April, with the Crescent City Classic and the first weekend of Jazz Fest, is the month Mid-City is all-abuzz with fantastic eateries right off the streetcar line.
Eco Café is located on Canal Street in a large house that, post-Hurricane Katrina, was refurbished green-mindedly.
The building isn’t only energy efficient – Eco Café’s motto of “fresh, green, friendly” carries over to the menu with vegetarian and vegan offerings, freshly squeezed juices and a dining atmosphere that’s calming and inviting thanks to all the big windows in the house. I was midway into a deep om, relaxing to the muzak version of “Wind Beneath my Wings,” when my chicken and waffle sandwich with strawberries and honey arrived. I am not exactly sure how eco-friendly (or health-friendly) this sandwich is, but it’s one of the most delicious and original sandwiches in New Orleans. It is composed of two Belgian waffles with fried chicken strips in between them … Hello! The waffles aren’t really thick either, so there’s no problem physically eating the sandwich. I highly suggest eating this sandwich instead of doing yoga. If you’re still adamant about finding something healthy to eat, you might want to opt for the vegan portabella chimichurri panini with caramelized onions, peppers and spinach. The garlicky chimichurri is also best utilized as a dip for the hefty steak fries. Yes, steak fries often possess the same blasé appeal as a new Kate Hudson movie, but Eco Café’s steak fries are ridiculously crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside, making you feel good long after the muzak stops. Eco Café also offers a tapas menu on Friday and Saturday nights if you’re in need of a Manchego and Serrano fill. They also have wine and a full bar.
Rue 127 is Mid-City’s hidden gem. It is a little blue-and-white shotgun in between a Tex-Mex joint and a noodle house on Carrollton Avenue, near Canal Street. With its small, open kitchen, chef Ray Gruezke turns out the best bang for your buck in town. With entrées as low as $16 for half an oven roasted chicken with baked macaroni and cheese, the gourmand can come out to play without having to feel too guilty. Hand made diver scallop tortellini with asparagus, roasted leeks, a dash of crème fraîche and brown butter is the perfect starter. While it seems a bit odd to find risotto on an appetizer menu, Rue 127’s version, full of tender oyster and portabella mushrooms, Parmesan Reggiano and that perfectly creamy texture (there’s a fine line between mushy and tooth-breaking) does seem to merit its own place on the menu, rather than be wasted as a side. Seafood is definitely Chef Gruezke’s forte. The pan-seared puppy drum is a must-try with salty lardons and steaming mussels served in a sweet orange broth, balanced by ruby red grapefruit and crispy frisée – two things my dining companion has always considered too bitter to eat, strangely enough, until this night. Save room for dessert. The sticky toffee pudding, with its dense date cake drenched in toffee sauce and a dollop of honey ice cream melting over the top, is one of the reasons I had to start training for the Crescent City Classic. I don’t like to share.
The Ruby Slipper, located on South Cortez Street behind Mandina’s, is home to a killer plate of barbecue shrimp and grits and specials galore. On any random day you may find coffee pancakes or Ruby’s crab cake breakfast, with its lump crab cake topped in hollandaise and accompanied by all the usual suspects: rosemary potatoes, grits, eggs cooked your way and toast or a fluffy biscuit. The mimosas come with a splash of pomegranate juice in them, which in fact gives them a spectacular ruby glow. The monstrous breakfast sandwich is like a bacon and egg club. The migas – eggs scrambled with onion, tomato, cilantro, pepper jack and chunks of chorizo – is served over crispy fried tortilla strips. No flying monkeys allowed.