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Our 2017 Best New Restaurants
Discussing food, cooking and restaurants is a part-time sport for New Orleanians. Only here do we discuss where we’re going to eat next, while we’re still eating. From breakfast to brunch, lunch to cocktail bites, dinner to late night eats and desserts, we’ve got a lot to talk about.
Enjoy our selection of the best new dining spots in New Orleans, and continue your own food conversations!
Best of The Best
424 Girod St.
The concept for Restauranteur Emeril Lagasse’s first new restaurant in New Orleans in almost 20 years came from a series of trips he took for his Emmy-winning Amazon series Eat the World. “I wanted to have a big menu, and I also didn’t want to do the traditional appetizers, entrée, dessert kind of thing,” he says. “But most importantly, I wanted it to be fun; to be the kind of place you would take your family.” The result was Meril, a celebration of tastes from around the globe as executed under the auspices of New Orleans’ most famous celebrity chef.
Rather than adhering to just one cuisine, Meril instead presents dishes from all over. These in turn are authentic rather than fusion-y – an important distinction. The challenge here is how to decide, as the diner’s attention is pulled in all sorts of exciting directions. Feel like visiting the Yucatan? Try the Rock Shrimp Tacos off the ‘Snacks’ menu, garnished with pickled red onion and a chili-spiked sauce for heat. If you prefer Korean, pay attention to the dishes coming off the robata grill. Thin, bone-in slices of marinated Short Rib are served with house-made kimchi. For seasonal options, Chef de Cuisine Wilfredo Avelar comes up with the specials, including a recent wood-fired flatbread inspired by a Louisiana crawfish boil. “He put crawfish tails, sausage, corn, onion and garlic on top,” recalls Emeril. “People went crazy for it.”
Meril offers a more casual vibe than Emeril’s other restaurants. Graffiti-inspired murals adorn the raw brick walls and a wrap-around dining room presents a view into the bustle of the kitchen. But despite the less-formal approach, fit and finish is excellent, with thoughtful touches throughout. Adding to family appeal, a cotton candy machine is stationed near the cheese case. “They thought I was crazy for that one,” Emeril said. But on a recent visit, my daughter returned to the table with a fluffy pink cloud of spun sugar and a huge smile. Clearly, Emeril knew what he was doing. -JF
Chef Will Avelar
Top Row: Korean short ribs with kimchi cucumber; Meril dining room; Yellowfin tuna wraps;
Bottom Row: fried rock shrimp tacos; upside-down cornbread; muffaletta flat bread.
Frey Smoked Meat Company
4141 Bienville St.
One recent Sunday the Forman family hungered for barbeque. Having heard about some ‘Family Feast’ special at Frey Smoked Meats, they decided to check it out. What followed was a multi-pronged smoky barrage on all senses, led by Brisket Chili & Cheese Fries, pepper-jelly glazed Pork Belly poppers, shaggy mounds of pulled pork, shimmering slices of beef brisket and much, much more. “Meat coma,” points out chef and owner Ray Gruezke, “is kind of the point. You pretty much get some of everything.” The quality stacks up with the quantity. Meats are smoked daily and overnight over a mixture of oak and pecan and Gruezke, who also owns nearby Rue 127, has fine dining chops. But Frey is where he cooks to have fun and let it all hang out. Be sure to save room for the goliath Strawberry Shortcake Milkshake, garnished with an actual strawberry shortcake and pocked with bubble tea straws. It comfortably served four. -JF
Nutella shake; brisket, potato salad, and spicy grilled cabbage.
Lula Restaurant Distillery
1532 St. Charles Ave.
This is the only place of its kind in the Southeastern U.S. It makes sense that a pioneering distillery/restaurant combination would be located on a main thoroughfare of one of America’s greatest eating and drinking towns. The owners, good friends Jess Bourgeois and Bear Caffrey, are Southeast Louisiana guys through and through. Bear is an E.R. doctor in Baton Rouge, and Jess is a unique combination of chef and spirits distiller. Lula is now distilling rum, vodka and gin, all from Louisiana ingredients. What comes out of the kitchen is creative and delightful. Spicy garlic shrimp, avocado and pompano dip, Gulf Fish Club, grits and grillades, braised rabbit and white beans. The old Halpern’s Furniture store, where Lula is located, was never this enjoyable. -TM
pain perdu; Lula rum mojito; pork roast grillades with grits
611 O’Keefe Ave.
According to Chef Michael Gulotta: “Hospitality and restaurant workers do not keep normal hours. And when we are done at the end of a hard shift, we like to head for pleasurable cuisines inspired by exotic places like Thailand and Vietnam, but we all have a healthy respect and love for the ingredients from South Louisiana.”
That, in a nutshell, explains Maypop, the newest expression from the much-awarded chef who brought us Mopho, Treo and a couple of temporary pop-ups that both satisfied and amazed. Maypop the plant is a wild vine that is purely Southern United States so even in the name of his new spot; Chef Gulotta did not stray far from his roots.
Chef Michael Gulotta is a family-type guy at all levels. His brother, Jeff, is the food and beverage manager who does a masterful job of selecting wines and cocktails at their wildly successful first solo effort, Mopho near City Park.
The new restaurant, which many have compared to Mopho, is somewhat different, more sophisticated in design and more adventuresome in menu selections. Chef is proud of both locations but he wants, and achieves, definable separations in styles and operations.
“I like what hybridization, sometimes called Creolization, has done in our town, respecting somebody else’s cuisine and then making it our own with our ingredients, caught and harvested from very close to where the dining takes place. Maypop can be defined as Mekong meets the Mississippi Delta,” Gulotta notes.
Sometimes it helps to have a guide to better understand all the influences on Maypop’s menu. The noodle portion of the menu includes Pecan Cavatappi involving King Trumpet mushrooms, fennel, Herbsaint, and coconut milk. Under the same heading, Andouille Bolognese is working with red bean calamarata. On the entrée side, one of the stars is a Duck Confit punctuated by a black roux Hoisin and served in crepinette.
The chefs are having a lot of fun, turning out great and imaginative dishes, and we, the lucky diners, reap all the benefits. A very good deal all around. -TM
Maypop kitchen crew: William “Trey” Smith III, Adam Bean, Michael Gulotta, Justin Bruhl, and Miles Glynn
Top Row: hogs head cheese broth soup dumplings from the weekend brunch dim sum menu. crispy fried P&J oysters.
Bottom Row: foie gras and blueberry tart with corn miso, peach, and pickled chanterelles; Maypop dining room
Central City BBQ
1201 S. Rampart St.
Central City commanded much of the BBQ buzz late last year, what with its dream team pairing of Patois’ Aaron Burgau and pit master Rob Bechtold of NOLA Smokehouse acclaim. A shakeup just a few months in resulted in Bechtold’s exit, but Burgau has steered his ship through the transition and has his team smoking on all cylinders. The space is striking, with a bold industrial feel softened by an island bar, wood paneling and pools of natural light. The dining room spills over into a huge side lot with picnic table seating, and onsite catering event space plays into to the restaurant’s vision, which is clearly to handle significant volume. Central City dreams big bbq dreams and delivers. Try the Brisket “Burnt Ends” – a signature item – and the sweet corn spoonbread as a side. The pulled pork pairs well with the Carolina-style vinegar sauce, and smoked boudin is a must as well. -JF
brisket burnt ends with sweet corn spoon bread and pickles.
1036 N. Rampart St.
Hard to understand that up until now there was no bar in this festive city that specialized in Champagnes, sparkling wines, Prosecco and Cava. That shortcoming has been well rectified.
Effervescence respects its historic setting then offers all-white decor, fully comfortable surroundings the likes of which has never been seen here. The list of wines is broad, covering a wide range of price points. The sometimes-overshadowed kitchen responds well with snacks and small plates perfectly paired to add to the fun nature of the core product and reinforce the feeling of the edge-of-the-Quarter location. Even the new North Rampart Street streetcars passing at the door add to the overall delightful impression. -TM
seafood plateau, fries with aubergine aioli, and sparkling rosé
320 S. Broad St.
Chef Marcus Jacobs and co-owner Caitlin Carney are the sort of folks who’d be cooking whether they had a restaurant or not. They clearly love what they do. The couple met while working at Herbsaint, and the thing that struck me when I first visited Marjie’s Grill was their enthusiasm.
This is a casual restaurant, with counter service and communal tables in the main dining room that seat around 40. There are no tablecloths, but the service is friendly, attentive and effective. There’s a patio in the back of the place, which, as I write, is still under construction, but when it’s done it will double (at least) the seating space. It’s a neighborhood restaurant, though I suspect that many of the customers are coming from all over town.
They decided to open a restaurant after travelling in Southeast Asia, and the menu reflects, in part, the food they ate during that vacation. Then there’s the grill. They’re using a Santa Maria-style setup, which allows them to raise and lower the grates holding the food, depending on whether they want a quick sear or a low and slow process. Much of the best food coming out of the kitchen relies on the latter technique, though I won’t discount the fryer, which puts out exemplary catfish and chicken, among other things.
I was charmed by chef Jacobs when he showed me around their grills. It’s always exciting when a chef has complete control over the menu, the ingredients, and the cooking methods. Not every dish will work out, but when the folks in the kitchen are talented and inspired, the result can be addictive. I’m addicted to the char-grilled cabbage, the Thai-style vegetable salad, and the stir-fry of shrimp I had the last time I was there. It’s comfort food, in a comfortable setting, and made with passion. What else could you ask for? -RP
Owners: chef Marcus Jacob and Caitlin Carney.
Top: spicy wok shrimp and cornbread; cornmeal battered fried chicken with grilled squash and smashed cucumbers
Bottom: fried catfish and pig ear salad
Dunbar’s Creole Cuisine
7834 Earhart Blvd
If you set the way-back machine to pre-2005 New Orleans and visited Freret Street, the sleepy corridor you’d find would bear scant resemblance to the trendy strip of restaurants and shops of today. However, one thing you would find would be one of the most comfortable neighborhood restaurants in New Orleans. This would be Dunbar’s Creole Cuisine, operated by Celestine Dunbar, whose red beans and rice, fried chicken and seafood gumbo drew fans from all walks of life through her welcoming doors. After the levee failures, the restaurant struggled to find a new space, operating for a time at the Loyola Law School and later as a catering service and festival vendor. They’ve finally found a new home at 7834 Earhart Blvd, Welcome back, Dunbar’s! We missed you.
The food is no-frills Creole cooking, served in generous portions, with sides like mac and cheese and mustard greens alongside baskets of light, crumbly cornbread. The Fried Chicken is not to be missed, nor the Red Beans and Rice with its scored link of sausage. And while the all-you-can eat calling card of the Freret Street location is no longer offered, rest assured Miss Celestine Dunbar will not allow you to leave hungry. Poor boys, fried seafood and daily plate specials are all featured. Dunbar’s also serves breakfast from 6 AM to 10 AM.
The space is markedly different from the old Dunbar’s, where it could have felt like you were eating at someone’s house, with its low ceiling and warren of rooms. The new location on Earhart features soaring ceilings, brick walls and a much more open floor plan. There is plenty of parking in a lot out front, but most importantly the same hospitality that you found at the old spot can be found here as well. -JF
Left: chefs Frank Jones and Lisa Ursin. Right: Cornbread; strawberry lemonade; fried chicken and red beans; Creole seafood gumbo; and potato salad.
4525 Freret St.
Easily slides into the New American niche in a neighborhood populated by a solid diversity of cuisines and dining styles. Trendy and comfortable, the emphasis at Bar Frances is on an easily appreciated breadth of offerings of well-executed, reasonably priced small and large entrees. There is a particular accent on wine, mostly European-centric with solid selections from across the wine world map. Aperol Spritzer on the outside deck, anyone?
Small plates include Beef Tartare, both Endive and Farro salads, Lamb Meatball, Mushroom Toast and Prince Edward Island Mussels. Larger entrees range from Cauliflower Tagine, to a solid range of preparations with fish, pork, chicken and steak. -TM
citrus poached shrimp with a whiskey smash.
Blue Oak BBQ
900 Carrollton Ave.
Blue Oak started as a pop-up at Grits Bar back in 2012. It now serves its smoky fare in a brick and mortar housed on a corner wedge of North Carrollton Avenue near City Park. Co-owner Ron Evans turns New Orleans’ lack of signature ‘cue to his advantage, deftly spinning out a menu that takes its cues from Tennessee, Texas, and beyond. “There is not really a New Orleans barbeque style, so we’ve taken different styles from around the south but tailored the glazes and rubs more to a New Orleans palate,” Evans says. St. Louis Spareribs are recommended here, as are the sides, which are largely traditional but torqued up with some unique twists. Slaw is lightened with ginger and sesame and the potato salad is seasoned with Old Bay – Maryland’s analog to Tony Chachere’s. Be sure to try the cracklings dusted with cool ranch seasoning. Sandwiches, such as the Pit Viper with jerk-seasoned pulled pork and fresh jalapeno, are strong as well. -JF
St. Louis spare ribs with ginger sesame slaw and potato salad
8201 Oak St.
Oak is one of the streets in the New Orleans area that has a deserved reputation as a “restaurant row.” One of the newest, and best eateries on that street is DTB, an acronym for “Down the Bayou”; Chef Carl Schaubhut and his co-owner Jacob Naquin are both from Southwest Louisiana, and they describe the food at DTB as “coastal Cajun.” In practice, and with a talent like Schaubhut and Chef de Cuisine Jacob Hammel in the kitchen, that means both classic dishes rendered with a chef’s deft touch and ambitious takes on traditional flavors.
There’s an oyster gratin made with smoked bivalves, Parmesan béchamel and gremolata; squash blossoms are stuffed with alligator chorizo, ricotta and olives, and served with sauce piquant. Grilled local fish comes with andouille sausage, fried pickles, corn, Swiss chard and chermoula, the tart, spicy Moroccan condiment.
These days, any place with ambition will have a bar program, and at DTB that program is in the hands of Lu Brow, one of the best in town. When I covered DTB earlier this year, I mentioned the Louisiana Cocktail, and I’m inclined to do it again, because Brow has taken a simple formula – the Sazerac – substituted an amaro for the Herbsaint, and added a mist of pecan oil. I thought the oil might have a deleterious effect on the drink, but it’s subtle, and the drink remains one of my favorites.
The restaurant feels comfortable and modern, despite an abundance of wood salvaged from the renovation of the building, and decorative elements that include Spanish moss. Valerie Legras is responsible for the interior design, and Brooks Graham, whose name should be familiar to anyone who follows the local restaurant scene, was the architect. -RP
Chef/Owner: Carl Schaubhut
Top: Alligator chorizo stuffed squash blossoms; banana toffee cake.
Bottom: Mushroom boudin balls. 24 hour short rib with baked grits.