I want to get it straight from the get-go that I am not, nor have I ever considered myself, even remotely, a ‘foodie.’ That said, you don’t get to be a Big Boy by a macrobiotic diet of unseasoned beans.
While I refuse to be lumped in with all the foodies out there, I will heartily admit to loving food. Add to that the ‘ambiance of the authentic’ in a time when most that surrounds us is far from real and I’m there. Where? New Orleans, of course.
Don’t get me wrong, there are restaurants and bars, food stands and dives all over the world that please me, but no place in America has more of them in such a small concentration than New Orleans. I add that qualifier to get the folks in New York, San Francisco and Chicago off my back. Remember, I said, I have favorite places everywhere.
I’m not going to come even close to mentioning all the great food in New Orleans or where to get it. There are way too many other sources for that, but among my personal favorites are:
Parasol’s Bar in the old historic ‘Irish Channel’ at 2533 Constance St.
Beyond the drink, I go to this Irish bar for one thing and one thing alone, their Roast Beef Po Boy. It’s the best there is.
Of course, if I were ever to grow tired of the Roast Beef Po Boy at Parasol’s, there is a close second to my heart:
Parkway Bakery & Tavern at 538 Hagan Avenue. It claims to be “New Orleans’ oldest Po Boy Shoppe.” I don’t know if it is or not, but I do know there Roast Beef Po Boys are up there among the very best on earth. I got stuck at Parkway during a torrential down poor that led to flash flooding several years ago and at that moment I could think of a better place to be.
Liuzza's By The Track located at 1518 North Lopez is where I like to go for a BBQ Shrimp Po Boy. Plain, simple, delicious.
Best cheap breakfast: Slim Goody's, a diner in the western part of the Garden District at 3322 Magazine Street. It also has some great vegetarian options.
Cafe Reconcile located at 1631 Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard: Not only is this the best meat-and-three joint in New Orleans, it's a non-profit that trains young people from the neighborhood to work in the restaurant industry as chefs, cooks, servers and managers. This is one of my favorite restaurants, for how often can you make the world better by loading up a plate?
Central Grocery at 923 Decatur Street is always a welcome stop for lunch in New Orleans. And as far as I’m concerned, it’s all about their muffuletta, New Orleans' other great sandwich. Served on a circular loaf of soft Italian bread piled with ham, salami and provolone cheese that is covered with a spread of chopped green and black olives, a bit of anchovies and a hint of garlic.
Of course, while your at it, what’s a trip to New Orleans without at least one or more trips to Café du Monde (800 Decatur Street across the street and down a bit from Central Grocery) for the ultimate reurrection from a long night of drinking in New Orleans with powdered-sugar beignets, hot from the fryer, chicory coffee and orange juice (good any time of the day).
Mimi's in the Marigny, 2601 Royal Street. There is little doubt that they have the best tapas in New Orleans, located in the city's funkiest neighborhood. Bars on two levels, billiards downstairs, lounge upstairs with awesome food late, late at night amid a very funky lounge scene, usually with a great DJ thumpin.
My favorite thing to do at Mimi's: show up on Sunday nights for DJ Soul Sister -- old school R&B, funk, groove. Great dancing.
When it comes to burgers, it’s a toss up for me between Port of Call located at 838 Esplanade Avenue (Truly great burgers, but usually there’s a line to get them.) and Yo Mama's at 727 Saint Peter Street in the Quarter with equally great burgers. It's a bar that specializes in peanut butter bacon burgers and some rare and delicious tequilas. A winning combination in my book for sure.
Boucherie was opened by chef Nathanial Zimet who used to pull up ‘Que Crawl’ – a purple truck on the neutral ground outside Tipitina's nightclub during set breaks and sell AWESOME food to everyone with his take on New Orleans specialties, like fried boudin balls and duck gumbo. Late last year, he opened a real restaurant called Boucherie with more ambitious dishes than those he still serves at his truck, but nothing costs more than $15. Both the truck and the restaurant are better than just good and kind of off the map of the mainstays.
Domenica (504 648.6020; 123 Baronne Street New Orleans, Louisiana 70112; www.domenicarestaurant.com) the newest of Iron Chef finalist / Louisiana native John Besh’s amazing eateries. Using fresh and local ingredients, he conjures up wonderful rural Italian dishes – hand-made pasta, wood-fired pizzas and wonderful house-cured meats. All of this inside the handsomely-restored and chic Roosevelt Hotel
Coquette’s chef / proprietor Michael Stoltzfus serves up dishes like scallops w/ roast pork and mustard green ravioli and old-fashioned chocolate-filled beignets at this, the newest of Magazine Street's wonderful gathering of eateries. A+ local faire and seasonal dishes. (2800 Magazine St.; 504-265-0421)
During any month with a ‘r’ in it and May thrown in for good measure – that is oyster season, head over to Casamento’s at 4330 Magazine Street for some of the best oysters around. Truth is, folks around here eat oysters all year round these days, but they don’t eat ‘em within the tiled walls of Casamento’s except during oyster season and to be sure they don’t, the place is closed from June 1 until Labor Day. They have a good gumbo and an even better oyster stew.
You might not think of New Orleans as a barbeque city, but you'd be wrong. The Joint at 801 Poland Avenue is Exhibition A. The place is terrific and off the tourist path, in The Bywater. www.alwayssmokin.com
Lola's on Esplanade, that is 3312 Esplanade Avenue, has really good Spanish fare is funky and byo except for maybe wine…I can’t remember. What I do remember and often ask for is their garlic-infused seafood paellas or their fidueas. The fish dishes are great and the ambiance is perfect.
Napoleon House Bar & Café in the heart of the French Quarter at the corner of Chartres Street and St. Louis Street is a favorite of mine for a drink. Anywhere else my drink would most likely be a Jack and water, but because it is the Napoleon House where my uncles once drank in the backroom speakeasy fronted by a grocery store, I like to order a Pimm‘s Cup in their memory. The story is that a previous owner of the house offered it for use by the Emperor / General in exile. The décor is perfect in every detail and its one of the best places to start a long night.
Last time I was in New Orleans, I tried a brand new place called Green Goodess at 307 Exchange Place in the French Quarter. It’s Chris DeBarr’s new place. He came out of Commander’s Palace. One of my best foodie friends took me there and it was well worth it on every level. The place is small and the DeBarr’s handiwork is amazing.
Irene’s Cuisine known to most simply as ‘Irene’s’ can be found at 539 St. Phillip Street. I would sum it up as pure local. The cuisine is country French and Italian with garlic a staple of both. The food is worth whatever the wait. Just try not to act the role of the tourist. The regulars would like to think none of us have ever found the place. The wait staff could not be more welcoming.
My dad use to tell how, in 1909, his parents first entered the world that is Galatoire's Restaurant at 209 Bourbon Street on 1909. That would be four years after the restaurant opened its doors to the world. He would then always add, “You do have to wonder what took them so long to get here.” But no matter what the delay was, my family has been eating there for the last hundred years. I went there with the Louisiana Revival architect, A. Hays Town, many years ago and sat at what he claimed to be “my table.” As he lived in Baton Rouge, I was never sure that he really had “a table,” but Galatoire’s always seems like the kind of place where someone really could have “a table.” Beyond that, the food is rich and old-fashioned as is the service and the room. Even though I have waited over an hour for a table for a large party, I even like that fact that its still first come, first serve, at least downstairs. There is a sense that nothing has changed since my grandparents enter the place, though, truth be told, much has had to change even since Katrina. Still, when I’m in New Orleans, a return to Galatoire’s is a must for me, usually with something like broiled pompano covered in fresh crabmeat.
If my dad or grandfather were still around, I have little doubt that they would be frequenting Chef Donald Link's Herbsaint Restaurant and Bar located at 701 St. Charles Avenue. You see, like my dining choices, Donald’s cooking is inspired by his grandfather. And while Galatoire’s will always remain linked to me and my times in New Orleans, there is little doubt that Donald Link is the man of the hour. Dinner at Herbsaint can match any other grand meal in New Orleans these days. Julia Reed and her husband, John Pearce, first introduced me to the joint and for that, I will owe them forever.
So while we’re about praising the mastery of Chef Link, let’ not forget Cochon. This is Donald’s second restaurant. With a his tip of the hat to his own Cajun roots with dishes like Spoon Bread with Okra and Tomatoes or Rabbit and Dumplings or the makings of a Louisiana Cochon du Lait (pig roast) with Turnips and Cracklings – all of it his sophisticated take on Cajun cuisine and all things pig (930 Tchoupitoulas St.; 504-588-2123). And then above it, Calcasieu, his new private dining space (504-588-2188).
A trip to New Orleans without a muffalotto at Central Grocery or a Po Boy at Parasol’s or dinner at Galatoire's is never complete. Now add Herbsaint and John Besh’ Domenica to the top of that list. What’s good there? Ask Donald or John, they’re both usually around. A fro me, I would say simply “Everything!”
At this point, I begin to ponder why exactly I don’t live in New Orleans. Oh, yea, possibly because I would weigh in at 350 Lbs. That’s why.
So enough of my recommendations. After all, if you need more than these, then you already live there and don’t need any of these. It’s your town, for Pete’s sake. Bon appétit.