New Orleans is a food town. We love to incorporate food and cooking into almost all of our celebrations, get-togethers, family reunions, festivals and so much more. This year, the city and our beloved dining institutions, neighborhood bars and gathering spots continued to face restrictions prompted by COVID-19. Who knew we would also have to contend with aftermath of Hurricane Ida and days without power? And yet, through it all, New Orleans’ restaurants, chefs, cooks, bartenders and breweries continued to feed our citizens, both in body and soul, with creativity and innovation. This year, we celebrate the best of the best for 2021, from A to Z.
When Mimi’s in the Marigny closed its Royal Street doors in 2020, fans mourned the loss of a neighborhood institution (which later announced a planned relocation to 2600 Chartres Street).
The space wouldn’t stay dark for long. In June 2021, the iconic corner spot was reborn as Anna’s, the first Marigny venture for LeBlanc + Smith, the hospitality powerhouse behind Barrel Proof, Sylvain, The Chloe and newly opened The Will & the Way (formerly Longway Tavern).
“We wanted a place that would mean to the Marigny what Barrel Proof means to the [Lower Garden District],” said Robért LeBlanc, LeBlanc + Smith’s founder and creative director.
Partner Anna Giordano serves as namesake and leader of the new endeavor, bringing experience honed as bar director of Longway Tavern and tenures at Meauxbar and Bar Tonique, among other spots. At Anna’s, Giordano aims to balance the laid-back ambience that longtime Mimi’s patrons expect with her team’s collective vision.
“We are trying to cultivate our identity and be welcoming in that same way, but we are a different crew of people, and these are different times,” Giordano said.
Across its two floors, Anna’s blends the mellow welcome of a neighborhood dive bar and the sexiness of a cocktail bar. Visitors seeking a more casual experience can find it downstairs, where a pony and shot of whiskey carry a single-digit price tag. Upstairs, the vibe is intimate, infused with flavors of Spain. Chef Chris “Hammy” Hamm, a veteran of the kitchens at Cavan, Sylvain and Coquette, serves creative tapas-style dishes. Highlights include papas bravas with a Nashville hot twist, accented with coarse mustard seeds and a slice of Bunny bread, and crispy octopus with squid ink black rice. A selection of Spanish vermouth, sherries and cocktails complement the cuisine.
While the team acknowledges the challenges of opening during a year of uncertainty, they credit adversity for giving their work greater purpose and meaning. Giordano also just wants to offer some normalcy to people walking through the door: “As a community, we are all dealing with this together. There is solidarity in that.”
Sinking one’s teeth into a “Bub,” the double-patty smash burger that headlines the Bub’s Nola menu, it’s easy to understand why the place zoomed from friend-fueled brainstorm to “smashing” success.
In the spring of 2020, a group of friends was mourning the loss of close pal Rand Owens, the former owner of Mid-City Pizza and Banks Street Bar, known to bestow the title “bub” upon worthy mates. After Owens’ death, friends Tristan Moreau, Aaron Amadio, Peter Prevot and brothers Josh and Ron Richard developed a close relationship with Owens’ family, trying to help them navigate rebuilding his businesses.
The “bubs” found themselves inspired to pursue a dream of their own. A shared interest in cooking helped the group zero in on food concepts. The goal was fast casual, high-quality and high turnover, and they settled on smash burgers. “You can really turn some smash burgers out,” Moreau said.
The first Bub’s popup took place in June 2020 at the Mid-City Pizza location on Banks Street. From there, the group began appearing at Zony Mash Beer Project, Second Line Brewery, Pal’s Lounge and Miel Brewery and developed a zealous following. “We couldn’t believe the initial success,” Moreau said.
By early 2021, the group was ready to turn the burger dream into full-time employment. When 4413 Banks St. (formerly home to Trilly Cheesesteaks and the first iteration of Mid-City Pizza) became available, it seemed like the perfect home.
Bub’s Nola opened in June 2021, adding their crisp-edged patties on toasted brioche buns to the city’s burger scape. Menu highlights include the “Bub” and “De-gen” fries loaded with cheese sauce, bacon, jalapenos and ranch. Moreau also encourages customers to try the peanut-butter-and-bacon-enhanced “Peanut Bubber,” which he describes as a drunk-food concept that eats well in any state of sobriety.
Though not all the bubs are involved in the restaurant’s day-to-day operations (that’s Moreau and the Richards, along with manager Sara Rowden), they feel Owens’ presence. “I think he would be proud of us,” Moreau said. “He would be so stoked that we are doing what we love to do, which is be together.”
Piety and Desire Chocolate
Small batch bean-to-bar chocolate manufacturers are uncommon, as are artisan bonbon makers. So when you integrate these two crafts under one roof, the combination is rare indeed. This is the case for Piety and Desire Chocolate, a vertically integrated bean-to-bonbon operation that has been quietly turning out its kaleidoscopic jewel boxes of New Orleans-inspired chocolates for the past few years at its location in Broadmoor.
For owner Christopher Nobles it was a serendipitous encounter that set him on this path. A musician and savory chef by trade, Nobles never had much of a sweet tooth. But when a colleague asked him if he’d ever worked with chocolate before and he said no, Nobles got curious and set out to learn about it. He viewed it through the lens of other craft approaches to items like beer and cheese that have gained traction over the years. “As soon as I started going down the rabbit hole and learned more, I moved on to taking classes and going to cocoa farms and fermentation centers,” Nobles said. “After a year or so of that I said, you know this is something I can do.” Piety and Desire Chocolate was born.
Nobles’ offerings are twofold – glossy varietal bars that highlight the nuances of the specific beans (for example, the complex fruit-forward flavors of Tanzania) as well as collections of exquisite hand-painted molded bonbons. These compositions lean heavily on local influence – in particular cocktail culture, such as with his Sazerac bonbon – as well as surprising forays into savory territory (Duck Fat and Caramel with Five Spice ganache, for example). Going into Christmas, expect to see intelligent spins on flavors of the season, like Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh as well as Milk and Cookies. “We also do a traditional peppermint bark and two different kinds of drinking chocolates,” Nobles said.
Order online at PietyandDesireChocolate.com. His bars can also be found in select shops around town. At press time Nobles was in the process of seeking to open a new brick and mortar store – follow him on Instagram for the latest details.
Mosquito Supper Club / Dakar Nola
Food lovers seeking boutique experiences that transcend the ordinary will be happy to hear that Chef Serigne Mbaye recently signed on as the chef de cuisine for Mosquito Supper Club. This means diners now have two ways to experience Mbaye’s highly regarded Senegalese-inspired fare: his ongoing pop-up Dakar Nola, as well as the Mosquito Supper Club.
For his pop-up, Mbaye’s menu is rooted in Senegal, though he is constantly folding new inspirations into its oft-changing menu. A recent series of travels took him through Mexico City, so expect to see ideas gathered from there pop up in his compositions. “Mexico showed me how to really appreciate simple ingredients,” Mbaye says of the trip. “What also struck me is how much they do their own thing. They don’t follow what the Americans are doing or what the Europeans are doing. They just find their own niche — the food is very interesting.” Details on Dakar Nola can be found on Tock or by following Mbaye on social media – meals are served once per week and reservations are required.
Also recommended is Mosquito Supper Club, a curated dining experience which features a seafood-forward feast served in a communal setting. Along the way, diners learn about the history and culture of the food web which supports our local community through the multi-course tasting menu. While the general thrust is a particularly thoughtful approach to Creole and Cajun, Mbaye brings a new perspective. “It is Melissa Martin’s menu I’m executing, but I bring my own twists. It is additive.”
For diners looking to put their fingers directly on the pulse of modern New Orleans cuisine, both of these experiences are highly recommended. They rise above the ordinary “Dinner for Two at 6:30” and do a terrific job of putting dining in a broader context that elevates the whole.
Li'l Dizzy's Cafe
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The revitalization of Freret Street truly began post-Katrina, when a few prescient entrepreneurs recognized the possibilities offered by its central location and prior history as a thriving commercial hub for local businesses. Neal Bodenheimer was the first to take the plunge with Cure, an upscale bar which singlehandedly helped to spark the national craft cocktail revolution. Adam Biederman’s Company Burger followed soon after. A wave of other places appeared in short order and the Freret Corridor was reborn.
Fast-forward to 2021. The first clutch of businesses has since been reinforced by a slew of newcomers. Several are owned by Tulane and LSU alum who, after graduating, have brought the things they missed most from their hometowns back to New Orleans. The result is a sampling of tastes from all over, and our restaurant scene is richer for it.
Chicago-style deep dish pizza can be found at The Midway. The Kolache Kitchen, featuring its uniquely Americanized namesake pastry, provides student friendly meals that will fit in one hand and can be munched on the go. Other purveyors of baked goodness include Windowsill Pies (covered elsewhere in this issue) and Humble Bagel, which turns out a galaxy of enormous, schmear-friendly bagels.
Val’s (also Bodenheimer) is a casual contemporary Mexican stunner whose al fresco premise provided a silver lining to pandemic dining. Good Bird offers artisan sandwiches, grain bowls and smoothies aimed at the college market. The nearby outpost of City Greens provides similarly health-conscious fare supported by its ecologically minded supply chain.
For dessert, not one but two outposts scoop up frozen treats – Piccolo Gelateria has some of the best gelato you will find anywhere (try the Amarena Cherry) and Ice Cream 504’s Michael Southall dreams up creative, small-batch flavors in a homey atmosphere.
Notably, a pocket-sized Rouses Market just added a much-needed neighborhood amenity to balance the runaway revitalization, helping to keep the residential surrounding area livable. The problem now isn’t finding something good to eat. Rather, it is finding a place to park while avoiding the traffic cameras. Success does have its price.
Graze Dat Charcuterie
Charcuterie is, broadly defined, the art of preparing meat. The Larousse Gastronomique guide begins the discussion of the term with the sentence, “the art of preparing meat, in particular pork, in order to present them in the most diverse ways.”
Graze Dat Charcuterie takes the diverse presentation aspect to an entirely new level. The charcuterie arrangements, or “grazing” boards, produced by owner Elizabeth Choto are vibrant works of art, with various cured meats, sausages, fruits, vegetables, pickles, chutneys and cheeses arrayed in spiraling, three dimensional designs that often resemble floral arrangements.
While she has no background in design, both individual ingredients are displayed beautifully, and the overall look of each board is striking in its shape and the use of color. “I guess I’m just a foodie,” Choto said, and that may be true, but these are not the work of an amateur.
Presentation is important – the first sense we employ when dining is sight – but Choto is also focused on using ingredients that many of her customers will likely never have tasted. Pink pineapple, goldenberries and kiwi berries are some examples.
Choto is originally from Zimbabwe and moved to the US when she was a teenager. She’s lived in New Orleans for four years, and said she loves the pace of life here. She started her business during the pandemic, as a way to earn an income after, like many folks, she was laid off from her job.
Graze Dat is a “takeout” business – customers order from their website and the boards are either delivered or picked up. Choto requests at least 24 hours advance for either.
Juan's Flying Burrito
For some it was a distaste for waste, for others it was frazzled nerves that motivated restaurateurs to feed their communities in the days immediately following the landfall of Hurricane Ida.
“Ida was terrible but not a total loss, so we had resources to share,” said David Greengold, one of the owners of Juan’s Flying Burrito, a taqueria with four New Orleans locations. Past disasters taught the Juan’s team to pack their restaurants’ walk-in coolers with dry ice in anticipation of losing power. When the winds died down Greengold emptied the coolers at Juan’s Mid City and CBD locations, set up a grill on the lawn of his Mid City home, and, working from a generator-powered refrigerator, he and his wife, Chrissie Roux, started cooking and feeding anyone who showed up.
“Chrissie was the force behind all of this,” Greengold said. “She used her social media resources to get the word out and find people in need. We ended up bringing food to Ochsner employees who had exhausted the vending machines and employees of Zeus’ Rescues who were craving anything but canned goods. We cooked until the food ran out. I guess we fed about 800 people.
Greengold said Warren Chapoton, also partner in Juan’s, had a similar operation going with the contents of the coolers from the Uptown and LGD locations.
Chef Isaac and Amanda Toups started cooking as soon as Hurricane Ida passed.
“For Isaac and me, we never allow ourselves to freak out at the same time,” Amanda Toups said. “When one of us is losing it then other is Samurai warrior calm. Cooking calms us both so that’s where we turn when things get crazy.”
A home renovation had the Toups family temporarily living upstairs from Toups Meatery when Ida struck. With the restaurant under generator power the duo immediately started cooking and shuttling food to a nearby fire station. Two days after the storm World Central Kitchen reached and Toups Meatery became the first WCK activated kitchen after the storm.
“For nine days we were cooking at the restaurant for WCK and for whoever showed up at the restaurant. All of our chefs have kids and dogs, so we had a Toups Pet & Daycare situation going for three weeks as we turned out up to 400 meals a day.”
So many restaurants, in fact, jumped to the cause, we don’t have room to name them all here, but to them all we lift our glass for their dedication to the community.
Instagram might be the perfect platform for tempting the appetite. Its accessibility and broad reach have made it the showcase for food porn images of mid-flight melty cheese and masterful charcuterie spreads. More than that, however, “the Gram” has become a communication channel for culinary businesses of all sizes, a place to let consumers know about the plat du jour or raise awareness around social issues affecting the food community.
Instagram’s impact soared during the pandemic, when many businesses emerged out of home kitchens or as popups. With no marketing budget or professional PR assistance, these operators relied on Instagram to spread the word about specialty cakes and roaming restaurants.
Kaitlin Guerin, founder of Lagniappe Baking Co., started her business in May 2020 and estimates that 90 percent of her clients come through Instagram. “I have always viewed Instagram as an artistic platform to put your profile out publicly,” Guerin said. For her business, consistency is key – posting regular content with a uniform look and feel. The “stories” feature and videos allow Guerin to share background about the baking process – and let followers know where to purchase her popular pastry boxes.
Regular Instagram posts have become a marketing must for all types of food businesses. As communications consultant Jillian Greenberg tells restaurant clients, “If you are not using Instagram, you are missing an opportunity to constantly be reminding your consumers that you are there.”
The sunny platform does have its shady side. A growing cadre of “influencers” has emerged to amplify marketing efforts, sometimes sharing food-related content in exchange for compensation (e.g., free food) – a practice that can mislead followers by blurring the line between authenticity and advertising. Business owners can also find themselves targeted publicly (fairly or not) by critical commenters.
On the positive side, Instagram offers a growing forum to support social causes ranging from hurricane relief to racial equity to mutual aid for an industry facing tough times. Guerin frequently uses the platform to “show love to other businesses.”
That cooperation is something Greenberg doesn’t see much in other cities: “The way the restaurant community here feeds each other is just so different.”
A new Jamaican restaurant opened this year in the spot formerly occupied by a Mellow Mushroom pizza joint. It’s the third location of chef Charles Blake’s 14 Parishes, the first being at the Pythian Market and the second, on Clio Street, having closed a few years ago. It brings a welcome dose of Caribbean spice to the Uptown neighborhood.
The menu has the standards you’ll find at restaurants serving the Island’s cuisine: jerk chicken, pork and shrimp, stewed chicken in brown gravy or curry and oxtails are always available, but ask about specials like jerk duck, curry goat or whole fish.
Definitely do not pass on the sides, as it’s hard to imagine eating Jamaican food without rice and peas, callaloo or plantains, and they’re all excellently prepared. We also recommend at least one order of the festival bread, a slightly sweet, elongated fried dough that is completely addictive and which pairs especially well with the spicier dishes on offer.
The restaurant has two bars, one in the downstairs main dining room, and another upstairs. Both are overseen by chef Blake’s wife and partner, Lauren, who doubles as the event planner for the space upstairs. As you’d expect, rum is the focus, and if you like that spirit you can’t go wrong with the bobsled (hibiscus, ginger and white rum) or the rum punch (pineapple, orange, cherry and dark and white rums).
Also check out …
234 Loyola Ave.
In the absence of parades and other in-person Carnival festivities, New Orleanians filled the void with king cake. So much king cake. New varieties continued to hit the market (Brennan’s eye-catching “Pink Parade” of strawberry cream cheese was hard to miss), a coffee table book was created to capture the magic behind the cake craft, and the king cake community mourned a vital member.
Writer Matt Haines first gained local media renown in 2017 for trying more than 80 varieties of king cake and documenting his assessments in a spreadsheet. Subsequent king-cake-related research deepened Haines’ expertise, and after this year’s Carnival season, he began looking to showcase that interest.
“I was blown away that there had never been a coffee table book about king cake,” Haines said. By late May, he was scheduling shoots with photographer Randy Krause Schmidt for “The Big Book of King Cake,” which captures traditional and newfangled varieties of the Carnival treat from a broad range of makers.
For Haines, the most important part of the endeavor isn’t the cake – it’s the bakers who make it. “During king cake season, the revenue many bakeries make sustains them for the year,” Haines said. “To be able to support them…and make it feel like a thriving time of year was really nice.”
Though Haines has a long list of favorites, highlights include a cinnamon cream cheese version from Tartine, the chocolate variety from Bittersweet Confections and the cannoli king cake from Nor Joe Importing Co. Haines was also “blown away” by cakes from home bakers S.S. Sweets (crawfish) and Not Too Fancy Bakery.
King cake lovers were saddened to learn of the passing of Will Samuels in September. Samuels co-founded the King Cake Hub, a one-stop-shop for king cakes from across the region. According to posts on the Hub’s social media accounts, the business will return in 2022, carrying on Samuels’ legacy.
Fingers remain crossed that 2022 will see New Orleanians back to enjoying their favorite Carnival treat – in its many forms – along the parade route.
Lord of Meringues
‘Tis the time of year many of us seek giftable treats with a novelty quotient that will set them apart from the pack. These are the flourishes that create festive pops and memories to last all season long. So, if you are one such, look no further than Lord of Meringues, a boutique confection startup guaranteed to elevate your holiday accents.
Founded by local New Orleanian Ehren Abbott, Lord of Meringues serves up a panoply of IG-worthy sweets. For December, expect to find peppermint meringue Christmas trees, chocolate-dipped meringue lollipops hand-painted with gold luster and amazingly lifelike meringue mushrooms dusted with cocoa powder (the perfect finishing touch for home cooks tackling their own bouche noel). Available in both package quantities as well as in individual acrylic cubes, these items make gifting and favors a breeze.
Abbott discovered meringues on a trip through Switzerland years back. “I’d never had crunchy meringue before. I’d only ever had the soft, torched kind like we are used to here,” Abbott explained. “I really fell for them.” Upon his return he did some research and discovered while these sweets were popular in other parts of the world, not many confectioners were making them stateside. He soon learned why. “They are so temperamental – It is like they don’t want to be made,” he said. “They want to resist their own creation.” Yet he persevered, and after fiddling with recipes and techniques for over a year be finally settled on a methodology that worked. “I found I loved working with them – you can pipe them into different shapes and paint them – they are just such a versatile medium.”
Buy them online or at an array of specialty shops like Gracious Bakery, The Larder, Lionheart Prints, NOLA Boards and more. Abbott can also work directly with customers to create the perfect custom treat for weddings, bar and bat mitzvahs and other special occasions.
One of the most eagerly anticipated culinary events of the year was the unveiling of Miss River, the restaurant from chef partner Alon Shaya in the newly opened Four Seasons Hotel New Orleans. The space blends Art Deco influences and nautical nods to the namesake river, while works of photography and sculpture from local artists lend a sense of place. The kitchen, overseen by executive chef Kelley Schmidt, plays upon the flavors of Louisiana, from BBQ shrimp to beignets.
“The idea behind the menu and the service style was that we would really celebrate all of the dishes that make Louisiana cuisine,” Shaya said. “We wanted to bring some of that Vietnamese influence into the menu, show off the west African influence that has developed into things like gumbo and jambalaya and do dishes like dirty rice and fried chicken that we all love…in a way that’s surprising but still hits home to that classic dish.”
According to Shaya, the whole buttermilk-fried fried chicken was a key piece of the inspiration behind Miss River. “I had always wanted to do a whole fried turkey, like for Thanksgiving, but in the way that it would be breaded at Popeyes,” Shaya said. After a successful turkey experiment a couple of years ago, he resolved to one day include a whole fried chicken on a restaurant menu.
At Miss River, that chicken is carved at the chef’s stage, where guests can visit with chefs as they put the finishing touches on caviar service, seafood platters and more. “We wanted to create an area in the dining room where guests can either engage or not engage and use that space depending on the type of experience you want to have,” said Shaya. That interactive approach also applies to the walk-up sommelier station that encourages guests to explore and inquire.
After a period with minimal partying, Miss River puts festivity front and center, including wide aisles designed to allow space for second lining, according to Shaya. “We wanted to make it feel like a place where you can really spend hours celebrating.”
New Orleans Culinary & Hospitality Institute (NOCHI)
The New Orleans Culinary & Hospitality Institute (NOCHI) has established itself as a case study in resilience and the art of the pivot in the two years since its long delayed and much anticipated opening.
Early in the pandemic that shuttered the institution for in-person classes, the culinary school became a central production and coordination site for New Orleans’ meal program that employed area restaurants to feed vulnerable populations. The year-long endeavor that culminated in June fed 3.65 million meals to over 10,000 people. With that experience nailed down, the NOCHI staff was ready when World Central Kitchen, the disaster response organization led by superstar chef Jose Andres, came calling before Hurricane Ida even blew through. Powered by massive generators, the school’s kitchens immediately began turning out tens of thousands of meals a day for regional distribution, for first responders, and for anyone who showed up at the door in need. Over the course of a month more than 420,000 meals were produced and distributed.
NOCHI’s popular rooftop “Dinner & A Movie” series, established to keep traffic in the building at the height of the pandemic, continues with events scheduled through the end of the year.
In October, NOCHI welcomed its sixth cohort in its flagship in-person culinary program while continuing to offer private cooking classes in both hands-on and virtual formats. This year also led to NOCHI becoming a VA-approved institution, enabling military students and family members the opportunity to have up to 100 percent of tuition covered by GI Bill benefits. In what may be its most innovative effort to remain relevant in these most trying of times, on November 1, NOCHI will launch PUMP (Pathways for Upward Mobility Program), an 8-week grant-funded training for BIPOC hospitality professionals. The PUMP curriculum was designed to fast-track employees into leadership roles.
Open Air Dining
While open-air dining initially grew out of pandemic-related necessity, it has become firmly entrenched in the city’s dining DNA.
Caitlin Carney, CEO and co-founder of restaurants Seafood Sally’s (which opened on Oak Street in May) and Marjie’s Grill, says the outdoor space was Seafood Sally’s biggest advantage: “The reason we are there is because of that building and the porch and beautiful front yard… It’s nice to have so much room so there is the opportunity to sit and get a drink where it doesn’t have to be turn-and-burn.” Carney estimates that 75 percent of customers now want to eat outside. “It’s very important to our concepts to relax, get messy and enjoy the atmosphere,” she said.
Uptown spot Nice Guys Bar & Grill transformed a parking area into a spacious dining patio to meet the needs of diners and to keep staff safe. “I think of my employees,” said co-owner Allison Charles. “I’m lucky to have them and don’t want them congested with overcrowding.” Charles calls the outdoor seating area “a second restaurant that has come in very handy for us,” with many customers preferring to sit outside no matter the weather. Another bonus? The patio makes the restaurant even more visible to passing traffic, so the owners have ordered a new sign and lighting to highlight their outdoor asset.
When Pizza Delicious owners Mike Friedman and Greg Augarten reopened onsite dining in June – after nearly a year of takeout-only service – they knew they needed more outdoor space. “We didn’t feel like we had a big enough space to say, ‘Hey, come to our patio that has five tables,” Friedman said. “If we were going to open back up, we had to have enough seats to make it worthwhile for everybody.” Their solution was to add about 60 percent more outdoor capacity, and the change has paid off. “However hot it’s been, people still come to eat outside… It will serve us well for the future.”
Paulie Gee's Crescent City
Among aficionados of pizza in this country, there are two main camps. There are people who believe New York-style pies are the best, and there are those who feel Chicago “deep-dish” are superior.
One of the best pizza restaurants in New York by many accounts is Paulie Gee’s, which recently opened its seventh location in the space briefly occupied by Roman-style pizza restaurant Bonci.
Paulie Gee’s has a small menu of New York-style pizza as slices or whole pies, with standard toppings such as mozzarella, pepperoni and sweet Italian sausage, but a couple of the restaurant’s specialty pizzas add Mike’s Hot Honey, a chili-infused product that got its start at the original Paulie Gee’s in Brooklyn. It’s perfect if you like a little sweetness with your spicy, savory food.
The pizzas are cooked in a blisteringly hot oven, with thin crusts that char in places around the edges and on the underside. The restaurant is managed by Aubrey Stallard, who is from New Orleans and whose father owns Dos Jefes cigar bar on Tchoupitoulas Street.
A recent Friday lunch at Antoine’s served up a reminder of why certain French Quarter icons endure. They have the power to transform even a weekday into something festive. From an all-afternoon affair at Galatoire’s to cocktails and soufflé potatoes at Arnaud’s French 75 Bar to any meal that starts with Antoine’s seafood duo, these keepers of the city’s culinary flame fill a unique place in our hearts and bellies.
But it’s been another long year for the French Quarter stalwarts. Ongoing COVID-19 concerns kept tourists at bay and wreaked havoc on special events. Hurricane Ida disrupted operations (and oysters). Staffing woes and supply chain issues continue to take a toll. Through it all, these New Orleans institutions keep serving, hoping for better days.
According to Lisa Blount, Antoine’s Director of Sales and Marketing, the restaurant has learned to manage uncertainty. “It was challenging to figure out how to handle parties and reservations,” says Blount. “They would cancel because everyone has Covid, or a rehearsal dinner goes from 75 to 40 people – and then becomes the wedding… We learned that we can never predict anything.”
At Arnaud’s, co-proprietor Katy Casbarian has tried to “stay the course,” adjusting opening hours and menu items to streamline operations without affecting the guest experience. The restaurant also turned to private dining spaces to help guests feel safe during pandemic peaks. “That proved successful for us,” Casbarian said. “But I’m not going to sugarcoat what this year has been – it has been extremely challenging, not just for us but for the whole restaurant industry nationally.”
In late September, Antoine’s moved to opening five days a week, up from weekends only. According to Blount, the fall saw steady improvement, with more locals coming in, and she feels hopeful about the holidays: “I think this year will be a festive time.”
Arnaud’s is holiday-ready as well, with December lunches, themed cocktails and a Réveillon menu. “Arnaud’s, the French Quarter…nobody does holidays better,” Casbarian said. “Many of the restaurants down here have deep roots within the city… we are part of family traditions. That’s what makes New Orleans tick.”
When we talk about ramen, we generally mean the soup. But ramen is a noodle, and a specifically toothsome noodle made with an alkaline dough that renders it a little tighter than most pasta.
There have been a few restaurants recently that have been making superior ramen noodles, and we’d like to alert you to a few of them.
At Hangout Ramen they serve a mix of Japanese, Thai and Indonesian food, but here we’re focused on the noodles. They have a wide selection that includes such non-traditional options as spicy “bang bang,” in a spicy pork broth; Laksa, with a coconut broth with shrimp and tofu; and their special Hangout Ichimi that comes with a creamy pork broth and can be ordered “mild,” “burning” or “explode.”
Union Ramen specializes in poultry and miso-based broths, as apart from the pork-based tonkatsu more typical in the U.S. Toppings include roasted pork, blackened chicken, ground beef and tasso and bulgogi-style king mushrooms. They do several versions of brothless ramen, too, called “mazamen;” their take on on dirty rice with an Asian twist.
Secret Birria is an outlier in the ramen world. It’s a place that serves tacos and ramen, and while that’s not a traditional thing, it’s delicious. Birria is beef that’s cooked slowly with chiles and spices, and it pairs remarkably well with ramen noodles in a soup.
1340 S. Carrollton Ave.
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San Lorenzo at Hotel Saint Vincent
Flying in the face of pandemics and hurricanes, the Hotel Saint Vincent opened its doors earlier this year, breathing new life into an imposing former orphanage in the Lower Garden District. The subsequent critical acclaim was near universal. This 75-room boutique outpost at the nexus of hipster and high fashion instantly hit all the right notes, tapping the zeitgeist of community and culture, quickly becoming a darling for both locals and well-heeled travelers alike.
With a high-profile property like this, dining is a big piece of the puzzle, and its cornerstone restaurant San Lorenzo rises to the occasion. The premise is coastal Italian, which ties neatly with our proximity to the gulf as well as the influence the Italian community has had on New Orleans cuisine. “We saw room here for a more modern, lighter cooking approach,” said Larry McGuire, a partner in MML Hospitality. “We also wanted to be additive to the local restaurant scene, since many places here feature more of the unique Creole Italian style.” The result in a curated stunner than feels casual but executes at a high level from cocktails to sweets.
The menu here is ingredient-driven and puts pasta in the forefront. Most are made in-house and benefit from simple preparations that let the ingredients shine. A piquant dish of Lobster Bucatini is a case in point. The lobster was still nestled neatly in sections of shell but popped out easily with the prodding of a fork, and the concentrated brightness of the peppery arrabbiata clung lovingly to the bucatini. Paired with an appetizer of Yellowtail Carpaccio enlivened with pistachio, mint and briny umami-rich bottarga, you will find seafood dishes here to surprise even the most jaded of seafood lovers. Those feeling more turf than surf can confidently order a Dry-Aged Porterhouse from the wood-burning oven knowing that the quality of the beef will shine thanks to minimally elevating enhancements of woodsmoke, brown butter, salt and rosemary.
The hotel also serves up all-day fare at the adjacent Café Elizabeth, which pivots to Vietnamese with a menu featuring Bahn mi, noodle dishes and more. Facilities are rounded out with event space that can accommodate up to 300 people, all embraced by the stately brick wings of the imposing former orphanage. “The whole place kind of felt like an Italianate resort from the get-go,” McGuire said. “So the concept here complements the design.”
Turning Tables NOLA
In New Orleans, our economy is heavily weighted towards restaurants, bars and music venues. Those businesses are also at the heart of our culture, but while people of color make up a majority of our population, there is nevertheless an inequitable distribution of opportunities for black and brown youth.
Turning Tables NOLA aims to change that. The organization, founded by Touré Folkes, offers an intensive, 12-week training externship to young brown and black hospitality professionals, with both classroom education and on-site training as well as mentorship, support and encouragement.
Students learn about mixology and wine, restaurant and bar management, brand marketing and how to confidently use the knowledge they gain. Through partnerships with restaurant, hotel and beverage industry leaders, Turning Tables has developed a network of support for folks looking to start a career.
Reading the biographies of externs on the organization’s website, one can’t help but notice two things they have in common: the sense that being in the hospitality industry is a calling, and gratitude to Turning Tables for giving them opportunities they might otherwise not have received.
Turning Tables NOLA is intent on changing the structure of the economic system underlying the hospitality industry, not only by giving young people the knowledge they need to thrive, but perhaps more importantly the access that people who look like them don’t ordinarily have. This is vital work that benefits the entire city.
Breakfast aficionados take note of a new game in town. Up&Adam, which opened over the summer and was soon after sucker-punched by Ida, is nevertheless rolling along and starting many a Mid City morning off on the right foot. This cheerful corner spot, formerly occupied by Canal Street Bistro, reflects the positive energy of its owner Adam Ford, who launched it with his partner Christopher back in July. Rounded out with chef Gigi in the kitchen, this newcomer plates up breakfast, brunch and lunch all fueled by the proprietary coffee blend that served as its initial fuel and inspiration.
The menu riffs on breakfast and brunch staples to offer fresh takes on tried-and-true favorites. Beignets get brightened with berries, and avocado toast beckons alongside another version featuring curry shrimp. Southern-style cooking is a big influence, with shrimp and grits, fried pickles and Firecracker shrimp all represented here. Breakfast sandwiches, omelets and burgers all make for a good way to either start your day or recover from the one before. Underpinning it all is their signature Morning Run coffee, which is also available for retail in 12-ounce bags. Al fresco seating which is pet-friendly, hospitable service and a welcoming Mid City vibe round out the appeal. As does the full bar.
While the pandemic crushed many dreams, it is wonderful to see that it also gave rise to new ones in hospitality. Up&Adam is one such story.
Commons Club New Orleans
English business magnate Sir Richard Branson made headlines in 2021 for several reasons, including a highly publicized space flight and an October performance with the St. Augustine Purple Knights to celebrate the opening of Virgin Hotels New Orleans. For food lovers, the big headline came in May when the company announced the hiring of Alex Harrell as executive chef for the property, including its Commons Club restaurant.
The freedom to design a menu that suited New Orleans was an important draw for Harrell, who earned acclaim leading the kitchens at Elysian Bar, Angeline and Sylvain. Apart from a few basic parameters, like offering a burger and a salad, his mandate was to create an experience that connects closely to the city – and appeals to locals and visitors alike. “You have to have a connection with New Orleanians or it becomes disingenuous and falls short,” Harrell said.
Harrell’s contemporary Southern approach to cooking is visible on the Commons Club menu. Roasted mushroom fritters with charred green onion remoulade are made with cornmeal from Bayou Cora in Harrell’s home state of Alabama. “We call it a fritter, but it’s a hush puppy,” he said. A starter of grilled okra with harissa and peanut sesame crumble also highlights southern ingredients.
The space seems made for a good time, with bold stripes, lush fabrics and conversation-friendly nooks, including a semi-private area called the Shag Room. “I want people to come in and for it not to feel overbearing, for it to have all the technical aspects of good service and good food but without any of the pretense,” Harrell said. Frequently scheduled live music and DJ sets add to the festive vibe.
And what about working for Sir Richard Branson? Harrell describes him as “really approachable – what you see is what you get.” He also cites the Virgin Hotels motto (or “brand purpose”), “Everybody leaves feeling better,” as a universal goal. “People enjoy what they do, enjoy their experience – whether the guest or the employees,” Harrell said. “You have fun.”
Holidays bring both comfort and cheer, and what is more comforting than pie? And if that pie features local Bergeron pecans, fragrant vanilla bean and a little bourbon for kick, even better. If this sounds good, put on your most comfortable pants and head over to Freret Street to check out Windowsill Pies.
A homegrown business, Windowsill Pies spun out of the kitchens of friends Nicole Eiden and Marielle Dupré, who recently celebrated their company’s 10th anniversary. What began as primarily a wholesale operation (selling their handcrafted, rustic pies to Whole Foods, among other places) has shifted into a retail model with their new storefront nestled along a bustling stretch of Freret. The result is a dynamic, customer-driven selection more attuned to seasonal ingredients as well as the creative whims of the owners. Translation: more different pies for you and me.
Regarding choices, “Our vanilla bean bourbon pecan is always in the rotation,” Dupré said. “Also our dark chocolate with Earl Grey caramel.” Much of the rest are seasonally driven. Cherry and passionfruit rolled off a little while back to make way for apple and pear iterations, as well as holiday favorites. Pumpkin falls off in December (“People get pumpkin-ed out after Thanksgiving”) to make way for a dark chocolate peppermint tart. “Last year our Apple Frangipani was a big seller.” Appearances range from rustic (blueberry with a woven lattice top) to refined (a glossy dark chocolate tart elegantly stenciled).
Savory hand pies (think short rib braised in red wine, along with a nostalgia-invoking chicken version) are also offered in the store, which has been slowly transitioning to dine-in service as the city recovers from the pandemic. Mini pies are on the menu as well, which pair lovingly with the excellent Coast Roast Coffee. Also consider the little minis (between 1 and 2-inch sizes) as a passed sweet option for your upcoming New Year’s festivities. “We do a mini dark chocolate peppermint tart dusted with powdered sugar so it looks almost like a black and white cookie,” Dupré said. All pies are handmade on-site, so to guarantee availability, the best approach is to order in advance online. The pie ladies and your guests will thank you.
X-Factor Cocktail Culture
Cocktails were, by some accounts, born in New Orleans. There are other claimants to the title, but the veracity of the claim notwithstanding, we are a center of cocktail culture. A couple of local businesses are taking this culture by storm with their own brand; call it, the X-factor.
Cocktail & Sons was started by Max Messier and Lauren Myerscough. Their goal was to make craft cocktails easy to make at home, and with their syrups and mixers, they’ve succeeded in a big way.
These are not your mass-produced, corn syrup-heavy mixers; rather these are made with ingredients largely sourced locally, with real cane sugar and nothing artificial.
Whether you’re looking for mixers to make classic cocktails like a margarita or a mojito or are more inclined to branch out with syrups like the seasonally available watermelon and Thai basil, ginger honey or their king cake flavor, if you have alcohol, a stirrer and some bitters, you’re halfway to a fantastic drink.
Speaking of bitters, another local company that’s doing standout work is El Guapo Bitters. Christa Cotton grew up in Georgia, where she helped her family establish 13th Colony Distilleries, the first such operation in the state. She moved here in 2010 and after working in public relations for hospitality industry clients, she bought the El Guapo brand and the rest is history.
If you are not deep into cocktail culture, you may not understand how important bitters are to the end result. You may be familiar with Peychaud’s or Angostura, but there’s a world outside of those products that, added in amounts small enough to require a dropper, will amaze you with the flavors they bring to a drink.
El Guapo has a host of recipes on their website (elguapobitters.wordpress.com) and they have a host of flavors such as Polynesian kiss, gumbo, cucumber lavender, crawfish boil and my favorite, summer berries.
El Guapo also does syrups and mixers in a variety that one despairs of ever tasting them all without doing significant damage to one’s liver.
The best way to experience a sushi restaurant is to take a seat at the bar, where you can interact with the chef. You definitely want to experience Yakuza House that way, because chef Huy Pham is a personable guy who’s willing to chat while he makes your food or breaks down a whole fish.
It’s a small restaurant – the seats at the bar comprise a little less than half of the overall number – and while that means it can be hard to get a reservation, you can be assured that chef Pham will be personally overseeing everything you eat.
Yakuza House is also just about the only place in town that serves “sandos,” a Japanese take on the sandwich with fillings both savory (fried chicken or pork cutlet) and sweet (mascarpone cream and strawberries).
They also specialize in hand rolls, and their selection is about the best you’ll find in the area. It starts with excellently toasted nori seaweed, which provides a crisp bite to the exterior, and the fillings, which include scallop, blue and red crab, yellowtail, eel and the high-end “toro” or belly tuna, are outstanding. We recommend picking one of the “sets” on your first visit – the “hangry” includes five hand rolls and could reasonably be split between two people if you order a couple of items a la carte.
The relatively small sushi menu is complemented by specials which recently included whelk and true Wagyu beef. Donburi rice bowls round out the menu.
Zony Mash Beer Project
There are brewpubs. There are microbreweries. And then there is the Zony Mash Beer Project, an ongoing social experiment where the worlds of music, art, theater and beer collide in the retrofitted environs of the historic Gem Theater near Pumping Station #1 in Broadmoor.
“For us, this is an ongoing project. Hence ‘Zony Mash Beer Project’,” said owner Adam Ritter of the name, which references an album of B-sides by the iconic Meters, also known for mashing up a thing or two. “We are always tinkering with it and trying to have fun with something.”
A peek at their calendar confirms this. Every day offer a new surprise, staged in their cavernous main brewing room flanked with imposing stainless tanks. Acts like Rebirth Brass Band are sandwiched in between Lucha libre-inspired Wrestling Nights and food popups from a rotating cast of kitchens, which recently featured Zee’s Pizzeria and Johnny Sanchez. The New Orleans Klezmer All Stars, Trivia Nights, and the theatre group Radical Buffoons all compete for attention; this is home-grown New Orleans entertainment writ large. “And we also make beer,” Ritter adds.
About that. At any one time up to 25 different brews will be on tap, all orchestrated by head brewer Mitch Grittman. Refried Confusion, its name a homage to Dr. John, presents a hazy IPA. Tiny Bubbles is an Australian Sparkling Ale. Loose Booty is an imperial stout – the list goes on and on. An in-house canning line packages up some of the options with label art by local artists worthy of a stand-alone gallery show. “We have a barrel-aged program where we tinker with long form stuff and we also do a line of seltzers for people who are not really into beer but still want to hang out,” Ritter said.
If you can’t make it to Zony Mash for the beverages – and, really, you should – you can also buy their wares in groceries, bars and restaurants around town. But as the name explains, this is not simply a brewery but a project to be experienced. And as we round the corner into Carnival season, this is one place you’ll want to have on your list.