Kid-friendly Mardi Gras eats
JEFFERY JOHNSTON PHOTOGRAPH
Mardi Gras is all about fun, for singles and for families alike. And while there’s no shortage of places to soak up a raucous good time, there are also plenty of places to take the kids.
Visitors to New Orleans should know what locals stress all the time: Mardi Gras, especially along the routes farther Uptown and the extended routes along Magazine Street, is great for kids. And if you happen to have your little ones in tow this Carnival season, know that there are plenty of places to enjoy a good meal and adult beverages. Even better, some of these are helmed by New Orleans’ most acclaimed chefs.
At Susan Spicer’s Lakeview restaurant Mondo, the menu culls flavors from around the world, from Paris, Texas to Paris, France. Global influences have always played a role in Spicer’s creations, but unlike her flagship Bayona, Mondo is low-key and kid-friendly to boot.
“I wanted Mondo to be a neighborhood restaurant,” notes Spicer, who lives in the area. “And this being Lakeview I knew there would be a lot of kids nearby. We try to do things that are interesting and based on my experiences with my own step kids. Plus, I wanted to offer something other than chicken nuggets.”
Comfortable booths and a spacious dining room, as well as an accommodating staff, are part of the appeal. Simple dishes like sautéed shrimp are offered and can also be fried upon request. Buttered noodles, mac and cheese and quesadillas are other options. Wood-fired pizzas and the Mondo burger are popular crossover items from the adult menu. But the real standout is the pizza bar – basically an unadvertised treat in which your little one can cozy up on a stool at the wood-burning oven station and for $5 get a portion of dough to play with to create his or her own mini-pizza. It then gets fired to order and your kid gets to be both the chef and the customer.
“That pizza thing isn’t on the menu,” Spicer adds. “It is just something that has kind of developed along the way because people like to bring their kids by to look at the oven.” The insider knowledge makes it that much more appealing.
Another popular place to bring the smaller folk is Pizza Domenica on Magazine Street. It shares DNA with its big brother Domenica down in the CDB, so diners here can get a taste of chef Alon Shaya’s chops without having to brave the long dining times, higher prices and un-validated parking of his flagship Italian destination in the Roosevelt Hotel. For adults, signature dishes lifted straight from Domenica, like the Whole Roasted Cauliflower with whipped feta, give them more sophisticated options while the kids typically love the basics, like cheese and pepperoni pizzas. Salads, such as Shaya’s shaved Brussels Sprouts, add to adult appeal. It is a bustling place, and popular, so take advantage of the fact they now accept reservations and call ahead. The best time to go is during their happy hour, 3-6 p.m., when prices for pizza are cut in half and drink specials rotate depending on the day. Try to get a seat near the back and your kids can watch the crew working the pizza station at a stool by the counter.
The High Hat Café, a Freret Street outpost serving Southern-style food, has quickly become a neighborhood favorite for families, especially during weekends. The tile-and-wood lined space used to be loud but has since been softened by sound-dampening panels. Though not an especially large restaurant, they have several big tables that can easily swallow up groups and it kind of has a down-home diner feel, despite the fact it’s full-service. Owner Chip Apperson usually is out working the floor, and the servers often know their customers by name.
There are plenty of choices here for adults and for kids as well. For the former, consider their burger ,which comes lacquered with molten Pimento cheese spread and surrounded by a tangle of salty, house-cut fries. I am usually not a fan of catfish, but for the basket served here I make an exception: hot and crispy filets curl upward from a basket accompanied by slaw, hush puppies and fries. Check out the chalkboard for the daily specials, which change often and add an element of variety. For kids, they have a pretty typical menu of chicken, catfish and shrimp that will appeal to most. Adult beverages and southern cocktails, and a tasty dessert menu heavy with pies, boozy ice cream and floats, deepen the appeal. Prices are reasonable and there’s free off-street parking in the lot across the street – a big plus for Freret Street.
Franky & Johnny’s languished for years before getting a top-to-bottom reboot in 2013. Ownership changed hands again in ’14 with Emeril’s alum David McCelvey taking over, but the recipe at this quintessentially New Orleans seafood joint has stayed more or less the same: fried seafood platters, poor boys and plate lunches served in a causal family-friendly environments down at the foot of Arabella Street. Nothing here is fancy, but it’s done well and has a claw machine to boot. Be sure to bring plenty of quarters.
Pizza and a Park
Pizza Delicious serves excellent, New York-style thin crust pizzas, but some of the hidden treasures are the salads made with greens sourced from local farms and the handful of pasta dishes on the menu. There is patio seating along the side and plenty of room for your little ones to run around in an adjacent open lot. Go early and leave some time to check out the stunning (and often overlooked) Crescent Park just across the train tracks nearby.
Frankie & Johnny’s
321 Arabella St.
Lunch and dinner daily
High Hat Café
4500 Freret St.
Lunch and dinner daily
900 Harrison Ave.
Lunch Mondays-Fridays, dinner Mondays-Saturdays, brunch Sundays
617 Piety St.
Lunch and dinner Tuesdays-Sundays
4933 Magazine St.
Dinner nightly, lunch Fridays-Sundays