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Tavern Temptations

It is July, the month of independence, and nothing says “I love America” like a trip to a good ol’ tavern. Cool down and relax at one of these casual retreats that won’t break the bank.

Rivershack Tavern, located on River Road somewhere between here and Harahan, is a rowdy eatery that offers a solid beer selection and onion rings the size of bagels. The bar itself looks like the setting for Patrick Swayze’s epic Roadhouse, especially when the motorcycles line up out front. Inside, the kitsch continues. If you wandered into the Rivershack too inebriated, you might wonder why a man at the bar is wearing ladies’ undies. But it’s really that the bar stools look like the bottom halves of human beings (a lady who lost her jeans, a man in boots and a businesswoman in fishnets). Regardless of pictures of Guy Fieri staring out from the wall – apparently the Rivershack’s thick and boozy turtle soup made his all-time list of favorite foods – the Rivershack features an array of tempting deep-fried treats, from fried pickles to buffalo shrimp, and a knack for colloquial misspellings of “see-food” (lots of cwabs and shwimps done right, baby). Lunching ladies can find a selection of hearty salads – there’s no Caesar salad, only Seizure salad. There is a wealth of poor boys and deli sandwiches at decent prices.

The Anita Flicks, with slow-roasted beef, pastrami, Swiss, horseradish and mustard on rye is a simple, yet extremely crave-worthy sandwich. The “boigers” (Roger Rabbit may have written the menu) are large and in charge. I managed to finish mine, but you can get a “wimpy” version for about six dollars.

Za – it isn’t just a two-letter, 30-point scorer on your Words With Friends app. It is also a colloquial term for a staple of the American diet: pizza. Sugar Park Tavern was well known for their amazing pies before closing shop at their original Bywater location a few years ago. But they’ve now reopened on St. Claude Avenue, across the street from the Saturn Bar. Residents of the 9th Ward are lucky enough for delivery, but for the rest of us, the pizza and sandwiches at Sugar Park are worth dining-in. The new location is currently BYOB and a bit austere compared to the dusty Christmas tree/sinking floor/video-rental-shop tavern of yore, but they still have great food and friendly service. Fried Mozzarella and Artichoke “yum-yums,” blissful, melty-centered appetizers bigger than golf balls, will take your indulgence to level 11. Sugar Park doesn’t get too eccentric with their pizzas, a nice respite from the culinary world’s gluttonous gourmet-topping fad. Their house-made spicy Adobo sauce adds an almost eye-watering kick to the vegetarian “Zephyr,” with juicy cherry tomatoes, mushrooms and fresh garlic. The Billyburg, with crispy bacon, pineapple and fresh jalapeño has all the flavorful components to attain pizza zen.

Sugar Park offers a slew of vegetarian options including pizzas, chili, a portabella burger and lasagna. The burgers are as good as they come, as are the hearty steak fries.

Parkway Bakery and Tavern is another reason to envy the lucky ducks who live on the bayou. Is it not enough the Bayou St. John neighborhood is possibly the quaintest in America, they get the best poor boy shop in New Orleans, too (debate amongst yourselves)? After a Saturday at Jazz Fest, I was lucky enough to find a seat at Parkway’s bar, savoring an Abita Amber as Lady Gaga and Elvis were summoned over the loud speaker to pick up their orders and watching as myriad customers, from old men in sweatpants to young women in Tory Burch flats wandered in and out of the door. My roast beef poor boy arrived, dripping with gravy, and I hunched over, hoping to remain unseen as I nibbled it down to lettuce shreds, stuffing sweet potato fries in my mouth so fast they hung there like long orange nutria teeth. I know what you’re thinking. How, after a full day of eating at Jazz Fest, was it even possible for you to consume a Parkway poor boy, two Ambers and a basket of sweet potato fries? My friends, I cannot tell you how or why this was physically possible, only that sometimes dreams do come true, usually in the form of gravy.

The Radiators Special, cheese-smothered shrimp and oysters on French bread, at Cooter Browns will have you asking, “‘Where Was You At’ all my life?”

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