The French Quarter is the cultural core of our city, but its overlapping role as our primary tourist attraction can make it a prohibitive destination for local diners (French Quarter residents excepted, of course). This is unfortunate, as it’s peppered with idiosyncratic restaurants that offer signature style alongside places churning out unimaginative tourist fare. With that in mind, below is a cherry-picked itinerary for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Breakfast at Stanley. Stanley perches on an enviable piece of real estate on Jackson Square, steps from St. Louis Cathedral. Both tourists and locals mix here in the white subway and old-school mosaic tile décor of this re-imagined American diner. The menu gets refracted through the creative lens of Chef Scott Boswell, who plays mix-and-match with the component parts of familiar breakfast, brunch and dessert items. Mash-ups include his Bananas Foster French Toast, which employs French bread along with its namesake sauce and vanilla ice cream.
“Kids love that one,” Boswell says. “Pancakes with ice cream was a favorite childhood treat for me and it’s fun to create a dish based on my childhood memories.”
Boswell is better known for the high-flying culinary acrobatics at Stella!, but the comparatively down-to-earth elements on Stanley’s menu reflect his fondness for comfort-style foods. “The whole menu was pretty much founded on my favorite things to eat,” he says. “Eggs Benedict is one of my favorite flavor profiles. Just starting with that, you can do so many great variations. Examples include his Eggs Stanley, essentially Eggs Benedict garnished with cornmeal-crusted oysters, and his Eggs Benedict Poor Boy, whose poached eggs, fresh-made hollandaise and Canadian bacon get served up on Binder’s French bread.
Boundaries also blur at Stanley for sandwiches. Boswell’s latest creation, the Pepperoni Pizza Caesar Salad Poor Boy, features all the aforementioned components on French bread. His sliders forgo hamburger patties and instead feature a trio of individually sized poor boys including oyster, Korean barbecue beef with kimchee and a club version.
Stanley expanded its menu for Mardi Gras. “We will offer additional things like pastries and pre-made sandwiches to give people waiting in line another option.” For Boswell, that line outside tells it all. “Just five years ago we were all just barely hanging on. To see the line out the door here – it’s almost too good to be true. We are really blessed.”
Lunch at The Green Goddess. Not far away is The Green Goddess, a quirky nook whose tables spill out into Exchange Alley, which serves as its atmospheric al fresco component. A collaboration between chefs Paul Artigues and Chris DeBarr, who handle lunch and dinner respectively, the menu presents a shaggy-psychedelic collage of influences. The Green Goddess has accrued a strong grassroots following within the local dining community since opening in 2009, as it marked the return of DeBarr, the creative force behind the forward-thinking bar menu at the Delachaise, to the culinary scene. If Stanley’s hook is re-arranging the familiar, the Green Goddess’ hook is putting the familiar in a blender and dosing it with LSD. Influences range from the southern United States to Southeast Asia, India and Mexico, sometimes on the same plate. Additionally, it offers a refuge of comforting retro items, such as its namesake Green Goddess Wedge Salad.
The menu defies categorization, though Artigues’ lunch menu is slightly more straightforward than DeBarr’s dinner one. I use the word “straightforward” loosely, as a recent lunch there included Stewed Mushroom and Duck Confit soup (delicious), South Indian Lentil Pancake spiced with kalonjii, green peas and tamarind chutney (a great vegetarian offering) and a dessert called “Saturn Calling” – a floating island of sticky black coconut rice in a pool of coconut milk and lychee juice. A kaleidoscopic array of cocktails made from exotic juices and liquors dominates the food menu by a ratio of three pages to one. Be sure to arrive early, preferably when it opens and on a day pleasant enough to eat outside if necessary, to secure a seat – the tiny spot fills almost instantly when doors open and reservations aren’t accepted.
Dinner at GW Fins. Hiding in plain sight on Bienville Street just about at Bourbon Street is GW Fins, which recently celebrated its 10th anniversary. Spacious, commodious and contemporary, this seafood spot offers arguably the widest and most carefully selected number of seafood dishes in the city. At the helm is Executive Chef Tenney Flynn, who recently prepared a five-course Gulf-centric Mardi Gras Menu for the James Beard House in New York. Flynn recasts his menu daily using the best of what his suppliers have to offer. He buys his fish whole, dressing them in-house. “I’ve been working with some suppliers for over 20 years now,” Flynn says. “Like a lot of things, a good supply is based on having these good relationships.”
Consequently, the menu at GW Fins is constantly shifting, but there are a few legacy items. One is the Lobster Dumplings: airy quenelles of fennel-scented lobster mousse wrapped into thin dumplings and served in a broth of lobster butter. It is one of the restaurant’s signature items and is highly recommended. A recent main course of seared Jolt snapper featured firm, snow-white fish atop a bed of Parmesan gnocchi with trumpet mushrooms and vibrant green pea shoot-infused butter. “We’ve found out the best and most reliable supply of fresh finfish is out of the Gulf of Mexico,” Flynn says. “But even with that there are a lot of Gulf species that aren’t usually on New Orleans menus. If I can get a spear-fished triple-tail, I get pretty excited about that because I know that it was in the water yesterday. To that end, it’s much more exciting to get something off a quick-turnaround tuna boat out of Dulac than a boat off the East Coast that was out for a longer period of time.”
Keep an eye peeled for more unusual regional items including Louisiana stone crab (typically associated with Florida but also caught off our coast) and oyster drill whelks. “Those are sort of like baby abalone. We served them like escargot – took them out of the shell and stuffed them back in with garlic butter – a fun dish.”
Though it’s in a highly trafficked area, free parking is available at the nearby Central Garage on the corner of Dauphine and Iberville streets. Keep in mind that GW Fins is dinner-only.