Veg Dining in NOLA Report (Long)
I'm posting back with a dining report on my recent trip to NOLA for the American Library Association conference. Thanks to those who offered suggestions, especially Swampsue (previous thread: Solo Dining Near the Convention Center). A note to anyone considering taking a trip there for business / pleasure / volunteering / whatever: Although there's lots of destruction and heartbreak that should not be forgotten, and much work to be done, the locals were so gracious and friendly and happy to have us. Do what you can renew this great city -- there's a lot of work to be done -- but rest assured that unique and wonderful NOLA vibe is still there all the same.
Anywho, on to my Chow report...
Bayona was completely booked, so I'll have to wait until next time (which will be soon, I hope!). I managed a beignet order from Cafe Du Monde almost every day, and had to shower each night before bedtime to wash the sweat and powdered sugar of my heat-exhausted self... I managed to pack in some good meals between meetings, so here's the run-down:
Bennachin, 1212 Royal in the French Quarter
Great African food, with plenty of veg options. There are 6 or 7 dishes under the heading of 'vegetarian' on the menu, but you can also order a number of other dishes sans meat as well. I chose one of the beef dishes w/o the beef. It was a spinach stew with ground peanut over some delicious coconut rice, with a side of fried plantains. You get to specify how spicy you want it, too. Their ginger drink was an experience in and of itself -- insanely potent.
Angeli on Decatur, across from the French Market
They had a good handful of veg sandwiches to choose from, and I got the artichoke / spinach / mushrooms / feta / provolone variety. Very tasty, but the herb sauce that was supposed to come with it was, as far as I could tell, non-existent. A good, casual place to stop and cool off at the bar for a drink and some eats.
Central Grocery, also on Decatur and across from the French Market
I'd been told that they were like the soup nazis there so I was kind of afraid to go in and try to order a muffaletta w/o meat, but I went in, asked, and they disappeared and came back with a cheese / semolina bread / olive salad / pickled veggies creation that made my taste buds happy. Two San Pelligrino Limonatas to wash 'em down, and my tummy was very content. The bread was every bit as good as I'd heard -- is that semolina?
Praline Connection, 542 Frenchman St. just past the French Market in the Marigny
Good, simple eats. Thanks again to Swampsue, who gave me the hint that their beans, etc., aren't made with the pork fat et. al. that usually keeps me from getting the best local dishes in NOLA. It was packed and the service was definitely harried. There were a few mix-ups when we got our food and they were out of the sweet potato pie, which one of my companions desperately wanted a taste of, but the delicious bread pudding helped to make up for it. I went for the red beans and rice and a side of collard greens. I shared a twice-baked potato with one of my fellow diners that was better than anything else on our plates -- wonderfully creamy with cheese and greens mixed in.
Palace Cafe, 605 Canal St.
Stopped here for lunch with a local conference-goer who counts this among her favorite dining spots. Nice ambiance (impressive staircase!); formerly NOLA's oldest music store. My colleague ordered a really unique dish called the Palace Potato Pie; a vegetarian variation on this would have been a real treat. But I ordered a veg plate, given the lack of entrees on the menu. It was good, if not a little bit too spicy/peppery. The assorted mushrooms were flavorful and the asparagus was perfect, but a huge pile of onions left me scratching my head ("What am I supposed to *do* with this??). Also had the blue cheese salad. The walnut vinagrette was outstanding, as was the blue cheese which was piled on. The fried okra was a stand-out, and the white chocolate bread pudding made being late to our next meeting entirely excusable. The tiny little semi-sweet chips added the perfect extra something to it, making it the best desert I had in NOLA.
Bacco, 310 Chartres
Both myself and my dining partner had heard raves about Bacco, so we wandered in Monday night for some eats. The special (3 appetizers and a glass of wine for $25) was perfect, especially since there weren't any veg options under entrees. (There's also the post-Katrina special: 3 glasses of wine and one appetizer for $25.) Cocktails / wine were all good, appetizers were all solid choices except maybe the tiny portion of eggplant and ricotta rolls. Mista salad and spinach ravioli were good but not super memorable. Service was a little bit leisurely, but the atmosphere is very soft and laid back (venetian decor ; love the glass grape lamps along the bar side!) so we didn't mind the wait. We both got the chocolate custard for the desert, which was super rich. Paired with the suggested sherry, even better. I would come back, based on the drinks, the atmosphere, and the value of the special. I wish they had their black truffle fettucine on the dinner menu, though -- I guess it's a lunch-only thing.
Had breakfast at Wolfe's near the convention center in the Marriot -- eggs benedict. Very good, although I heard a horror story about some especially lousy service during the dinner hours.
I had to waste a meal at the Riverfront food court due to a time crunch, and blew $10 on the worst pseudo-mexican cuisine I'd ever had. Ordered the cheese enchiladas and got what you'd expect from a busy mall joint that slops together soupy beans and play-doh-ey rice and nacho cheese around on styrofoam plates... But, that was the only bad experience I had. Go figure!
That's all for me till the next trip!
so glad you enjoyed yourself, I can't believe I spaced Bennachin, another staple of veg dining in N.O. They have a veg dish, Jama Jama Ni something or other (sauteed spinach with plaintains and coconut rice) that they traditionally sell at Jazz Fest as well. Yum. I find Angeli passable but not particularly mentionable. Never tried the Palace Cafe, but my tendency is to avoid the Brennan's empire as vastly over-rated, at least for the vegitarian. Again, to my mandible, Herbsaint and Lilette are absolutely the best bets in terms of finer dining that accomodates the non-meat-eating palate. When you make it back, you should put one of them on your short list (along with Kim Son, I am so not leading you wrong on this one) And of course, avoid the food court like the plague, but you figured this out already.
Glad you enjoyed your trip; I don't think any of us New Orleanians are insincere in our gratitude for your coming.
Ah, yes, I'd fully intended to say that I would be holding on to the other recommendations made for a future trip -- I was a bit limited in where and what kinds of places I could venture to because of my conference schedule, but now I have at least three good reasons to return on my own time soon! Kim Son sounds excellent, as well as Herbsaint and Lilette. Thanks again for taking the time to point me in the right direction!
Traditional NOLA muffaletta bread is not a semolina flour bread. United Bakery used to provide the bread for Central Grocery's muffs, but United drowned in Katrina. I don't know who's supplying the bread right now...