One could do worse than to conduct a culinary tour of Magazine Street. Start at the lower (eastern) end of the street at The Bon Temp’s Café for outstanding, traditional real-deal Cajun food – don’t miss the authentic Crawfish Bisque. Hopscotch your way up the street to the western end, making stops to sip and snack along the way until you reach the Audubon Clubhouse Café. The deep wrap-around porch and the ground-level patio, set with thickly cushioned furniture, afford glorious views into the verdant park. The experience here is served to a background soundtrack of singing birds in the canopy of moss-draped oak trees within the park. There is a lengthy list of wine by the glass at very reasonable prices. Large pours of The Four Graces Pinot Gris and La Crema Pinot Noir will each set you back only $7.
At the end of your tour, it’s entirely possible for you have experienced an international collection of flavors, among them Cajun, Caribbean, Cuban, Mexican, French, Chinese, Italian (both northern and southern styles) Vietnamese, Indian, Mediterranean, Creole, Israeli, Korean and Spanish. Add to this numerous pizza, hamburger, poor boy, coffee, bubble tea, hotdog, barbecue and bar-food joints, and you should be able to eat well and adventurously no matter the size of your budget or what you’re wearing.
Named after a gunpowder magazine (warehouse) that was built at the western end in the late 18th century, the street stretches six miles from the outskirts of the French Quarter to the Mississippi River levee just past Audubon Park. Each block of the narrow, rambling thoroughfare has a different personality, and each has its own distinctive dining venues.
Having lived three blocks from Magazine Street for the past 20 years, I take pride in my neighborhood and its walkable, aesthetically pleasing main thoroughfare.
Within a one-block stretch, I recently enjoyed two vastly different, though equally delightful, meals within days of one another.
Located at the corner of Magazine and General Pershing streets, La Petite Grocery never fails to impress. Owned and operated by chef Justin Devillier and his wife, Mia, La Petite puts the chef’s creative spin on traditional New Orleans cuisine with dishes like turtle Bolognese, panéed rabbit, blue crab beignets and shellfish stew with collard greens and pot liquor. Earlier this year Devillier took home a James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef: South. On the same night, La Petite’s Israeli neighbor across the street, Shaya, was named the country’s Best New Restaurant. That is a mind blowing amount of culinary firepower in one block.
A half-block upriver I also checked into Nirvana Indian Cuisine, where I have consistently enjoyed a buffet – something I usually detest. The lunch buffet here is a thrifty $11.50 per person. It changes daily, but a recent day bought spiced and buttered Basmati rice, Garam vegetable soup, fried mixed vegetable Pakoras, chicken Vindaloo (a thick spicy and tangy gravy with potatoes), butter chicken (roasted chicken cooked in tomato-butter Methi sauce), chicken Korma (almond and cashew gravy), mixed lentil Dahl and Saag Paneer (sautéed and spiced spinach with cheese).
Perennial favorite Antoine’s Restaurant has been included in Paul Freedman’s recently released book, Ten Restaurants that Changed America (Liveright Publishing).
Freedman, who leads an interdisciplinary food studies program at Yale University, shows not just how we eat, but the ways in which our dining habits intersect with race and class, immigration and assimilation. “Evolving as the nation did, restaurants soon kept pace with a growing consumer base that demanded food not merely as fuel but also as pleasure and entertainment. Immigration from all corners of the world brought variety to the rather pallid American diet, while technology and modern transportation provided greater accessibility to our food choices.”
With actual recipes from the 10 iconic restaurants, including Antoine’s oysters Rockefeller and Café Diabolique, the book would be nice for holiday gift-giving.
Audubon Clubhouse Cafe
6500 Magazine St.
Bon Temp’s Cafe
401 Magazine St.
La Petit Grocery
4238 Magazine St.
Nirvana Indian Cuisine
4308 Magazine St.
4213 Magazine St.