New Orleans will always hold a very special place in my heart. My earliest recollections of New Orleans are not of the city itself; they are of the food. And those food memories are mostly of Emeril Lagasse, the larger-than-life chef on the Food Network, spouting all that Cajun and Creole cuisine had to offer. Watching Emeril – back when the Food Network produced shows where chefs actually cooked – was fundamental in developing my love of food. It got me interested in cooking which eventually turned into a love of researching, visiting, and now writing about, great restaurants. When I really sit down and think about it, much of this food love comes back to New Orleans.
So my one – and, thus far, only – trip to the Crescent City had to be perfect. There would be food, of course. But in an ironic twist, the food of New Orleans took a back seat to the real star of the trip. You see, the city where food is first, is also where Chew, Party of Two got its start, so to speak. New Orleans will always be, first and foremost, where I proposed to my wife.
But, oh, the food. There is so much food to be had in New Orleans. It’s a city which birthed an original American food movement; an amalgamation of immigrant and indigenous cuisines. There are elements from African, French, Native American, and Spanish cuisines that, over time, married and formed these wonderful, soulful, and flavorful notions of Creole and Cajun cooking.
Yet New Orleans is also a city with a vibrant music and arts culture, beautiful architecture, and a huge nightlife scene. We were only there for a long weekend; not nearly enough time to try everything the city has to offer. In that short stay, here’s what we found:
Where We Stayed: The Roosevelt Hotel New Orleans (130 Roosevelt Way, New Orleans, Louisiana, 70112) Given the occasion, we stayed at the old school, and luxurious, Roosevelt Hotel. Originally opened in 1893, the hotel closed in 2005 after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. It was re-opened in 2009 after an extensive renovation – and is now run under the Waldorf Astoria banner. The Roosevelt lives up to its lofty reputation, offering comfortable and lavish rooms with decor that reflects the opulence of a bygone era. The hotel houses two bars, including the Sazerac Bar (where the eponymous drink was created), and the fantastic Domenica Restaurant.
What to Do: As much as you can. For me, it’s always the food, first and foremost. However, there is plenty exploration to do in and around the city. The most well
known site is the French Quarter – home to restaurants, bars, clubs, and retail. The Quarter, where world-famous Bourbon Street is located, has more than its fair share of nightlife, and is probably best known as the home of Mardi Gras. Also within the Quarter is Jackson Square and St. Louis Cathedral, one of the iconic visages of the city. During our stay, we also visited the Warehouse District, which has plenty of intimate art galleries to walk through, and headed north via cable car to New Orleans City Park. Within the park, a sprawling green space in the city, lies the New Orleans Museum of Art and the Botanical Gardens.
Where We Ate:
Café De Monde (800 Decatur Street, http://cafedumonde.com/) – Do yourself a favor and go to the original in the French Quarter. Eat some hot and delicious beignets, French donuts, fried, covered in powered sugar, and served piping hot. While there, make sure to wash down the beignets with some hot (or iced) chickory coffee. It’s a perfect start to the morning, or a great snack during the day. Enjoy the food, take in the scenery, and wander around the Quarter afterward. Reservations: walk-in only
Domenica (123 Baronne Street, http://www.domenicarestaurant.com/) – Sitting in the famed Roosevelt Hotel (see above), this restaurant has some of the best pizza that I’ve
had, period. In particular, the clam pie was something that rivaled the best offerings of the
Northeast. Domenica also features plenty of cured meats and cheese, a variety of Italian pastas (think tender gnocchi), and “Secondi” plates for the meat eaters. No, it’s not traditional New Orleans fare, but the restaurant is part of a group that belongs to John Besh, a New Orleans native son and a prominent figure in the city, and executive chef is Alon Shaya, who won Best Chef – South from the James Beard Foundation in 2015. Given our limited meals in the city, we still ended up at Domenica twice, so it’s well worth a detour. Bonus: If you want to sit and grab a drink at the Sazerac Bar before or after dinner, it’s literally next door. Reservations: accepted
Emeril’s Restaurant (800 Tchoupitoulas Street, http://www.emerilsrestaurants.com/) –
Probably the most well-known chef from New Orleans, this is his flagship restaurant. I may be a little biased as we went here for the celebratory meal after our engagement, but the food is fantastic; the service friendly and welcoming. A must: the Barbequed Shrimp – a staple on menus across the city – which features perfectly cooked shrimp smothered in a savory and creamy sauce that balances heat, tang, and richness. (For another take on the dish, I’m told that Mr. B’s Bistro in the French Quarter is worthy of a try.) Another mainstay, the Andouille Crusted Drum, highlights the light fish with a savory Creole Meuni
ere, texture from shoestring potatoes, and sweetness from glazed pecans. Go hungry as portions are sizable, and the menu tempting. Reservations: highly
Luke (333 St. Charles Avenue, http://www.lukeneworleans.com/) – We stopped by John Besh’s homage to French brasseries for breakfast, and found Luke to be plentiful in its portions, and homey in its presentation. Think biscuits topped with a full chicken breast fried beautifully and drizzled in honey, or piled high with crispy bacon, eggs, and sharp cheddar. The restaurant was quaint, the staff attentive, and the food well executed given its at-home feel. Reservations: accepted
Nola Brewing Company (3001 Tchoupitoulas Street, http://nolabrewing.com/) – Although you’ll need more than just your feet to get there, the tap room at Nola Brewing has some excellent pours from a constantly rotating cast of craft beers. They had some of my favorite beers of the trip, and since they are still developing a nationwide presence, it’s definitely an experience worth having. Since our visit, the tap room started serving full service BBQ from McClure’s – a local joint – that’s been well received. The only downside: great beers AND BBQ means larger crowds to deal with. Reservations: walk-in only
Peche Seafood Grill (800 Magazine Street, http://www.pecherestaurant.com/) – The Donald Link restaurant, just one in the group of impressive establishments from the New Orleans-based restauranteur, was named best new restaurant in 2014 by the James Beard Foundation. The restaurant features a lot of fresh seafood (as the name implies). I fondly recall munching on the crisp and delicious shrimp toast and the refreshingly light crab and jalapeño capellini. The surprise of the meal was my wife’s Chicken Diablo – which had a great pop of flavor, and was perfectly moist. Reservations: recommended
Still on the List: Here’s a quick take on the places we look forward to trying during future visits!
Cochon/Cochon Butcher (930/931 Tchoupitoulas Street, http://www.cochonrestaurant.com/ and http://www.cochonbutcher.com/) – Of all the places on the list, these sister restaurants from Donald Link are the biggest regret in not having time to get to, and one of the biggest reasons for a return to the city. They’re relatively young restaurants, the latter of which is a full scale butcher and sandwich shop (Cochon, meanwhile, is a full-service restaurant featuring all the delicious meats from the butcher). In speaking with people I trust, they say you can’t go wrong with any of the sandwiches at the butcher.
Commander’s Palace (1403 Washington Avenue, http://www.commanderspalace.com/) – The original. Commander’s is where Paul Prudhomme and Emeril Lagasse got their careers started. Open since 1893, the restaurant remains true the cuisine of New Orleans over a century later. Old school menus, decor, and charm. This restaurant is synonymous with the city itself.
Shaya (4213 Magazine Street, http://www.shayarestaurant.com/) – Given our love affair with Domenica, Alon Shaya’s well reviewed ode to Israeli cuisine is a must. Just look at the accolades. James Beard Award, Best Chef South. James Beard Award, Best New Restaurant. Esquire, Restaurant of the Year. New Orleans Magazine, Chef of the Year. This many people can’t all be wrong.
I could probably come up with a list of a dozen more places to eat while in New Orleans. A place for Po’ Boys. Somewhere for great gumbo. A shack for etoufee. Great jambalaya in a random corner store. The greatness of New Orleans is its culture, and a big part of that is the food. There is a pride and love with which I felt was well represented in all the food we had during our trip. We didn’t have a bad meal during our stay, and my guess is you won’t either, regardless of where you go. Bottom line: when in New Orleans, soak in the culture, eat up the food, and “laissez les bon temps rouler.”