Places within places
Crabcakes Benedict at Runway Café
JEFFERY JOHNSTON PHOTOGRAPH
What amenity, might you ask, would make a trip to the airport, a day at the racetrack or a night at the movies more appealing? How about a meal. At these three places below, breakfast, lunch and dinner are served with New Orleans flair with a full bar to boot; what’s not to love?
Breakfast: Runway Café at Lakefront Airport
While you might not be flying privately, you can at least get a taste of it with breakfast at the Runway Café. Housed in the beautiful Art Deco-style Terminal Building at Lakefront Airport, guests here can settle into a window seat overlooking the tarmac and admire a fleet of aircraft that shames even the fanciest-schmanciest hotel’s array of Land Rovers and Benzes.
Executive chef Leon West’s breakfast menu extends into the afternoon and offers plenty of savory and crossover brunch items. Recommended dishes include Crab Cakes – opt for the breakfast version which comes with poached eggs and hollandaise, rather than the lunch version which isn’t as decadently composed. Dishes featuring the boudin, made in-house, are solid as well. Runway Café is also a good choice for dining with the kids – the runway views provide stimulation and parents can embark on short walks through the terminal proper while waiting for food to arrive. For grown-ups, a full bar is offered, though hopefully not to the pilots. Prices are quite reasonable – in fact a sit-down meal here is far better and cheaper than one at the gauche, mass-market Airport Who Must Not Be Named across town in Kenner.
Tip: This is popular with the after-church crowd on Sundays, so to get a good seat overlooking the tarmac arrive before 11 a.m., as reservations are only accepted for large parties.
Lunch: Fair Ground’s Clubhouse
Most locals are only familiar with the Fair Grounds as the place to attend a certain music festival on the last weekend of April and the first weekend in May. This is a shame, because they’re missing out on a quintessential New Orleans tradition. A long weekend lunch in the clubhouse turns a meal into a special occasion, and one which now includes tableside betting to boot.
For the clubhouse, reservations are a must. Settle into your stadium seat and you will see why – the racetrack is laid out like a tableau through a four-story wall of glass. Bloody Marys are often among the first things ordered, but pace yourself as the races every half-hour will keep you at your table longer than originally intended. The menu, while it won’t win any James Beard awards, is stacked with favorites like shrimp poor boys and also offers a pretty good Reuben. The best bet might be the corned beef, frequently referred to in the hushed and reverential tones more suited to a church than a track. For dessert, consider the Key lime pie – a gargantuan slice that might easily feed your whole table.
The clubhouse is fancier than the grandstand, so dress accordingly. And while it may seem counterintuitive, consider this an option for bringing the kids. There are plenty of distractions for the little ones, like checking out the paddock and the finish line, to compliment the adult entertainment like tableside betting and drinks. Just don’t try to take them up to the betting windows – trust me on this one.
Tip: The season is closing soon, so if you want to reserve a table in the clubhouse, call today. Bring cash to sidestep the steep surcharge with the onsite ATM, and pens and scratch paper to puzzle out the racing form.
Dinner: Gusto – Theaters at Canal Place
If you don’t have time for both dinner and a movie, consider Gusto at The Theaters at Canal Place, where you can have both simultaneously. This high-end dining concept is overseen by chef Adolfo Garcia, and along with his Spanish- and Mediterranean-inspired menu a bar and happy hour are part of the experience.
Settle into your leather clad Barcalounger and press the red button to summon your minion. While the menu includes a list of shared platters and salads, opt for the pizzas or panini sandwiches, which are easier to handle once the lights dim. I like the Sausage Flatbread Pizza, which features house-made fennel sausage and roasted red peppers. For sandwiches, the Spanish Muffaletta is a good bet – the heat from the panini press binds the ingredients together so that it’s more manageable in the dark.
This concept has its fans and detractors. Some people find it worth the premium, with more luxurious seats and smaller theaters to go along with their cocktails. Others find the service during showtimes distracting. But for a certain niche market, which includes parents who might want to squeeze in a movie and a meal but not have to shell out four hours of babysitting expenses, this is an attractive solution.
Tip: Tickets are best purchased in advance online as theaters are small. When selecting seats, consider one directly behind the handicapped row for a better line of sight. Do not forget to bring your parking ticket in for validation. Also, eating in the dark has its attendant concerns – don’t wear white pants!
The sleek, light-filled Café NOMA is a compelling amenity to the New Orleans Museum of Art. Operated by the Ralph Brennan Restaurant Group, Café NOMA offers an array of flatbread pizzas, elegant greens like their Chili Lime Shrimp Salad, and small plates like Bruschetta with House-Cured Salmon. Patio seating, a bar and a kids’ menu are pluses as well.
Having It All
6001 Stars and Stripes Blvd.
Breakfast & Lunch Tuesdays-Sundays
Clubhouse at the Fair Grounds Race Course
1751 Gentilly Blvd., Gentilly
Lunch & Open During Live Racing Hours, call for schedule
Gusto The Theaters at Canal Place
333 Canal Place, 3rd Floor
Lunch & Dinner daily