire’s is a generations-old tradition for many New Orleanians, most of whom have a regular favorite waiter who takes care of them. Until recently, reservations were not accepted, but with the addition of another dining room upstairs patrons may now reserve for that space. Tables on the first floor are strictly first-come, first-serve … and that’s where you want to sit anyway. Jackets are required for gentlemen for dinner, and suggested for lunch. If you’re not a regular (and especially if you look like you’re visiting from out of town) you may be presented with a menu, but the best approach is to ask your waiter what’s good that day. Take his advice. For some reason they put ice in their Sazeracs, the only place I know in town that does it. If you’re in a roll-with-it mood, by all means have it their way, but when drinking there I always ask for my Sazeracs up. A typical meal might being with gumbo or crabmeat Maison (jumbo lump crabmeat in a light vinegar-Creole mustard dressing with onions and capers), their famous souffléed potatoes, grilled pompano topped with crabmeat, softshell crabs or trout served either meunière or amandine style, or perhaps for non-seafood eaters, chicken Clemenceau (with potatoes, mushrooms and peas in a Cognac sauce). For dessert, you absolutely must get Café Brulôt, one of the city’s greatest after-dinner libations — hot coffee and chicory with brown sugar, spiked with brandy and triple sec, with orange and lemon peels studded with cloves. The waiter will scoop some brandy into a specialized ladle, set it aflame and pour the flaming spirit down the curly citrus peel as it dangles from the ladle. It’s a spectacular show, and a spectacularly delicious way to end a great Creole dinner.
Although it’s one of my favorite Quarter restaurants for dinner, I particularly love lunch at Bayona, especially if I can get a table in the courtyard. Chef Susan Spicer excels at a local and Southern sensibility married with Mediterranean, Asian and Indian flavors. The menu changes constantly but there are some perennials — after a Sazerac try her famous Cream of Garlic Soup, Crispy Sweetbreads prepared with with Potatoes, Mushrooms and Sherry-Mustard Butter or a Lump Crabmeat Salad with Green Goddess Dressing. For your entrée try dishes like Rabbit and Escarole Ragout with Mushroom Gnocchi, or one of my all-time favorites, the Smoked Duck Sandwich with Cashew Butter and Pepper Jelly. (More Bayona food pics are here.)
For breakfast and lunch, Chef Scott Boswell’s casual restaurant Stanley will be a sure-fire crowd-pleaser, particularly in its new location at 547 St Ann St., right on the corner of Jackson Square. That property was in danger of becoming a Starbucks after it was vacated by another restaurant, and local outcry went a long way toward making that not happen. Boswell couldn’t have had a better location, for tourists especially but for locals as well. Breakfast is served all day, a variety of po-boys, great fried oysters and huge messy burgers are included in the bill of fare, and there’s now an old-fashioned soda fountain with homemade ice cream. Fun and inexpensive.
Stanley was the natural descendant of Chef Boswell’s restaurant Stella!, and came about after Katrina when the chef found himself grilling thousands of sandwiches and burgers on the street immediately after the storm and flood, and thought it should be channeled into a proper café. Stella! is an intimate, fine dining experience that has been near the top of my to-do list in New Orleans, and I’m looking forward to trying them as soon as I can. Just looking at the menu makes me swoon; I’ve heard words like “spectacular” and “magnificent” bandied about by people who describe their meals there. Starters like Hudson Valley Foie Gras BLT with Foie Gras Confit and Truffle Mayonnaise and entrées like Duck Five Ways, “Fish and Chips” (Tempura Beer-Battered Louisiana Drum with Sweet Potato Purée, Curried Taro Chips and Spicy Red Chili Caramel) or Scallops and Jumbo Gulf Shrimp with Truffle Andouille New Potato Hash … oh my. Keep in mind it isn’t cheap; one friend said that he knows people who rave about the food, but not until they rant about the size of the check. With that in mind, if you’re looking for a special night out, I think the check is worth it.
Another restaurant on my to-do list is Iris, formerly in a tiny space Uptown but now occupying larger and more comfortable digs in the Bienville House Hotel. The food is reputed to be excellent — Chef Ian Schnoebelen is a multiple award-winner — here’s a recent review from Brett Anderson in the Times-Picayune (or, as it’s called locally, Da Papuh) and a tantalizing video (which I can’t figure out how to embed, sorry). Another great reason to visit Iris is that it’s a cocktail destination. Alan Walter is behind the stick, and he refers to himself not as a bartender or mixologist but “spirit handler.” The bar program has a commitment to fresh juices, fresh herbs and produce and homemade syrups and infusions, plus a well-trained staff and some amazing creativity. Iris is a great option for Talesfolk who are looking for an upscale meal together with upscale cocktails that are only a couple of blocks from the Monteleone (and in fact a number of us are staying at Bienville House anyway … how convenient is that?!)
On the edge of the Quarter is Meauxbar, at 942 N. Rampart at the corner of St. Philip. It’s another of the haven’t-been-yet-but-would-like-to places on my list, offering solid American bistro-style dishes. It got a three-bean rating from Da Papuh’s restaurant critic, and my local friend Michael adds that it’s become a big hit among folks who live in the Quarter, with “lots of classic French dishes and a decent spirits selection. I don’t remember if they had a cocktail list, but we had a Sazerac (made with Sazerac 6-year rye) and a Beefeater Martini there, and both were very good. We especially liked the appetizers, great mussels, great steak tartare. People love their onion soup and the goat cheese and caramelized onion tart, although we haven’t tried those yet. Want a huge medium-rare burger with Roquefort and bacon? This is your place.” Oh … okay!
If you’re looking for a funky Quarter joint and Coop’s is too crowded you might consider a jaunt across the street to Fiorella’s at 1136 Decatur St., which I haven’t been to in years (but am ready to revisit). They’ve renovated since Katrina, and are well-known for their excellent crispy fried chicken and their famous macaroni and cheese with gravy (red or brown), along the lines of the (in)famous Rocky and Carlo’s in Chalmette. Other local favorites include fried seafood platters, red beans ‘n rice, jambalaya and bread pudding. The fried pickle appetizer is said to be even better than the ones from Liuzza’s in Mid-City. (What, you’ve never had battered, deep-fried pickles?) Not fancy, but worth a visit.
I understand that there may be some vegetarians (and even vegans) among you. If you haven’t figured this out already, allow me to break the news to you that your options are extremely limited. If you tire easily of iceberg lettuce and tomato salads with oil and vinegar dressing you might have a wee problem. Fortunately some chefs rise to the challenge — if you call ahead to check Bayona has been known to graciously accommodate vegetarian needs, for instance — but there are a couple of sure-fire destinations.
Bennachin (1212 Royal St.) is one of the few African restaurants in the city, and their menu features Creole influences as well. They’re extremely vegetarian-friendly with dishes like eggplant and mushroom curry or sautéed spinach with fried plantains and coconut rice. (Carnivores will be happy too.) Bear in mind that the service is best described as “laid-back,” and at our last visit approached levels of “criminally indifferent;” i.e. “you can all starve for all I care.” A bit of perseverence will pay off for the non-flesh-eaters, though — all the food was terrific. An all-vegetarian option is Café Bamboo, near the foot of Esplanade Ave. under The Dragon’s Den. I haven’t been there (I must confess that all-vegetarian menus tend not to interest me), but I’ve heard good things about a dish called Mafe, which is a stew with yams and Creole tomatoes in a spicy West African peanut sauce.
If you walk past Canal into the CBD (usually about 10 minutes or so), you’ll have a wealth of options. I’m sure many of you are familiar with The Swizzle Stick Bar, where Lu Brow, Michael Glassberg and the rest of the gang behind the stick make some of the finest cocktails in New Orleans (a regularly changing menu featuring a Twentieth Century and the Improved Whiskey Cocktail is a sight to behold). However, if you haven’t had a meal at the attached restaurant Café Adelaide then you are truly missing out. Café Adelaide is one of my very favorite restaurants in the city, and I try to dine here each time I visit home. Proprietors Ti Martin and Lally Brennan (who also run Commander’s Palace) know great food, great drinks and how to show their guests a great time, and although Commander’s is a lot of fun Café Adelaide is a little looser and more casual. The menu is just as exciting, though, and has been through each of their chefs. We were big fans of their former chefs Kevin Vizard and Danny Trace, and now Chef Chris Lusk continues to delight us. Start at the bar (of course!), then move on to things like Shrimp & Tasso “Corndogs” with 5-Pepper Jelly and Crystal Hot Sauce Beurre Blanc, Grilled Ponchatoula Strawberry Salad with vanilla-smoked sweet onions, fennel-scented wontons, Roaring Forties blue cheese and orange-chervil vinaigrette, and Sweet Corn-Crusted Redfish with Breaux Bridge crawfish maquechoux hash & charred green onion sauce verte. I’ve eaten here countless times, and every single meal has been an absolute delight. If you’re missing the Spirited Dinner there, try to make it another day — they’re open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. (More Café Adelaide food porn here.)
One of the city’s newer restaurants features not local cuisine, but tapas and larger places from Spain and the Basque country with the occasional touch of Creole influence. Rambla serves mostly small plates, and they all look great. A choice of mushroom, shrimp & fennel or andouille croquetas (yum!), some wonderful flatbreads (Serrano ham, fig and Cabrales cheese, crimini mushroom with garlic mousselline, or Alsatian onion with house-cured bacon), Rambla Shrimp (their take on the local favorite BBQ Shrimp), pecan-andouille filled calamari (ooh) or grilled octopus with potatoes, olives, red onion and lemon oil. There are a few vegetarian options (although not much for vegans), plus a few “grands plats” like paella Valenciana. It’s a short walk from the hotel, dinner 7 nights from 5:30 on and lunch on weekdays from 11:30 to 2.
The Père Marquette Hotel at 17 Common Street not only houses one of the city’s newest bars — and thanks to the presence of Chris McMillian, one of its best — in Bar Uncommon (more on that later), but also a superb restaurant in MiLa, “Southern cuisine with French flair.” I’ve only eaten here a few times so far, but every meal has been superb; I particularly love their charcuterie and seafood. Current offerings include sautéed local flounder with fricassé of corn, sunchokes, farm green beans and basil coulis, and a double-cut pork chop with turnips and greens, pork rillettes and pot liquor sauce. Their three-course prix-fixe lunch menu for $20 is one of the best deals in town, with two choices each for appetizer, main and dessert. They’ve got a nice little cocktail list too — Max Pazuniak, whose Creole Julep is the official cocktail of Tales this year, now splits his time behind the stick at MiLa and Cure (more on the latter later).
If you head out of the Quarter on the other side, crossing Esplanade into the Faubourg Marigny (kinda rhymes with “clarity” … well, if the “ty” was an “ny”), Adolfo’s is a tiny yet tasty option for terrific Italian food. New Orleans had a huge influx of Italian immigrants starting in the 1880s, leading to the substyle of the local cuisine usually called “Creole-Italian,” and it’s a near-certainty that the local Italian food is going to be good. Adolfo’s is at 611 Frenchmen St. (sometimes the little sign is out, sometimes not), upstairs from a bar called The Apple Barrel. Seating is limited, no reservations, dimly-lit and romantic, cash-only, inexpensive and very satisfying. Crabmeat-stuffed cannelloni, veal or eggplant Parmigiana and anything (be it veal or fish) topped with “Ocean Sauce,” a spicy cream sauce with crabmeat, crawfish and shrimp. Many dishes are also served with the traditional New Orleans Italian accompaniment of “spaghetti and red gravy.” (Below: Grilled Fish with Ocean Sauce, and Spinach and Italian Sausage Cannelloni.)
I’ve also really enjoyed Feelings Café, also in the Marigny. It’s funky and cozy, in what was once the main house and slave quarters of the old D’Aunoy plantation. Lovely, romantic atmosphere with gas-burning lanterns and a French-Creole menu featuring dishes like Gulf Fish Nicholas, which is grilled, brushed with Dijon Mustard, topped with grilled shrimp and served on a bed of creamed spinach, and Seafood Baked Eggplant — a dressing of shrimp, crawfish, sausage and rice served over a fried eggplant slice, topped with hollandaise sauce, their version of one of my favorite Creole-Italian dishes. They’ve got a good wine list and a well-stocked bar, and while they have no cocktail list that I can recall, they’ve had solid bartenders who have always been amenable to being talked through whatever you can come up with.
For one of the few interesting late-night dining options, Mimi’s in the Marigny at Royal St. & Franklin Ave. just at the edge of the Bywater, offers a late-night tapas menu that I haven’t sampled but which comes highly recommended by a trusted local. They have a good selection of spirits and cocktails which are “decent, if you’re not too much of a purist,” plus on Saturday nights you can groove to local favorite DJ Soul Sister, who spins truly wicked soul and funk vinyl from 11pm to 4am, all for the price of a $10 cab ride from the Monteleone.
For more late-night (and kinda dive-y) eating, my friend Michael recommends The Alibi (back in the Quarter on Iberville between Bourbon and Dauphine). “Definitely stick with bottled beer or straight spirits here,” he says, but the beer selection is good and the mainly basic bar food is very good — huge, thick, sloppy burgers à la Port of Call, good po-boys and “killer fries,” which are a huge mound of chili-cheese-jalapeno-onion fries (good lord). Michael adds that The Alibi is “very popular with off-duty service industry workers — including strippers — so that late-night scene there is always interesting. If folks are near Canal St and hungry at 1:30am, this is a good bet.”
Another late-night recommendation from Michael: “In the same vein as The Alibi is the unfortunately-named Yo Mama’s, on St. Peter right across from Pat O’s. I’ve never tried a cocktail there, but they pride themselves on their tequila selection, so that might be of interest. The reason to go are the huge burgers, which many folks in the Quarter rate above Port of Call. I don’t know if I’d go that far, but it is an excellent second option if you don’t want to walk all the way to Esplanade just to wait for an hour at P of C. The heart-stopper (in more ways than one) is the peanut butter-bacon burger, which is fantastic; nothing upscale, no craft bacon or anything, just a great chunk of beef slathered in goodness.”
If you wouldn’t mind a walk to the Warehouse District (it’d be a 3-minute cab ride, but it’s less than a mile, 20 minutes on foot, and believe me, you’ll need the walk), and if you love to put a fork to the pork, if you have a t-shirt that says “The Swine is Mine!” and if you’re as pork-obsessed as I am, head out to 930 Tchoupitoulas St. (that’s pronounced “chop-uh-TOO-liss”) to Chefs Donald Link and Stephen Stryjewski’s Cochon (that’s French for “pig,” which should tell you a lot). There is a wide array of pig products prepared in every conceivable way, and they’re all superb. All that, plus they add pork jus to their Bloody Marys. How awesome is that? If that isn’t enough, next door is Cochon Butcher, which offers fresh meats, sandwiches, local sausages and seasoning meats like andouille, boudin and tasso, plus house-made salumi, some of which would be perfect to stick in your suitcase and bring home if you time it right.
Although we’re concentrating on the Quarter, CBD and Marigny I’d still like to get you a bit further out if you have the time. Still within walking distance of the lower Quarter, on the edge of the Tremé, is one of the city’s best little funky Creole-soul food joints, Li’l Dizzy’s, at 1500 Esplanade Ave. at N. Robertson, a block before N. Claiborne. It’s owned and run by the legendary Baquet family, who’ve been responsible for some fantastic neighborhood restaurants in the city, including Zachary’s and Eddie’s. You’ll be well taken care of here, starting with breakfast (lots of egg dishes, grits, sausages, shrimp and crabmeat omelettes) and plate lunch selections starring the amazing Trout Baquet — a nice big piece of trout pan-roasted in butter and topped with a layer of lump crabmeat. I’ve also had fantastic grilled pork chops smothered in briefly sautéed garlic and herbs, plus standards like fried catfish, red beans ‘n rice and jambalaya. There’s a second location in the CBD in the lobby of the Whitney Hotel at 610 Poydras St., higher prices but a gorgeous location. They do Sunday brunch, but it’s popular, so getting there before 10am would be a good idea.
Remember that streetcar trip I said you should take? If you’ve got plenty of time in the afternoon, or even a late night for dinner, head to the Riverbend, right where the St. Charles streetcar makes a 90-degree right turn at Carrollton Ave., and get off right after that turn, in front of a white columned building with a neon sign announcing it as The Camellia Grill. I’ve been eating here since I was a kid, and couldn’t begin to count the number of times I’ve sat at one of the 29 stools around the counter (and it’s counter seating only). You might think it’s a diner (okay, it is), but it’s been a local institution since 1946, deserves all its praise and is worth the wait in line. The omelettes are an Intensely Religious Experience, at least 3 eggs whipped in a Hamilton Beach milkshake blender until light and airy. The classics are the Chef’s Special (bacon, ham, onion, potatoes, Swiss and American cheeses), the chili-cheese and my longtime favorite, the potato-onion-cheese. They’re the size of a rolled-up newspaper and come with a side of crispy fries. (Okay, light it ain’t.) Some of their sandwiches might seem mundane to some but are wonderful, especially the grilled cheese with bacon and some of their special sandwiches like the “Mardi Gras.” Another must-have is the pecan waffle, which I wish I could have every day, and the chocolate pecan pie à la mode for dessert. They always have red beans ‘n rice on Mondays, too. The white-jacketed waiters will pamper and entertain you, so tip them well. This is some of the best comfort food in the city.
If you find yourself fond of the Riverbend, consider a stop at Boucherie, 8115 Jeannette St. in the space once occupied by Iris, 8 blocks further along the Carrollton streetcar line from the Camellia. They started life as our favorite purple truck in the world, parking outside music festival grounds and clubs like Tipitina’s selling barbecue and since they’ve settled have expanded into other local and Southern dishes like duck confit po-boys, pulled pork cake with “confit” potatoes and purple cabbage slaw, shrimp and grits with warm Kurobuta bacon vinaigrette and desserts like chile and chocolate chess pie (which is YUM) and Krispy Kreme Doughnut Bread Pudding (!!!). Robert Peyton, who writes the excellent New Orleans food blog Appetites as well as a monthly food column for New Orleans Magazine has an excellent series of photos from Boucherie to get your mouth watering.
Surely by this time you already know that one of the greatest desserts ever (not to mention booze-soakening material in the middle of the night) are the fluffy beignets at Café du Monde, the “Original French Market Coffee Stand” at the corner of Jackson Square on the upper end of the market. Those crisp-outside, pillowy-inside squares of fried dough covered in enough powdered sugar to make a tourist think you’re Tony Montana in “Scarface” (waving a beignet around with powdered sugar all over your face and shrieking “Say hello to my leetle friend!” might end up with you in the drunk tank, though) are truly heavenly and have remarkable sobering-up powers. I think they taste even better at 3am.
If you want to explore local sweets a little further, your St. Charles streetcar expedition might need a little interrupton before you make it all the way to the Riverbend. Hop onto the streetcar at Canal and get off a couple of miles later at Washington, walk down Washington toward the river (past Commander’s Palace) and take a right at Magazine St. In about six blocks you’ll have some excellent choices for pastry, sweets and frozen confections. La Divina Gelateria at 3005 Magazine is one of the best gelato places I’ve ever been to, anywhere. They’ve received national attention, and rightly so for such amazing and very locally-oriented offerings like Turbodog Chocolate Sorbet (made with the super-dark, chocolatey local Abita Turbodog Ale, and dairy-free) and Louisiana satsuma and fennel gelato.
Just a few doors down at 3025 Magazine is Sucré, who also make ice cream and sorbet but also an array of small and large pastries and handmade truffles and filled chocolates, including their signature piece (my favorite), a fleur-de-lis filled with a brown butter and white chocolate ganache. Their New Orleans collection includes a chicory coffee dark chocolate ganache-filled bonbon and a Bananas Foster-inspired piece filled with a white chocolate ganache, fresh banana and a bit of rum.
A bit further down the St. Charles line is the Creole Creamery at 4924 Prytania St. — get off the streetcar at Upperline, 5 blocks past Napoleon, walk 2 blocks toward the river to Prytania and take a right. About three dozen amazing housemade flavors of ice creams, sorbets and ices are on hand, including local flavors like Café au Lait, Steen’s Molasses Oatmeal Cookie, Red Velvet Cake, Brown Butter Pecan, Bananas Foster, Nectar Sherbet (based on a local soft drink and snowball flavor, an almond-vanilla blend that’s bright pinkish-red and best described as “wedding cake flavor”) and the incredible Creole Cream Cheese. I’m also fond of their Lavender-Honey Their flavors change constantly and they never cease to delight (for instance, last time I went in they had a flavor called “Pop Rouge,” based on a long-defunct local strawberry soft drink from our childhoods).
Okay … think this might keep y’all busy (and fat)? Let’s go eat.
Next, we drink! Stay tuned.
(Many thanks to Michael Pemberton for his assistance in this article.)