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Nov 2, 2007 02:21 PM

Wisconsin boy's NOLA guide for his friends - Critiques welcome

Hello all,

After six visits and many hours pouring over your Chowhound advice, I've compiled the following and distributed to my friends. Two of whom are in NOLA as I type.

Would appreciate everyone's input. Heck, I'm just a tourist.

Thanks in advance,

Breakfast – You need to start the day with SOMETHING in your stomach!

Petunia’s on St. Louis Street – Fantastic sit-down breakfast. Ever since we found this, we’ve gone there at least once per visit to NOLA. The breakfasts are huge and the bloody marys are great.

Café Beignet – There are a few of these around the Quarter. We go to the one next to the police station on Royal Street. Good coffee, quick service. Food is breakfast sandwich fare. Great for a quick, cheap start to the day.

Café du Monde – Tourist trap, but quintessential NOLA so you have to try it. One coffee a piece (the café au lait is their trademark) and an order of beignets will cover you. Be prepared for “service with a snarl”.

Brennan’s – This is a fantastic old-guard NOLA restaurant. They are famous for “Breakfast at Brennan’s” and breakfast is a great way to experience them on the cheap. We had a great waiter who DID try to up-sell us throughout the meal. We were glad we got the Bananas Foster (it was invented here) and the flaming Café Brulot at the end of the meal. Extravagant but worth it. Lynn and I now make Café Brulot at our New Orleans party each spring. Try the Turtle Soup. It’s about the best soup I’ve ever had.

Commander’s Palace – OK, technically “brunch” isn’t “breakfast”, but close enough for jazz. Jazz Brunch, on Sunday morning, at Commander’s Palace is an absolute delight. You get dressed up. Cab through the Central Business District (CBD) and into the Garden District. And get JUST the right blend of service, history, and great food. HIGHLY recommend ordering the $36 “Traditional Jazz Brunch”. If not, please, PLEASE don’t fail to order a Bread Pudding Souffle. Outstanding.
Oh, one of their past Executive Chefs is a goofy guy from Massachusetts. BAM!

Lunch – This has not been a focal point of past trips, but we’ve found some good stuff.

Coop’s Place – If you like great fried chicken, great jambalaya (my opinion, Lynn wasn’t as impressed) and dive bars, you cannot miss Coops. It’s at the French Market end of the Quarter across from Margaritaville. Fantastic food. When I read up on this place the only place that was touted as also having the “best fried chicken in NOLA” was Fiorelli’s right down the street.

Felix’s – If oysters aren’t your thing, avert your eyes. This is under “lunch” because I made a meal of this place. If you love oysters on the half shell, this place is for you. You walk in and they immediately tell you to start making your own cocktail sauce from a tray of ingredients at the end of the bar. Then you stand (no stools thus no sitting) at the beautiful marble bar and the gents behind the bar start shucking oysters to order. No plates. They plunk the oyters on the bar, you slurp the oysters and put the empties right back on the bar. I had a dozen and a mug (plastic mug) of Abita Amber. Heaven.

Mother’s – I’ve read mixed reviews but we had fun and a good meal. Try the “debris po’boy”. It’s all the crumbles and shavings from carving the roast beef. Get there early (11:15) or the lunch rush will have you waiting forever. Watch the patrons in front of you, in line, for clues about ordering. This place can be brutal on you if you’re not ready to order when it’s your turn.

LATE ADDITION – Central Grocery – Just do this. Don’t question, if you can POSSIBLY swing it, just do it. On your last morning, get up and have coffee at Café du Monde. Don’t dawdle. Get to Central Grocery, up the way (NE) on Decatur Street, before about 11:00. Walk in and ask for a muffaletta and have them double wrap it for travel. (You’re gonna want two, but I don’t want to spend your money for you. We bought two and when Lynn tasted it she said she wished we’d bought four.) Take it in your carry on. Leave it there. Whole planes leaving NOLA have been known to riot when the smell of this sandwich wafts through the plane and the perpetrator failed to “bring enough to share”. Anytime after you get home, preferably the next day, dig in. A quarter of this behemoth is enough for one person at one sitting. The sandwich gets better with age! Last step: Call me to thank me. I know you will.

Dinner – New Orleans INVENTED eating out!

Brigtsen’s – Two words: Eat here. I feel like stopping there, but will expound. Frank Brigtsen worked for Paul Prudomme at K-Paul’s and then went out on his own. Probably the best meal I’ve EVER had. It’s Creole food with some updating, and with flair, set in a homey atmosphere. This is also outside the quarter. About a 30 minute cab ride.

K-Paul’s – The place where “blackened” was invented. We had a great meal and great fun here. Got what we THOUGHT was a lousy table. It overlooked the “open to the diners kitchen” but was tucked in a corner. THEN the three-piece Dixie-land band walked in, into the kitchen, and the entire kitchen staff became the rythym section pounding on the pots and pans. What a hoot. Good meal and centrally located in the Quarter.

Stella! – Whoa, this was over the top. Everything was “just so” at Stella!. We refer to it as the “dance of silverware”. The waitstaff, in white gloves, changed our silverware so many times that it was distracting. However, the meal was impeccable. The Chili Prawns, for starters, were very nice. I had “Duck Five Ways” which ran the gamut from delicious to daunting. The foie gras won tons were JUST a bit much for me. But know I know just how delicious duck can be. Lynn had a bean pistou that she enjoyed. However, Lynn won the “Boy did you order WELL” award with her dessert. It’s billed as a “Grilled Cheese Sandwich”. Chocolate and a sweet melting cheese grilled up and ready to completely surprise you. This is a great place for an elegant night out. It’s on the far end of the Quarter, but we had no issues walking home at 10:30.

Remoulade – This is one of our favorite non-reservation, in the Quarter, good value restaurants. It’s connected with Arnaud’s, another of the Old Guard restaurants, but with a very laid back feel. Wooden tables, chairs and booths on a tile floor. Great bar. The Crawfish Pie is good. Try a Ramos Gin Fizz here!

NOLA – One of Emeril’s restaurants. The only one of his we’ve been to. As a group, they get mixed reviews. The food was good, service too, but the atmosphere fouled up the deal. It’s a gutted warehouse that remained as glass, brick, steel and wood. The noise was just too much of a distraction. I love Emeril, but not sure I’ll return to one of his restaurants. – I would strongly recommend checking out this site. Navigate to the New Orleans section and hang on. LOTS of posts and opinions. It’s where we got most of our ideas for the June 2007 trip. Dinner spots that came up over and over: Cochon, August. I post as “Monch”.

Cocktails – After all, that’s why we GO, right?

Napoleon House – We went into this historic bar/restaurant on the strength of some suggestions on (More on Chowhound later.) During our previous five trips to NOLA, we probably walked past this place a couple of dozen times. Boy do we kick ourselves for opportunities missed. This is a great, GREAT old bar. Restaurant…not so much. If you visit the Quarter for any amount of time, you MUST hit the Napoleon House and have a Pimm’s Cup. It’s their signature drink made with Pimm’s (who knew?), lemonade, and a splash of 7Up. Garnish with a cucumber slice and you have a FANTASTIC cocktail. Lynn and I came home and rigged for this cocktail and drank them all the rest of the summer. They also make a dynamite Sazerac if you’re looking for something stronger. Stay in the bar, the restaurant is only so-so.

The bar at the Ritz-Carlton, Ibervilles Suites – Renovation, post-Katrina, had just been completed when we went there. Staff was being re-trained. Service was slow. However, the ambience more than made up for it. Elegant, plush, well-mixed and generously-poured cocktails were our experience. It’s right off the open dining room. Had it been dinner hour, it probably been more raucous and less relaxing. It was the first stop off the plane this last time.

The Sazerac Bar in the Fairmont Hotel – This was our INTENDED first stop off the plane. We were dismayed to discover that the Fairmont building was one of the few buildings in the area to actually have a basement. The basement was where the utilities were housed. The basement filled with twelve feet of water. Now the building is boarded up. We were very sad.
As a requiem, here’s what the Sazerac WAS: A supremely elegant bar within a “faded elegance” old hotel. The bartenders were mixologists, not kids getting through college. There was a “way” to do every drink. Right up to the fact that, when coating the Sazerac glass with Herbsaint the swirl was an actual spinning toss of the glass in the air before dumping the excess. Memories: David annoyingly quizzing the bartender on the “best/right” way to make a Saz. Lynn’s WAY over the top chocolatini. The bartender did his level best to create and serve a ridiculously huge, extravagant, embarrassingly decadent concoction.

Bombay Club at the Prince Conti Hotel – The hotel is on Conti between Bourbon and Dauphin. We never would have found this gem of a bar had we not stayed at the Conti. Elegant, subdued bar at the end of the embedded carriageway between the hotel’s lobby and the restaurant. It’s quiet and perfect for an end-of-day cocktail (HUGE “martini” list) combined with reflection on the day’s activities. Plush cocktail table chairs or sit at the bar. Occasionally you’ll be treated to a piano player.

Jean Lafitte’s – Don’t know the condition post-K. Didn’t make it there this time. However, we have great memories of sitting around the piano bar in this old, dark bar and singing along until the wee hours. To remember: The trips to the ATM to keep the party rolling, the annoying yachters, the siliconed “coyotes” hitting on the yachters. Poke your nose in, one night, and see what you think.

Dickie Brennan’s Steakhouse – Yup, a restaurant with a bar. However, it’s in this category for a reason. We schlepped in for lunch and were not blown away. However, we LOVED the bar and went twice. The “Crab Fingers” appetizer WAS a hit, however. Corner of Iberville and Bourbon, so it’s convenient. http://www.dickiebrennanssteakhouse.c...

Pat O’Brien’s – Might as well have a Hurricane where it was invented. A bit of a tourist trap.

Crescent City Brewhouse – On Decatur and looking for a draft? Not a bad choice.

Things to do:

Visit Audubon Park and zoo – Streetcar ride through the CBD and Garden District

Visit Mardi Gras World – Where they make and store the floats! Take the pedestrian ferry to Algiers Point. Get off the ferry and every 15 to 20 minutes a van comes to collect you.

Cooking classes at New Orleans School of Cooking - It’s where we learned Cajun/Creole. Not hands-on but hugely entertaining and informative. Get Michael if you can!

The sixth floor foyer of the Wyndham Hotel – On a walk through the Garden District, a wonderful gentleman, while tending his lawn, beckoned us to chat with him. His name was Gene Rogas and he was a wonderful man. Artist, businessman, football player, married to a native belle from New Orleans…we talked for about 30 minutes. Actually Gene held court. It felt like he had done this (many times) before. He told us this was the very best way to get a view of the quarter. He was right. (See the three large windows to the left of “Wyndham” in the photo on the website. They point RIGHT at the quarter.)

Cigar Factory of New Orleans – You only live once. Sauntering through the Quarter smoking a great hand-made cigar (just one) won’t kill you.

French Market – Think “flea market”. It is, what it is.

ALL of Royal Street – Walk up, walk down. The shopping will astound you.

The Historic New Orleans Collection – The tour of the Kemper-Williams House was astounding. This couple was almost single-handedly responsible for bringing the Quarter back from slums in the first half of the 20th Century. Attached is a New Orleans cooking museum and bookstore.

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  1. Wonderful post. It's great to read such an enthusiastic testament to the strengths of New Orleans from someone who clearly loves the city.

    A couple of things to look out for next time you visit: your list is very Quarter heavy. You ought to consider branching out a bit more. The Marigny has some great restaurants, and some REALLY great bars and music venues that tourists often miss. d.b.a. and Cafe Brasil are two I come up with off the top of my head. Other great bars and venues not in the Quarter: The Maple Leaf (next door to Jacques-Imo's), Tipitina's (iconic), Rock and Bowl. For restaurants not in the Quarter, there's Domilese's, Parasol's, and Parkway for poboys. There's Clancy's for special occasion dining, and I'd add Jacques-Imo's in there too though it has its detractors.

    Gotta go... anybody else?

    2 Replies
    1. re: HalfShell

      Thanks for the nice words, HalfShell.

      We ARE very Quarter heavy as we have been afoot for most of our trips. Trying desperately to expand. Brigtsen's is an example and we TRIED, several years ago to get to Uglesich's. Unfortunately, we're CHEAP travelers and got to NOLA in the summer when Ugie's was closed. Never having eaten there is one of our major disappoinments.

      Thanks so much for your comments!

      1. re: HalfShell

        I agree that the recs are very FQ heavy. (And to say that Pat O's is "a bit of a tourist trap" is like saying that Katrina was a bit of a storm!)

        HalfShell offers some great non-FQ recs. I'll throw in another: Dick & Jenny's is a terrific non-FQ place to get a real taste of New Orleans.

        Also note that it's still gonna be awhile before your friends can ride the streetcar to the Zoo. Have them take the boat from the aquarium instead.

        Also, cross Crescent City Brewhouse off the list. No reason to go there. If they're looking for great beer, send them to Cooter Brown's (not far from Brigtsen's) for an unbelievable beer selection and a great place to watch the game. Which game? Any game!

      2. Adding to what I said previously... you've still never made it to Galatoire's, which I think is the best "old line" restaurant in the city, better than Brennan's, Antoine's and Arnaud's. I also think you should check out the Columns Hotel on St. Charles as a place to have drinks. On a nice evening sit out on the porch, on a chilly evening, the inside is just as charming.

        1. I'd pass on Brennan's and Remoulade. Both are overated, by tourists, who haven't expanded their palette outside the Quarter.

          1. Thanks for the post, I think you're spot on. The only thing I'd quibble with is your review of K-Paul's. The kitchen "jamming" with the band is precisely why I'm in no hurry to return to K-Paul's.

            Other than that, I'm with you 100%

            Thanks again for the post.

            1. Thanks Monch. Great list, for the most part. I agree that a few more non-Qtr recs would flesh it out a little. For instance, have you tried Casamento's for oysters? From your Felix's rave, it sounds like you would have fun trying various oyster bars around the city. Maybe next time you would consider staying Uptown, at the Columns perhaps, and exploring the Uptown/Riverbend/Carrollton area restaurants more.

              One thing: The culinary history exhibit at the Historic New Orleans Collection is a temporary installment that ends on November 18th. The next exhibit to go up there is called "Classic: A Celebration of Sugar Bowl Memories" (I'm the curator, y'all come by) and it will run from November 29th through January 13th.

              2 Replies
              1. re: uptownlibrarian

                Thank you so much, UTL!

                I was unaware that the culinary history exhibit was temporary. That's the kind of thing I need to make my write-up more useful and accurate. Kudos on HNOC, though. It was wonderful and informative and our docent was a very nice man.

                I will strive to get myself, my wife, and thus my friends out of the Quarter. Guess that means that our stays have to get longer! What a great thing.

                My goal, with the guide, is to give some ideas for folks who are flying in, not renting a car, and wandering the Quarter for the first or second time. I would weep were they to get steered into a sub-par restaurant, by a guy waving a menu, when there's a place like Coop's just down the street. What kind of friend would I be if I allowed that to happen!?!

                I will definitely spread my wings on the oyster bars! Truth be told, since Mrs. Monch is NOT a fan, I didn't do much research. Bless her heart...she DID and steered me into Felix's and away from Acme. She sipped her beer while I destroyed two dozen for "lunch".

                1. re: Monch

                  Wow, Monch! Your list is so well-organized I'm about to shed a tear. My friends and I are coming to NO for the first time in a couple of days, and I've been put in charge of the restaurant list. I can (sort of) rest easy now. Thank you!