As winter gives way to spring, New Orleans comes alive. Foliage makes a triumphant return, days are spent longing to be outside in the sun and it seems nearly every weekend brings a different outdoor festival. Restaurants certainly take note of the celebratory mood: those with courtyards and patios set their tables for the first time in months and it’s certainly a welcome change. Chefs take notice as well, as heartier fare like game and root veggies are replaced by light salads, fresh fish and seafood, and often locally grown seasonal fruits and vegetables. And of course, the mighty crawfish can be found on almost every menu in some capacity. Many places even extend their lunch and dinner hours to accommodate the swell in business. Now more than ever is the perfect time to get out of your winter dining rut and try some fresh new cuisine in a warm and sunny atmosphere.
New Orleans has long been known as a place where a business lunch is usually anything but. In this town, a Friday lunch is a thing of leisure means lots of laughs, some great story sharing and a few cocktails. Restaurants have embraced this carefree attitude by amplifying their lunch menus, making these spots daytime destinations for great food at great prices.
Hot on the heels of Chef Susan Spicer’s recent guest judge spot on the Top Chef finale, the famed restaurateur is gearing up for a busy month over at Bayona. The romantic courtyard will be reopening this month, just in time Spicer to unveil her new lunch menu, set to launch before Jazz Fest. Lunch options here are inventive and unlike any restaurant in town; the offerings here are touted as “eclectic global cuisine” and they certainly hold up to phrase. For a refreshing menu option, try the watermelon salad with cucumber and feta, paired with one of the Bayona Spring Spirits; these specialty concoctions are sure to be quenching the thirsty crowds later this month. The Saint, a potent potion of Aviation Gin, Elderflower Liqueur, tonic and lime, would pair well with any of these lighter meals. Lunch options are also bargain priced, with entrees topping out at just $15.
Embracing the Friday lunch tradition is Chef Tom Wolfe of Peristyle’s new incarnation, Wolfe’s. Housed in the same Dumaine Street building as its predecessor, Wolfe’s also takes a more global approach to its dishes, rather than traditional Creole fare. Though the restaurant only serves lunch on Fridays, business is bustling, due to the famous head-of-kitchen and his ever-evolving menu that changes every Friday. And at three courses for $28, there’s enough pocket change left over to try one of their signature cocktails or martinis.
But who can forget the Grande Dame of the Friday lunch? Opened in 1905, Galatoire’s Restaurant is one of the oldest and arguably most famous of the old-line New Orleans restaurants, and thus the infamous Friday wait is well-deserved. Patrons begin packing the 200 block of Bourbon Street as early as 10 a.m. to get prime lunch seating in the downstairs dining room. It is a normal occurrence for lunch patrons to still be having a rollicking time when the dinner crowd arrives, drink in hand and appetizers on the table long forgotten. Their Shrimp Rémoulade, with its wonderfully spicy red sauce, isn’t to be missed, nor are the soufflé potatoes and Crabmeat Maison. The landmark destination recently began accepting reservations for the revamped upstairs dining area, but every local knows that no one goes to Galatoire’s to sit upstairs. So have a Sazerac, or five, and watch your lovely spring afternoon turn into an even better evening.
Dinners to Indulge
As the weather in town begins to heat up, restaurants respond by offering more spring-friendly options, like small plates and fresh, cool dishes. Pelican Club is a must on everyone’s list, be it local or tourist. Chef John Hughes changes his menu seasonally while keeping a few representative items, like their Seafood Martini appetizer of lobster, crabmeat and shrimp (perfectly chilled in a glass, of course) and Paneed Gulf Fish with jumbo lump crabmeat. In addition to their extensive a la carte menu, Hughes also offers a nightly fixed menu, where a four-course meal ranges from $46 to $52.
Recently named the best seafood restaurant in town by Zagat, GW Fins is always on the tip of everyone’s tongue when talking fish. Owner Gary Wollerman and Chef Tenney Flynn’s eclectic menu gives a nod to Asian cuisine with most of the dishes, such as the Lobster Dumplings or the Thai Bouillabaisse, but also keeps it Gulf Coast local with entrees like Whole Roast Pompano and Wood Grilled Louisiana Swordfish. The minimalist décor and light-filled dining rooms are the perfect place to relax with one of their specialty martinis and enjoy a casual, yet upscale, evening.
Easter Brunch for your Bunch
Whether you celebrate the Easter holiday or not, it’s a great excuse to rally the troops for a decadent Sunday brunch. Ralph’s on the Park recently began serving a three-course brunch, as opposed to their traditional a la carte menu, for $28. The fixed menu comes with their signature turtle soup, an entrée of your choice and the famous Brennan family bread pudding. An extra $18 completes the Bubbles and Brunch option: that price buys you endless Piper Sonoma champagne, or $22 for infinite mimosas. Their upstairs dining room opens to a beautiful balcony overlooking scenic City Park, and while it’s usually reserved for private parties, it is open to diners if there isn’t an event sheduled. Their Easter Brunch menu includes offerings such as Crawfish and Pepperjack Omelet or yummy crab cakes with poached eggs and a Jack Daniels sauce.
New to the brunch scene is world-renowned Emeril’s, who will be offering a special Easter Brunch on Sunday, April 12. The menu includes many of their signature dishes, such as the Barbeque Shrimp and Petite Rosemary Biscuits or Andouille Crusted Redfish, but also offers some one-time-only specials. Sea Scallops Benedict, Louisiana Crawfish Quiche and the Croque Madame, consisting of brioche, smoked ham, Gruyere and a fried egg, are all worthy contenders on this menu that’s chockablock with amazing creations. Reservations should definitely be made early.
Finally, if a jazz brunch is more your style, another Brennan family outpost, Mr. B’s Bistro, does one of the best available in the city. While they do offer a regular a la carte option, the fixed menu provides plenty of bang for your buck and it’s definitely an experience. Try the Eggs Creole, a decadent entrée of poached eggs atop risotto cakes, andouille rounds and a bed of creamy red beans, finished with a touch of Crystal hot sauce hollandaise. Wash it all down with their Brandy Milk Punch or their oversized Bloody Mary.
The cozy dark wood interior and well played compilation of jazz standards will have you wanting to hang out all afternoon.