New Orleans: Eating and Drinking Beyond the French Quarter

November 19, 2015 12:43 pm Last Updated: November 19, 2015 6:01 pm

New Orleans is a city that can’t contain itself. You see it in the music that spills out into the street, in the tree roots heaving up slabs of asphalt in the Garden District, and in the rhythms, carried on the air that set people dancing.

That’s the kind of joie de vivre that permeates the city, where the rhythm of life carries residents and visitors from one celebration to another throughout the year. 

(Cheryl Gerber/New Orleans CVB)
(Cheryl Gerber/New Orleans CVB)

It’s not just the famous (or infamous, depending on your take) Mardi Gras, but festivals devoted to gumbo, the creole tomato, the oyster, and cocktails. There’s the Running of the Bulls (just substitute derby girls for angry bulls) and the Red Dress Run (where runners don red dresses) and, coming up soon, the Running of the Santas. Any excuse for fun will do.

Take in the view of St. Louis Cathedral at dusk—with a paper cup of Bordeaux in hand.(Channaly Philipp/Epoch Times)
Take in the view of St. Louis Cathedral at dusk—with a paper cup of Bordeaux in hand.(Channaly Philipp/Epoch Times)

You can meander through the streets with a drink in hand, unlike anywhere else in the country. Leave a drink unfinished, even at an upscale spot like Tableau as I did, and you’ll be offered a to-go cup. It can be a little surprising for those who are only used to seeing a disposable cup hold caffeinated stuff. I demurred but the bartender was insistent. “City rules,” he told me as he sent me into the dusky evening with a bordeaux-filled paper cup. 

Never mind that I lacked the grace of a native and ended up spilling it over my legs and shoes. To make it work, slow down and relax.

Many cocktails were born in New Orleans, such as the Sazerac (America’s first cocktail, in the 1830s), the Ramos Gin Fizz, the flaming, boozy Café Brûlot, and the Hurricane. In some cases you can even have them in the original spot.

Sazerac at Compère Lapin in New Orleans. (Channaly Philipp/Epoch Times)
Sazerac at Compère Lapin in New Orleans. (Channaly Philipp/Epoch Times)

If you like your history with a glass of whiskey with tales of intrigue, there’s no better way to get to know the historic French Quarter than by putting yourself in the hands of drinks historian Elizabeth Pearce, who leads cocktail tours through the Quarter (see her recommendations for where to drink).

There’s plenty of food to go with the imbibing, and what food it is. The cuisines you find here, you can’t find anywhere else in America together in such jostling abundance: Creole, Cajun (from the French Acadians who found refuge here), Africans, Spanish, Germans, and also waves of Italian immigrants (such as the wonderful snoballs at Hansen’s Sno-Bliz) and Vietnamese immigrants. 

There are establishments that have existed since nearly the dawn of time (in terms of American history) such as Antoine’s, which dates back to 1840; the Friday lunch at Galatoire is legendary. By the way, as a rule don’t even try to reach anyone on work business after 3 p.m. on Fridays.

Seafood, given the proximity to the Gulf, is king here: oysters, whether charbroiled, Rockefeller, or fried for a cascade of golden goodness in po’ boys; BBQ shrimp (which is not even barbecued but rather served saucy); the crab and crawfish beignets; and so much more.

The pig too has been made good use of here, with the German heritage of charcuterie. Chef Donald Link over the years has put forward Cajun cooking—at his casual restaurant Cochon Butcher in the Warehouse District, a butcher shop/restaurant/wine bar, the meaty goodness is all made by hand. Terrines, sausages, rillettes, head cheese, lardo, andouille—it’s all here. 

Cochon Butcher. (Channaly Philipp/Epoch Times)
Cochon Butcher. (Channaly Philipp/Epoch Times)

Whatever you do, don’t miss the hot boudin—speckled with rice throughout, it has an extraordinary texture. The best muffaletta in town may well be here—a giant sandwichfest of ham, salami, mortadella, and provolone, served with crunchy chow chow pickles with the perfect balance of sweetness and sourness. It was a sandwich I carried back to New York for my family.

Even the pralines here get a dose of porky goodness—you can grab some bacon pralines on your way out.

When all the heavy meals have got you down, head over to Meauxbar, run by owner and executive chef Kristen Essig. The cooking is French-based and the menu is seasonal, taking advantage of the incredible seafood in the Gulf region.

Essig was the market manager at the Crescent City Farmers Market in 2012. The Escargot in Bone is an unforgettable experience—escargots are cooked with marrow and vermouth, and the finishing touch is a shot of Herbsaint poured into the bone.

Bone in Escargot at Meauxbar. (Rush Jagoe)
Bone in Escargot at Meauxbar. (Rush Jagoe)

The Louisiana Gulf Fish Amandine (made with fresh-caught drum when I was there) is out of this world.

Louisiana Gulf Amandine at Meauxbar. (Rush Jagoe)
Louisiana Gulf Amandine at Meauxbar. (Rush Jagoe)

Most visitors who come to New Orleans never venture beyond the French Quarter. Fair enough: There’s a lot there to see. But take the time to wander and you’ll find some treasures that New Orleanians have mostly kept to themselves.

Faubourg Marigny 

From the French Quarter it is a short trip to Frenchmen Street, in the Faubourg Marigny, the pulsing epicenter of New Orleans music. Frenchmen Street is full of music clubs, but music spills out onto the sidewalks, with solo musicians or bands performing on their street. Only a few seconds walk between spots puts you within earshot of different strains of jazz or blues, sometimes rocking, sometimes more doleful.

Walter Wolfman Washington & the Roadmasters perform at d.b.a, on Frenchmen Street. (Channaly Philipp/Epoch Times)
Walter Wolfman Washington & the Roadmasters perform at d.b.a, on Frenchmen Street. (Channaly Philipp/Epoch Times)

Some of the popular acts will start well after the tourists have gone to bed so locals have a chance to listen to their favorite musicians without tourists around. It is well worth fortifying yourself to catch a midnight show. Popular spots include d.b.a., Vaughn’s, Candle Light Lounge, and Le Bon Temps Thursday.

Art market on Frenchmen Street. (Channaly Philipp/Epoch Times)
Art market on Frenchmen Street. (Channaly Philipp/Epoch Times)

Mid-City

Some neighborhoods are further out but worth making the trip to. City Park, with its venerable ancient oaks, is home to the New Orleans Museum of Art.

The 800-year-old MacDonough Oak in City Park, New Orleans. (Channaly Philipp/Epoch Times)
The 800-year-old MacDonough Oak in City Park, New Orleans. (Channaly Philipp/Epoch Times)

It also happens to be home to Morning Call Coffee Stand. Every tourist flocks to Café du Monde, but Morning Call, which has been around since 1870, churns out the freshest beignets. Everyone has been there for years, if not decades, and the waiters are like benevolent uncles.

Behold ... the best beignets in NOLA are at Morning Call Coffee Stand. (Channaly Philipp/Epoch Times)
Behold … the best beignets in NOLA are at Morning Call Coffee Stand. (Channaly Philipp/Epoch Times)

 

(Channaly Philipp/Epoch Times)
(Channaly Philipp/Epoch Times)

Close by, Parkway Bakery and Tavern churns out some of the best po’ boys in town, replete with variations like Hot Roast Beef With Gravy, Fried Oysters, or for the best of land and sea, the Parkway Surf and Turf, with roast beef and golden shrimp, all covered in gravy. Even POTUS has stopped by here for these sandwiches.

Shrimp Po' Boy at Parkway Bakery and Tavern. (Channaly Philipp/Epoch Times)
Shrimp Po’ Boy at Parkway Bakery and Tavern. (Channaly Philipp/Epoch Times)

Getting Around

Yes, you could hail Uber or a cab, but the speed of this town demands a slower way to get around.

The folks over at the family-owned Free Wheelin’ Bike Tours, based in the French Quarter, live and breathe New Orleans. They can trace back their genealogy in the city for hundreds of years. Their arsenal includes sturdy American-made cruiser bicycles, which can comfortably take you on the city’s sometimes very bumpy roads, and their tours are superlative—entertaining and educational.

The best to see New Orleans? On a bike—plus you get to burn off the calories. Above a tour led by Free Wheelin' Bike Tours. (Channaly Philipp/Epoch Times)
The best to see New Orleans? On a bike—plus you get to burn off the calories. Above a tour led by Free Wheelin’ Bike Tours. (Channaly Philipp/Epoch Times)

Among many destinations, they’ll take you through Tremé, the country’s oldest black neighborhood—little of which was actually featured in the HBO series of the same name. Tours take you through the city’s varied neighborhoods, including well-known ones such the Garden District, lush with gardens and mansions, as well as lesser known ones.

Buckner Mansion in the Garden District. (Kelley Pettus/New Orleans CVB)
Buckner Mansion in the Garden District. (Kelley Pettus/New Orleans CVB)

If you want to go your own way, you have the option of renting a bike.

For dinner in Tremé, check out the speakeasy supper club The PDR NOLA. The chef, Rita Bernhardt, worked at John Besh’s August before striking out with partner William Barial. They offer a five-course prix fixe in an intimate setting. Bernardt has a gift for combining flavors that beckon you to sit down and savor every single bite. Alternatively, it’s worth checking out their space at the recently opened St. Roch’s Market, a collective of food entrepreneurs. The vegan Charred Eggplant, with crispy Louisiana rice, roasted pepper sauce, and various veggies at their peak of ripeness was among the best dishes I experienced in New Orleans.

The PDR NOLA's Charred Eggplant, with crispy Louisiana rice, roasted pepper sauce, and vegetables. (Channaly Philipp/Epoch Times)
The PDR NOLA’s Charred Eggplant, with crispy Louisiana rice, roasted pepper sauce, and vegetables. (Channaly Philipp/Epoch Times)

The Bywater

You could call The Bywater artsy, edgy, eclectic, hipster. It’s long been a working-class neighborhood but with many spaces exhibiting visual and performance art as well as artisan crafts, and many bars and restaurants—it is a destination of its own.

A night at Bacchanal feels like a secret (though it isn’t). When you enter, pick a bottle from the store, and head out to the illuminated backyard, where musicians take the stage every night.

Bands perform every night at Bacchanal in the lit-up backyard. (Channaly Philipp/Epoch Times)
Bands perform every night at Bacchanal in the lit-up backyard. (Channaly Philipp/Epoch Times)

The Warehouse Arts District & the Central Business District

The Warehouse Arts District and the Central Business District (CBD) teem with art galleries and larger museums such as the National World War II Museum and the Ogden Museum of Southern Art.

Only steps away from the bustle of the French Quarter, it makes for a calmer but still central home base. A pet-friendly place to stay is The Old No. 77 Hotel & Chandlery, which opened in the spring. It is light and airy, with rustic details from the building’s past as a warehouse.

The Old No. 77 Hotel & Chandlery in the Warehouse Arts District. (Courtesy of The Old No. 77 Hotel & Chandlery)
The Old No. 77 Hotel & Chandlery in the Warehouse Arts District. (Courtesy of The Old No. 77 Hotel & Chandlery)

A bonus of staying there is the restaurant downstairs, Compère Lapin (French for “brother rabbit” and a mischievous character in Caribbean and Creole folk tales), helmed by chef Nina Compton who hails from St Lucia. Her cuisine reflects a meeting of New Orleans and the Caribbean, with an Italian influence.

For brunch in the neighborhood, head to Willa Jean, the latest of chef John Besh’s restaurants. The pastries and breads are phenomenal, and the Southern-accented menu—think hanger steak and cheese grits, or corn and crab fritters—is a delight. The biscuit, golden, and seemingly made of endless golden, flaky layers, is worth the trip alone. Pair it with either butter and jam or fried chicken, and voilà, brunch heaven.

Biscuits at Willa Jean. (Rush Jagoe)
Biscuits at Willa Jean. (Rush Jagoe)

Joie de Vivre

“Laissez les bon temps rouler” is a Cajun expression for “Let the good times roll.” It encapsulates a contagious spirit: a joie de vivre that extends from locals to visitors. The hospitality is generous, the drinks plentiful, the food abundant. Just be ready if you go: you might need a vacation to recover from your vacation.

For more information, see www.neworleanscvb.com 

IF YOU GO:

Cochon Butcher
930 Tchoupitoulas St.
New Orleans, LA 70130
504-588-7675
www.cochonbutcher.com

Meauxbar
942 North Rampart Street, NW
New Orleans, LA 70116
504-569-9979
www.meauxbar.com

Hansen’s Sno-Bliz
4801 Tchoupitoulas St.
New Orleans, LA 70115
504-891-9788
www.snobliz.com

Frenchmen Art Market
619 Frenchmen St. (next to The Spotted Cat)
New Orleans, LA 70119
frenchmenartmarket.com
Morning Call Coffee Stand
City Park Casino
morningcallcoffeestand.com

Parkway Bakery and Tavern
538 Hagan Ave.
New Orleans, LA 70119
504-482-3047
www.parkwaypoorboys.com

Free Wheelin’ Bike Tours
325 Burgundy St.
New Orleans, LA 70112
www.neworleansbiketour.com

The PDR NOLA
504-491-4673
www.thepdrnola.com

Bacchanal Wine
600 Poland Ave.
New Orleans, LA 70117
504-948-9111
www.bacchanalwine.com

The Old No. 77 Hotel & Chandlery
535 Tchoupitoulas St.
New Orleans, LA 70130
504-527-5271
old77hotel.com

Willa Jean
611 O’Keefe Ave.
New Orleans, LA 70113
504-509-7334
www.willajean.com

A snocone at Hansen's Sno-Bliz. (Channaly Philipp/Epoch Times)
A snocone at Hansen’s Sno-Bliz. (Channaly Philipp/Epoch Times)