After the double-whammy of Mardi Gras and the Super Bowl, we all now have a chance to relax – at least until Jazz Fest. Doubtless that’s especially welcome to residents of the French Quarter, whose front porches served as courtside seats to unprecedented craziness. So where do these folks go for a quiet, neighborhood bite? Here is a look at a few places that cater more to neighbors than to bead-seeking, maundering hordes.
While its perch on a sunny corner of Dumaine and Dauphine streets and its floor-to-ceiling windows help make Eat New Orleans a popular spot for brunch, it’s the food that really delivers. When owner Jarred Zeringue opened the doors on the second weekend of Jazz Fest in 2006, even he was surprised at how quickly it was embraced by the community. “We enjoy great neighborhood support,” he says.
A native of Vacherie in St. James Parish, Zeringue’s menu draws on the southern Louisiana fare he grew up with, which gets cozily incorporated into the breakfast and brunch-centric menus. Many dishes are built around his glorious biscuits. Eggs Dumaine, for example, uses one as a foundation before getting layered with grillades and a pair of poached eggs, and then sauced with hollandaise. “We make our grillades with beef,” Zeringue says. “It is almost like a Creole daube – slow cooked and shredded. Veal is kind of a more New Orleans way to cook it, but in the country to eat veal is like a sin.”
It is easy to find lighter fare, too, with homemade granola and yogurt parfaits. Even the traditional Two Eggs Breakfast gets health-ified with a side of fresh-cut fruit. But diners wanting more of a challenge will be rewarded with earthier options like Fried Chicken Livers with homemade pepper jelly, as well as Zeringue’s Hogshead Cheese. “My family holds a boucherie every year, so I started to make hogshead cheese for Eat and for Vacherie [his other restaurant just down the street]. It has become very popular.” Perhaps surprisingly so. “I thought, well who’s going to order hogshead cheese? But we sell it like crazy.” At Eat it gets served with saltines and homemade hot sauce.
For his Chicken and Dumplings, the biscuit-based dumplings get a quick poach in chicken stock before getting baked off in an iron skillet. The Shrimp and Butterbeans, a variant on red beans and rice, is made with a light roux, shrimp and butterbeans cooked down and then served over rice. His Caesar salad dressing is the real deal, sharp with garlic and the bite of anchovy, and it’s a joy to eat.
Prices are reasonable for the French Quarter, and the wait staff is friendly and unassuming. Brunch gets busy and is on a first-come, first-served basis, but they do take reservations for dinner. Eat is BYOB and there’s no corkage fee for the first bottle or six-pack ($15 for the next), which adds to the casual neighborhood appeal. Homemade preserves and pickled vegetables from his father’s farm round out the hominess.
Chartres Street just off of Jackson Square is where one would least expect to find an oasis from the hordes, but for two years now Sylvain has been just that – a hip, low-key respite from the throngs outside.
“When we first opened, we got a lot of people who didn’t see gumbo and jambalaya on the menu,” recalls co-owner Sean McCusker. “Some of them told me straight to my face that we were going to fail.” But McCusker stuck to his guns. His journalism career with Rolling Stone, among other publications, frequently took him to New Orleans, where he had reached the opposite conclusion. “I couldn’t understand why a place like this could not make it here,” he says. “It isn’t like we eat red beans and rice every day.” Clearly the naysayers were wrong, and Sylvain has been rolling along ever since.
Early on, Sylvain got slapped with the “Gastropub” label, but that isn’t quite fair. The sophisticated menu is composed by chef Alex Harrell, a veteran of Table One and Ralph’s on the Park. And while there are no white tablecloths – and some patrons need to read the menu by the light of their iPhones – the food can go toe-to-toe with just about anywhere else in the city.
Popular dishes on the menu include Harrell’s incredibly rich braised beef cheeks over puréed potatoes with black-eyed peas – like an edible hug. Southern flourishes appear throughout the menu, such as the slivered pickled egg in a green salad, and the famous Chick-Syl-vain Sandwich, a play on the low-brow glory that’s the Chick-fil-A sandwich. A recent refresh saw the addition of an American Wagyu beef belly appetizer with a parsnip and scallion pancake, and Veal Sweetbreads done up in a Buffalo-wing style sauce rounded out with a crisp and cooling apple and celeriac sauce.
Of late, Sylvain has gotten a lot of press for its cocktail and bar offerings. (“I was born and raised in Milwaukee, so I’m pretty much a beer-and-a-shot guy, though,” McCusker says.) An impressive selection of single-barrel bourbons is part of the draw, as are their gin-based cocktails such as the Aviation, made with maraschino liquor, lemon and Crème de Violette.
Sylvain is open seven days a week and keeps the kitchen light on later than most, which makes it an appealingly sophisticated late-night spot for dining. It has become a popular gathering place for film-industry types, helping to add luster to its cachet. Despite the buzz, it ultimately maintains a corner-pub feel where guests can enjoy quality food and drinks in the heart of Tourist Ground Zero. “The formula works; we’ve been really lucky,” McCusker says.
Owners of both Eat and Sylvain mentioned Meauxbar as a French Quarter favorite. This dinner-only destination on North Rampart Street opposite Armstrong Park serves up a strong menu of bistro fare with a streak of Indochine exoticism. The ambiance (and prices) are more fine-dining than neighborhood joint, but who can say no to Oyster Salad Pastis, made with flash-fried oyster and a creamy Pernod dressing? Reservations recommended.
Eat New Orleans
900 Dumaine St.
Lunch and dinner Tues.-Sat., brunch Sat.-Sun., closed Mon.
625 Chartres St.
Lunch Fri.-Sat., brunch Sun., late-night dining
942 N. Rampart St.
Dinner Tues.-Sat., late-night dining