Tops of New Orleans - Reader Picks

selected winner profiles

Results are in. New Orleans Magazine’s readers have voted in a multitude of categories. A detachable, postage-paid ballot was included in the magazine’s October 2010 issue. Readers were also able to vote online at the magazine’s website MyNewOrleans.com. In some categories there were significant clusters of votes so that second and third places and beyond were announced in addition to first place. In a few categories where the votes were too widely dispersed rather than clustered, the category was dropped. By the way, a personal note to our readers: To us you are the ultimate Tops of The Town.

P.S. As promised, we did a drawing from the submitted ballots. Dee & Tom Igou of Huntington, W.V., won a lunch at the Rib Room at the Royal Orleans Hotel; Cindy Brown of New Orleans won a brunch for two at The Court of Two Sisters.
 



Favorite Local Radio Personality:
GARLAND ROBINETTE


“I feel like I have an opportunity to help and give voice to the average person,” says radio talk show host and Louisiana native son Garland Robinette of the popular “Think Tank” show on WWL Radio.

Robinette, who has a long history with New Orleans media, has worked as an environmental reporter and television news anchor for WWL-TV; he has also served as head of public relations and communications for Freeport McMoran; and he started his own firm, Planet Communication. He is also an avid painter, and hopes to devote more time to his craft in the upcoming year.

His current slot on WWL Radio began as a favor to a sick friend, then-host David Tyree, who was battling cancer in 2005 and had asked friends with broadcast experience to sit in with him. When Tyree passed away after Hurricane Katrina, Robinette became his replacement and his ratings have soared since. His goals are, he says, “To help the city and state as long as the audience thinks I’m doing such.” Robinette’s voice can be heard Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

While his gig has allowed him to interview people from all walks of life – he’s also well known for asking tough questions to former Mayor Nagin and former President Bush – Robinette says that his favorite interview subjects are of a younger, optimistic generation.

The father to a teenage daughter, Robinette says that he enjoys talking to “young entrepreneurs who don’t know what ‘what won’t work’ means – they intend to be successful regardless. I think we have another great generation coming.”

– Sarah Ravits



Favorite Local New Orleans Actor:
RICKY GRAHAM


When the curtain falls on a stage performance, local actor, director and writer Ricky Graham’s fun is far from over.

“The great thing about performing in New Orleans, hands-down, is the audience,” the theatrical triple-threat says.

“These people are so giving and so loyal … I love coming out to meet people after a show – I know, New York actors would be appalled! But New Orleans people want to shake your hand and tell you how much they loved the show, and how they’re going to get their Maw-Maws to come see it. Nothing can top that!”

Graham entered the theatre world in the late 1960s with NORD Theatre, the only theater at the time that was specifically geared toward young people. He briefly left the Big Easy for the Big Apple to attend the Pratt Institute, a Brooklyn art school, but quickly returned and, in ’75, began working with fellow future theatre legends Fred Palmisano and Becky Allen. The three collaborated on several projects, including a long-running cabaret act and several original musicals.

“After an un-chosen career of being a waiter for 10 years, I finally had a break when I wrote …And The Ball And All, which gave me the impetus (and the income) to make a livelihood from doing theatre,” Graham says of his rise to local fame.

Some of Graham’s favorite roles have included playing the leads in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Oliver and Chicago at Tulane Summer Lyric Theatre. “And performing in my own shows at Le Chat Noir is the closest thing to heaven I can imagine,” he says. “I look forward this year also to working at Southern Rep and the Tulane Shakespeare Festival.”

A man who wears several theatrical hats, Graham has trouble naming his favorite one. “People ask me which I like best: acting, writing or directing. Usually it’s whatever I’ve just done.”

As for inspiration, Graham  shoots for the stars. “I’ve heard it said that we strive to be what we aren’t,” he says, “and I guess that’s very true in my case since my inspiration comes from sophisticated giants like Noel Coward, Oscar Wilde, Cole Porter and contemporary British playwrights such as Alan Bennett and Alan Ayckbourn.”

Graham is a regular fixture at Le Petit Théâtre du Vieux Carré and Le Chat Noir, winning the hearts of theater-goers. “For a yat from the 9th Ward, I ain’t done too bad!”

– Jordan DeFrank



Favorite Hotel & Favorite Remodeled/Renovated Building:
THE ROOSEVELT NEW ORLEANS


New Orleans cherishes its vibrant past while embracing a bright future, and one of the buildings that best represents this sentiment is the newly restored Roosevelt New Orleans Hotel, which reopened in 2009 as part of the Waldorf Astoria Collection.

The legendary hotel – which once famously housed one of Louisiana’s most colorful politicians, Huey P. Long (for whom a suite is named) – has long been known for its glamour, excitement and comfort.

Today the hotel features state-of-the-art amenities, but its architecture and décor pay tribute to bygone eras. The Roosevelt opened in 1893 as the Grunewald Hotel; in 1923 the name was changed to honor President Theodore Roosevelt and, in ’65, it became the Fairmont after changing ownership. Following Hurricane Katrina, which devastated the hotel and hindered the hospitality industry in general, a Louisiana-based hotel development company took over the property. The Hilton Hotel group, which oversees Waldorf Astoria properties, manages the building, which was restored it to its original splendor.

The hotel features 504 rooms, including 135 luxury suites. The restaurants within the hotel, including The Sazerac Restaurant and John Besh’s Domenica, have been highly acclaimed. Another highlight is the alluring Blue Room, which often serves as the backdrop for special events or just a nice evening out on the town.

The Sazerac Bar can make you feel as if you’ve time-traveled to a more glamorous era of sultry-voiced movie stars bedecked in pearls and fur. The Art Deco hot spot, with wood paneling and brass fixtures, also features large murals created by Paul Ninas that depict life during the early 1930s. Throughout the decades, the bar has hosted Marlene Dietrich, Louis Armstrong and Frank Sinatra, among numerous others. The bar is famous for a few drinks, most notably its eponymous cocktail, as well as the Ramos Gin Fizz – the aforementioned Huey P. Long’s favorite. And there’s just something wonderfully decadent about telling the bartender: “I’ll take a Southern Gentleman – no, make that two.”

– S.R.



Favorite Place to Place Your Bets:
NEW ORLEANS FAIR GROUNDS RACE COURSE & SLOTS

Though there has been live horse racing at the site of the New Orleans Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots since 1852 (its inaugural season under the name “Fair Grounds” was 1872), this year will mark the first million-dollar race ever run in New Orleans: the 98th running of the Louisiana Derby. 

“The Louisiana Derby is our state’s Kentucky Derby, a sacred holiday for sports fans with even a passing interest in racing that attracts our biggest crowd of the year, some who come for the races and others who come for the party,” says Jim Mulvihill, communications and pari-mutel marketing manager for the Fair Grounds.

Something new: The Fair Grounds has added “Starlight Racing,” which, Mulvilhill says, “has grown into a big-time social scene with lots of people dressed to impress.” These nights feature two distinct experiences: a club atmosphere in the Miller Beer Garden and a sophisticated vibe in the Clubhouse with the Starlight Ultra Lounge.

There is also live music, the “Starlight Dancers” (who wear jockey outfits and carry whips) and an enhanced Clubhouse menu by Chef Ray Derderlan. There are three Starlight Racing dates set for 2011 (Jan. 21, Feb. 18 and March 18), with live music, DJs, drink specials and specialty food vendors for only $10.

“The Fair Grounds has long been known for having the best food of any racetrack in the nation,” Mulvilhill says, and adds that the Tenacious Bar in the Clubhouse features the best Bloody Mary in town.

So the next time you visit the Fair Grounds to place your bet, consider trying out something new – or playing hooky for a drink, some haute cuisine and a quick bet.

– Morgan Packard



Favorite Street for a Sunday Drive:
ST. CHARLES AVENUE


Ever since we added the category “Favorite Street for a Sunday Drive” to our Tops list in 2006, St. Charles Avenue has scored the highest – overwhelmingly. In 2007, The American Planning Association named it one of the Top 10 Great Streets in America.

Called the “Jewel of America’s Grand Avenues,” it’s known for its collection of majestic mansions; Loyola and Tulane universities; Audubon Park; a multitude of historic churches and synagogues; its ability to be toured by foot, car or streetcar; and, of course, the oaks that line it.

“Quite simply, St. Charles Avenue is a symbol of New Orleans to the entire world,” says Frederic Theodore “Ted” LeClercq, an attorney with local firm Deutsch, Kerrigan & Stiles, who had the idea for the St. Charles Avenue Oak Project, a privately funded initiative to re-invigorate the live oaks that provide the avenue’s green canopy.

The idea to replant the avenue began post-Hurricane Katrina when LeClercq and his wife Courtney were looking for a way to help the city, “rise and counter the prevailing attitude in the national press regarding New Orleans.” After successfully replanting Lee Circle to Jackson Avenue, he returned to the avenue a year later to complete the project.

By Jan. 2, 2011, the project will have planted almost 275 new live oaks along the avenue. “This was last done sometime between the 1870s and 1890s,” LeClercq says. LeClercq is still attempting to raise the last $23,000 of the $300,00 project; if you’d like to contribute, your tax deductible donation cane be sent to “Save the Oaks, Inc.” to LeClercq’s attention at 755 Magazine St., New Orleans, LA 70130. Once those trees are planted, LeClercq looks forward to retiring from “tree projects.” “When you combine the oak tree canopy with the streetcar and historic homes,” he says, ”you get one of the greatest streets in the entire United States.”

– M.P.



Favorite Italian Restaurant:
VINCENT'S ITALIAN CUISINE


For more than two decades New Orleanians have been experiencing the fare at Vincent’s Italian Cuisine, which founder and owner Vincent Catalanotto calls “a neighborhood Italian restaurant with a Creole twist.” He says that Vincent’s has been a local favorite because “(It’s) very comfortable and quaint, where everyone knows your name.”

Vincent’s original location in Metairie opened in 1989; the Uptown location, now open every Sunday, opened in 1998. “Our goal is for people to know that Vincent’s isn’t just an Italian restaurant with classic Italian dishes, but a restaurant that has some of the best food over all in the city,” Catalanotto says. Vincent’s also prides itself on authenticity (Catalanotto looks to his Sicilian roots for inspiration) and freshness – the restaurant doesn’t depend on walk-in coolers or freezers, only featuring fresh seafood, produce, meats and cheeses delivered daily.

Signature dishes at the Italian-Creole eatery include Cannelloni (Veal and Spinach Stuffed Cannelloni is the house specialty), Seafood Stuffed Pork Chops, Osso Bucco, Veal Marsala and Herb-Crusted Salmon, but lunch-goers are often drawn by the free martinis offered Tuesday through Friday.

Catalanotto says people keep coming back to Vincent’s because “(we) serve very consistent food at a reasonable price and we make the dining experience very personable.” The restaurant has kept things in the family; Catalanotto’s son, Vincent Jr., is also part of the business.

On the horizon for New Orleans’ “Favorite Italian Restaurant” is an expansion of its catering and banquet business for accommodating larger parties. The business can currently hold private parties with up to 100 guests at the restaurant and up to 1,000 guests at an outside location.

Whether people keep returning for the free martinis, the personable service or the molto buono Italian-Creole food, one thing is for certain: They keep on returning.

– J.D.



Favorite Bakery:
SWISS CONFECTIONERY


When it comes to sweets, Swiss Confectionery is anything but neutral. The local bakery, now known for wedding and birthday cakes, opened in 1921 when a master baker from Switzerland, Henri Moecklin, started the family tradition. “We (are celebrating) 90 years of family ownership and operation of our bakery in 2011,” says Swiss Confectionary owner Laurent Moecklin (great-grandson of Henri). “We are working hard to incorporate the fifth generation of family into the bakery.”

While cakes are the name of the game at Swiss, “We also make a wide assortment of fancy petits fours and pastries that our loyal customers enjoy year after year at their family and office gatherings,” Moecklin says. “King cakes, doberge (cakes) and almond buttercream are also in demand.”

Swiss hasn’t only kept its sweet business in the family, but has also kept it local. “Generation after generation, our customers return for the same products they’ve eaten at parties and events,” he says. “We concentrate on our local base and not on sending our baked goods all over the country.”

For Moecklin, the creative side of his job is the most rewarding aspect of operating Swiss. “The actual baking and finishing of our cakes and pastries has always given me great satisfaction,” he says. “I don’t enjoy the nuts and bolts of the business end, but it’s something that has to be done, I guess.”

While many businesses suffered after Hurricane Katrina, Swiss saw a quick return of its customer base. “As customers returned to New Orleans after Katrina, inevitably they would show up at our shop to get a cake or petit four that they missed while evacuated,” Moecklin says. “Several out-of-town newspaper articles were forwarded to us by displaced customers, citing things New Orleanians missed the most. Gratefully we were always on that list.

That was very rewarding.”

– J.D.

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