Consider this food and drink review a shameless plug for the New Orleans tourist trade. I am happy to do my part. I covered the fanciest to the seediest sometimes more than once in a span of 24 hours. That would be every meal covered from the time I woke up to the time I went to sleep. It was the second week of Jazz fest after all and most shows don’t end until 8am. Some, as was the case with Vinyl at Maple Leaf even serve their own breakfast (pancakes and champagne). Eating, and doing it frequently, is one of the surest ways to survive the festivities. Drinking of course, is the other. Here are some highlights…
Friday afternoon…with the rains coming down I made an executive decision to forgo the fairgrounds (and Stevie Wonder!) and instead eat my way through the afternoon. Joined by an ex New Orleans resident (she lost everything in Katrina) and an ex New Yorker (she wanted a backyard) we set out for the French Quarter. First stop: Desire Oyster Bar for well, oysters, roast beef Po’ Boys and Bloody Marys—spicy, pickled beans, olives—the works. The oysters were delicious, the roast beef Po Boy one of the best I’ve ever had, the Bloody Mary perfectly spicy with all the necessary vegetables. The waiters are some of the nicest people I met all weekend. It was a perfect welcome to us weary travelers who had yet to check into our hotel.
Our spirits restored, we headed to one of my favorite spots: Napoleon House. A perfect writer’s haunt this 200 year old landmark is famous for their Pimm’s Cup. Pimm’s Cup is made with Pimm’s No.1, a gin-based beverage flavored with fruits and spices invented in 1823. It is perfectly refreshing and fruity without being too sweet. Despite their closing (the bar closes at 5:30 and it was after 6) they let us enjoy our drinks out on the partially covered garden patio out back and watch the rain.
Back on the sidewalk the rain fell harder and the host inside Nola (Emeril Lagasse’s restaurant) watched us as we huddled for shelter across the street. Laughing he beckoned us in. And in we went. “I’m glad you came”, he said. My first trip to Nola was 14 years ago and I still remember the soup I ordered (tomato bisque)—it was the best I’ve ever had. We opted for dessert instead and ordered a banana foster’s bread pudding with Drunken Monkey ice cream and a peanut butter pie at the bar. I’m not a peanut butter fan which worked out perfectly considering the speed in which my New York friend devoured it, “ooing” and “ahhing” as she went. I was busy working my way through the warm bread pudding—amazing. We learned a few things about distilled flavored vodka—you don’t eat the fruit; that is where the impurities are taken out–and watched the crowds pile in.
We topped our dessert off with yet another: Café Du Monde beignets and café ole. We were stuffed but couldn’t resist. A classic tradition in New Orleans and they didn’t disappoint. Hot crescent dough puffs covered in powdered sugar. They melt in your mouth and staved off the chill long enough to get back to the hotel.
7am: St. Charles Tavern for an egg and cheese sandwich and Bloody Mary. It’s a seedy little coffee shop a block from the hotel. The place looks like it hasn’t been touched since the 50s except for this odd digital contraption they replaced their jukebox with that seems intent on playing only Aerosmith regardless of your instructions. The crowd: a typical mix of elderly men enjoying a cup of coffee before they head off to work, and the jazz Fest stragglers enjoying breakfast before they head off to bed. And while it is open 24 hours a day I don’t recommend it at any hour other than the ones you should be sleeping during.
Breakfast. Magazine is one of my favorite streets in New Orleans—charming, eclectic, beautiful. Juan’s Burritos and Nirvana are two great choices but we were looking for omelets. We found them and Ignatius Eatery. Crawfish Etouffee omelet—fluffy eggs encased crawfish and cheese with a cream sauce with more crawfish on top. Delicious. The Ham and cheese omelet was equally delightful with large strips of fresh ham. The ingredients are all fresh. A perfect place for a late brunch (they serve until 3), comfortably seated at a sidewalk table we eased our way back to life.
After a crawfish boil pool party we headed back to the Quarter for Mint Juleps in celebration of the Kentucky Derby at Pat O’Brian’s. By now the quarter is in full swing and a woman celebrating her birthday is passed out in a bathroom stall. From the looks of the crowd a few more women are sure to follow and then perhaps the men. I’m not a fan of the cocktail and discreetly passed mine off to the person sitting next to me who swore it was the “best he had ever had.” (There is a theme here). Marchiano cherries and a large juicy orange slice perched in a tall elegant glass they were certainly pretty to look at.
Dinner: Verti Mart. Also a tradition whenever I’m in town. It’s a small corner deli with a tall glass case full of comfort food. Mac and Cheese, green beans, potatoes gratin, cheddar broccoli and chicken parm to go. The order takes a while but well worth it as reflected in the crowd that broke into a loud cheer when a lucky customer was handed their bag of treats. FYI: they deliver.
6 am: St Charles Tavern…the tradition has been established.
FEMA trailers abound. Little improvement has been made where the flooding hit the hardest. Whole neighborhoods look exactly the same as when I first went right after Katrina. But others, like the Quarter and Magazine, are wholly intact. And the spirit, as always, is alive and kicking. Go there. Eat. Spend money. Do what you can. There is no other place like it in the world and we can do our part one restaurant (and bar) at a time.
534 St Louis St
New Orleans, LA 70130
Phone: (504) 522-6652
Desire Oyster Bar
300 Bourbon St
New Orleans, LA 70130
New Orleans, LA 70195
4200 Magazine St
New Orleans, LA 70115
718 St. Peter Street
New Orleans, LA 70116
500 Chartres St
New Orleans, LA
Café Du Monde French Market
800 Decatur Street
New Orleans, LA 70116
St. Charles Tavern
1433 St. Charles Ave
New Orleans, LA 70130-4443 Phone: 504-523-9823