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Lunch Ladies

Three casual hotspots

Let us face it, dollface, sometimes you need a break from the luxurious white linen luncheons with turtle soup and martinis the color of Smurfs. Leave the Spanx in the drawer and put away your lipstick. Whether you just want a light pick-me-up, a cheese-induced coma or a midday beer, these three casual lunch hotspots are sure to do the trick.

For light lunchers, the Garden District’s Café Rani is the place for shady outdoor dining, salads, sandwiches and even a special menu section devoted to those who need to watch what they eat. With daily specials – try Wednesday’s grilled shrimp, orange and avocado salad over fresh greens with and a tangy duck sauce meets salsa dressing – a slew of vegetarian options and even burgers, lunch here provides a wealth of options to suit everyone at the table. The chicken salad sandwich is sure to please those who prefer lunch classics, served on whole wheat with tomato, cucumber, lettuce and that imperative chicken salad topper: sprouts. For a midday indulgence, try the potato salad, which is creamy without being awash in mayonnaise, and has magical strips of soft bacon that evoke a summer barbecue and make this side dish something I’d like to be stranded on a deserted island with, though alas, that would probably require swimwear. Next time I better order from the Rani Watchers section.

Cheeseheads will tell you the wait at St. James Cheese Company on Prytania Street can be exhausting on the weekends, but it’s well worth it. This is the home of the pressed Gruyère sandwich – served
on Wildflour multi-grain bread with caramelized onions – it’s kind of like the good part of onion soup, that cheesy topping. A pressed Raclette sandwich on rye features housemade pastrami and world famous spicy McClure’s Pickles from Brooklyn, which the shop also sells and are worth the trip alone. This is definitely not a dieter’s paradise, rather a gourmand’s jouissance. Though they do have an array of salads such as the Cantal featuring ham, apples, walnuts and cantal cheese over mixed greens, adventurous eaters should try a cheeseboard or a charcuterie platter, the latter adorned with locally cured meats and house made pâtés. You can sample from more than 100 cheeses while waiting for your food, from Brie de Meaux (that’s “Mo,” for those not in the kneaux) to the impeccable Rogue River blue wrapped in dark green grape leaves that have been macerated in pear brandy local
to the foothills of Oregon. Cheesemonger and owner Richard Sutton is also a beer enthusiast, stocking a big selection of craft brews and tasty imports that threaten to break the shelf on which they’re displayed. The tiny dining area fills up quick on weekends, though they do have outdoor seating available if you’re willing to brave the heat.

The Avenue Pub on streetcar stop 11 in the Lower Garden District is home to dozens of American Craft Beers and chain-smoking eccentrics, but thanks to J’anitas it’s also home to an incredible redfish sandwich, a burger doused in cabernet and Nutella tacquitos. Yes, decadent hazelnut and chocolate dessert tacquitos accompanied by a berry chipotle sauce. The pub’s casual and humorous air is a welcome respite in our cocktail-centric city. Chalkboards display some artsy creations as well as cautioning no orange slice, no muddling – but not so fast, imbibers. This is the bona fide beer drinker’s hideout with over 31 rotating taps and the best beer list in New Orleans, hands down.

At first look, J’anitas, the pub’s tiny kitchen with counter service, almost disappears behind the pool table, but after you try a sandwich you won’t overlook them. The St. Chuck Duck on sourdough bread boasts succulent bits of cabernet sautéed duck breast, blue and cheddar cheese, currant tapenade and thin slices of Granny Smith apple. It’s grilled and buttery, too, making this sandwich a must-try lunch indulgence, especially paired with a nutty Southern Pecan or NOLA Brown Ale. J’anitas offers a list of beer and food pairings, and their food is gourmet and decadent, without a pretentious air. The sandwiches come with an animal cracker poking out the top, which is the type of strange and hilarious lagniappe that makes me get all nostalgic even without the beer.

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