April is a fail-proof testament to the glory of courtyards and sidewalk dining, although many of us tested our favorite outdoor dining during those strangely mild days we had this winter. As festival season approaches, here are a few overlooked offerings in the leisurely way of al fresco dining.
During French Quarter Festival, April 12 through 15, play tourist at one of the Palace Café’s sidewalk tables for lunch. If you’re searching for lighter fare, The Palace Café’s take on the traditional cobb salad is perfection. The history of the cobb salad is as mysterious as the origins of Ryan Seacrest. Where on earth did it come from, and how has it become an American staple? The salad’s origins have been linked to several creators, from the Brown Derby restaurant in California to a small kitchen in Nebraska and even to a fictitious character on “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” The cobb salad, since its 20th-century debut, attains the perfect proportion of all things good: egg, chicken, greens, avocado, bacon, tomato, cheese and croutons. The Palace Café’s rendition adds a New Orleans flare, replacing the same old bacon with a new sweetheart: candied andouille. While the salad usually features roasted or boiled chicken, here you can also choose from duck confit or even grilled shrimp. It is an American lunchtime masterpiece. You can ponder the cobb salad, and other mysteries of life, while people-watching on Canal Street, and then wandering to Meyer the Hatter for a new festival look.
Tall ships will dock along the Mississippi from April 17 through 23 for NOLA Navy Week, the start of a three-year celebration that commemorates the War of 1812 and “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Ships will be stationed at various wharfs along the mighty Mississippi, and those venturing to the Poland Street Wharf to take a tour of the FS Germinal will have ample opportunity for outside dining in Bywater. On Dauphine Street, Satsuma Café offers a small courtyard with plenty of avant-garde foot traffic at which to gawk. It is nearly impossible to dine here without overhearing some film industry gossip or watching Ani DiFranco pull up on a bike. Renowned for their breakfast, lunch and juice menu (the pineapple limeaid is a serious pick-me-up), Satsuma now offers dinner Wednesday through Saturday, featuring seasonal, fresh produce and healthy bites. Here you’ll find boquerones, those salty and delicious anchovies, served as an appetizer with a simple garlic, parsley and olive oil garnish. The adventurous lamb kofta features Two Runs Farm lamb over a carrot-chermoula salad (chermoula is an herbaceous marinade, sort of like a Moroccan chimichurri), pistachios, yogurt and pickled onion. Satsuma is BYOB and has a $5 corkage fee.
On Poland Avenue, Bacchanal is also back to its glory days with live music in the courtyard seven nights a week. The gourmet menu changes nightly, always serving the finest savory options, from braised baby octopus to chorizo-stuffed dates. Inside, you’ll find an ample selection of cheeses and wine. It is a great way to spend an evening dancing around in your sailor hat after touring the ships.
The Crescent City Classic is on April 7, and among the frenzy of long-distance runners ready to rehydrate and feast on carbohydrates will be yours truly. If you spend quite a bit of time training at City Park, the reasonable lunch fare at Fellini’s Café is great for refueling. Overlooking Carrollton Avenue, Fellini’s courtyard features umbrellas to shield you from the sun and a slew of wraps, pizzas and salads. Lavash rolls are tasty, with thin lavash bread wrapped with fresh ingredients and toasted to a crispy, pastry-like finish. The spicy chicken lavash roll is a house favorite with a red pepper dressing that will breathe some fire into your life, but the lamb lavash roll with a light, creamy tzatziki sauce and spinach is ever so sinful. Sandwiches come with a large portion of pasta salad, a runner’s side of choice.
For the pack of runners, Nonna Mia Pizzeria’s shady courtyard is a great place to hit up after a long run at City Park, and they offer family style pasta dishes that serve four. The traditional spaghetti and meatballs is a must for carbo-loading.
Palace Café | 605 Canal St. | 523-1661 | PalaceCafe.com
Satsuma Café | 3218 Dauphine St. | 304-5962 | SatsumaCafe.com
Bacchanal Wine | 600 Poland Ave. | 948-9111 | BacchanalWine.com
Fellini’s Café | 900 N. Carrollton Ave. | 488-2155
Nonna Mia Pizzeria | 3125 Esplanade Ave. | 948-1717 | NonnaMia.net