The website The Daily Meal recently issued a list of the 101 best restaurants in the U.S., five of which, by their count, are in New Orleans. The local restaurants and their rankings are: Commander’s Palace, 11; Galatoire’s, 15; Cochon, 22; August, 27; and Herbsaint, 72. I’m not sure my “top five” restaurants in New Orleans would be exactly the same, but I can’t argue that any of those places don’t deserve to be on the website's list.
I don’t like ranking my favorite restaurants. When people ask me my favorite restaurant in New Orleans, I struggle for a bit and usually end up naming a half-dozen that happen to be in my head at the time. I definitely can’t place my favorite restaurants in some sort of numerical order that suggests the restaurant at “1” is better than the restaurant at “5” or “20” for that matter.
I have had spectacular experiences at August, Coquette, and Patois for example, but I’ve also had spectacular experiences at 9 Roses, Ancora, Jung’s Golden Dragon, Middendorf’s and Domilise’s. I’m not arguing that Domilise’s is in the same league as August – there’s a level of technical proficiency and imaginative cooking on display at John Besh’s flagship restaurant that you won’t find at a casual restaurant – but does that mean August is “better”? Maybe, but I’m not anxious to enter that particular debate.
That doesn’t mean you can’t, of course, so feel free to leave your own list of top five or 10 or however many restaurants you have the time to list in the comments below.
I walked into the Quarter the other day to get some lunch without much of an idea where I'd end up, but with a time constraint of about 45 minutes. Not the best plan in the world, but fortunately I walked a block from Canal onto Royal before I stumbled on Deuce McAllister's Ole Saint Kitchen and Tap.
I still feel a little bad that I have to characterize it as “stumbled on,” but I'd forgotten about the press release announcing the restaurant, and I hadn't been able to attend the grand opening because it was held on a Tuesday evening. I vaguely remembered that a chef I respected was involved, and I decided to give it a shot.
The French Quarter is not all about Galatoire's, Antoine's, Bayona and Stella! There are wonderful fine-dining restaurants and no end of customers to fill them, but there are also people in the Quarter for other reasons, and there is no reason why more casual restaurants can't still provide good, local food while at the same time allowing customers to watch seventeen games on flat-screen televisions positioned around the dining room. It may not be haute cuisine, but it doesn't have to be made without thought, care or skill.
For lunch I had two starters: the fried oysters with horseradish cream and green tomato chow chow, and smoked baby back ribs with chicory barbecue sauce. The oysters were $10, and there were eight to 10 of them, I think. I lost track, because they were big and the ribs came at the same time and my thought at that moment was that I had just written myself a prescription for indigestion. Regardless of their number, the oysters were large and well-fried, and though the horseradish sauce wasn't all that notable, the chow chow was tart and crunchy and a very nice textural counterpoint.
The first rib I tasted was dry, and I thought I was in for a disappointing meal, but the other seven ribs on the plate ($9) were much better. I can't say I distinguished chicory in the sauce, but it was on the sweet end of the spectrum, and I like that in a barbecue sauce now and again. The ribs were served over a slaw of green and red cabbage dressed in more of the sauce. I think a more standard creamy slaw would have worked better, but it's not much of a complaint.
I'll link you to the restaurant's website for the rest of the menu, but please note that the food is considerably better than the writing you'll find on the website generally. I'm not the best writer in the world, God knows, and I tend to, sprinkle commas, throughout, my writing, as though, I was, William Shatner, but still.
The list of local beers on tap rivals any bar in town, and there's a pretty wide selection of beers from elsewhere, too. Prices on the food are pretty low, particularly for the Quarter, but beers run around $6 or more for a pint. The better deal is a flight of four 5-ounce pours for $10, not only because it's a better bang for the buck volume-wise, but because it gives you a chance to sample multiple brews in one sitting.
The chef at Ole Saint is Jared Tees, whose previous experience at Manning's and a number of other local restaurants, including Besh Steak, and Lüke and Commander’s Palace was impressive. I can't say Tees and I are “tight,” but I've met him, and he's both a good guy and a good chef. His menu at Ole Saint isn't groundbreaking, but it's solid and I'd absolutely recommend it to someone looking for a place to get good food and watch a game at the same time. Let me put it this way: the World Cup is being held later this year in Brazil, and I may very well be there to watch the U.S. play during my lunch hour. We may not win a game, but at least I'll have good food and good beer to compensate.