Next stop, Mardi Gras? Here's the very latest from the restaurant scene in one of America's best food cities
In case you missed it, things are different in New Orleans, now—once largely tradition-bound, today you will find the city in a positively experimental mood. The boundaries have been smashed, rules largely dropped; New Orleans is no longer a place to come to eat New Orleans food, it is a great food city, period. Surely, tradition lives, regional styles aren’t going anywhere, but there’s always something new, someone’s always putting a new twist on something; the attachment to celebrity chefs is giving way to vibrant neighborhood scenes, fueled by a fresh young crew of smart, clued-in types who could very well be tomorrow’s celebrities. The scene now feels incredibly dense, new things are opening faster than they could ever close, and there’s so much more to come in 2019—get yourself here, and get eating.
NEW AND NOTEWORTHY
Remember when Sylvain shook things up in the French Quarter? The team behind that winning entry has yet another hit on its hands, once again in the Quarter; John Sinclair is one of those very talented chefs nearly hiding in plain sight, and his thoroughly modern pub menu turns what could have been just another great bar (with smart cocktails from Liam Deegan) into a destination for lunch and dinner. Go for the radishes and butter starter, the fried squash, for home fries studded with pork belly, an exemplary steak sandwich served with charred green onion, horseradish and roasted mushrooms, fried calamari in agrodolce and a chocolate dessert that feels like a smartly reconfigured s’more. You won’t feel like you’re half a block from Bourbon Street, but that’s just how things are now, around here.
Molly’s Rise and Shine
E.T. keeps watch over the cheerful dining room at Mason Hereford’s breakfast-y follow-up to his smash-hit Turkey and the Wolf; this very fun place to start your day is breathing new life into a nearly century-old Magazine Street po-boy shop with a very modern, nearly West Coast menu of smashed peas, feta cheese, and torn herbs on toast, a labneh dip dusted with everything bagel seasoning, zaatar and olive oil, or an exuberant roasted carrot yogurt with granola. Southern breakfast fans, fear not—New Orleans-style collards served with impeccable, creamy grits, perfect poached eggs, and a smoky salsa macha could easily be the morning meal of the moment, around here; you’ll find plenty of people ordering the house take on the Egg McMuffin, and that’s fine, but don’t snooze on the build your own breakfast option—sausage, biscuits, soft scrambled eggs, and if you’re smart, full side orders of those collards and grits. (They are very good, indeed.)
The same block along an evolving St. Claude Avenue where you’ll find the crusty (and beloved) Saturn Bar might not feel like a natural fit for this casually civilized oasis, but here we are—what launched as modern, naturals-focused wine bar with snacks has evolved to become a real neighborhood bistro in the modern Parisian style, owned and operated by a dream team of younger up-and-comers. Order the fresh cheese with herbs and oil, the crudite platter, which recently included smoky stalks of roasted burdock root; other recent standouts include the radishes with brown butter creme fraiche, fried snapper with celeriac and a sunchoke butter milk, and grilled, koji-aged hanger steaks with frites and escargot persillade.
There are hotel restaurants that insist they are so much more than hotel restaurants, even if they really are not, and goodness knows New Orleans has seen plenty of these, lately; this suite of sumptuously designed rooms at the new Hotel Peter & Paul in the Marigny—an ambitious renovation project from Nathalie Jordi (married to local food critic Brett Anderson) in partnership with New York firm ASH NYC—is so much more than a pretty face, however, thanks to the presence of Alex Harrell and Martha Wiggins, a culinary dream team working together with the crew behind the Bywater’s beloved Bacchanal. Come for a drink in the well-hidden bar, or warming, earthy food, served from morning until late night. Evidence fermented cabbage and guanciale with butterbeans, bottarga bread crumbs and grainy mustard, or dappled heirloom grits topped with soft poached eggs, tomato braised mushrooms and the crunch of fried shallots.
A sprawling co-working and banquet space might seem an unlikely destination in a city crawling with new restaurants, but there’s something so charming (maybe it’s the rooftop deck?) about this Bywater find, with its all-day cafe menu of quirky breakfasts, sandwiches, and probiotic cocktails. Happy hours are terrific, and so are the sunsets from up top. In a city known for charming and intimate, there’s so much room to breathe here, and it feels grand.
(LESS) NEW AND (STILL) NOTEWORTHY
Snack on fried pig tails, on local wood-grilled vegetables tossed in fish sauce, devil-may-care, tuck into coal-roasted yardbird, sweet with cane syrup and spicy with Thai chiles, or slow-cooked meats, say lamb neck, or funky-delicious Mississippi beef, do whatever you want, but get yourself here, to Caitlin Carney and Marcus Jacobs’ terribly good little Broad Street restaurant, with that disarming, church function room vibe. There’s a lot of food in this town, but dinner at Marjie’s is truly special. Dwelling in a little bubble of infectious happy, this is where so many chefs like to eat, and it’s probably going to be a while before any other restaurant in town makes this place feel like anything less than essential.
Manish Patel’s exciting menu of from-scratch Indian quick hits is one of a very few highlights in the city’s suddenly sprawling, but mostly lackluster food hall scene. From hot and fresh paper dosas with gunpowder spice to a Cajun paratha roll stuffed with sausage and corn (just go with it, it’s delicious), you can’t really steer yourself wrong here. This was probably the last thing you were expecting to find in the high-dollar Auction House Market, with its marble bar, sensual lighting, and counter overflowing with vegan macaroons, but lovers of Indian flavors aren’t having any trouble finding their way here, and neither should you.
Michael Gulotta’s Southeast Asia-inspired cooking continues to feel utterly relevant, long after we’ve worn ourselves out on certain other high-profile restaurants sharing this corner of the CBD; as long as the big flavors of dishes like the chaat salad and unusual weekend dim sum offerings keep punching us in the face with their so-right-now, we’ll keep showing up. Note: Gulotta’s MoPho is another one that can sometimes be obscured by the unceasing wave of new openings; keep it on your list.
The kind of mod-continental, sort-of-Italian restaurant New Orleans did not know it had been waiting for, this smart, snappy spot, barely a few blocks out of the French Quarter, on a quiet corner of the Marigny, is once again pushing the boundaries as to what we expect from a New Orleans restaurant. Once again, here is a restaurant helmed by a group of young go-getters who care more about putting out good food than spending a lot of time thinking about what visitors want, and that’s just about the greatest thing. Salads, pastas, a house-made lamb sausage pizzas, a brown butter shortcake for dessert, classic specials like veal saltimbocca tick all the boxes. Brunches of lemon ricotta pancakes and a spicy breakfast pizza are fun, and necessary.
The relaunch of St Charles Avenue’s historic Pontchartrain Hotel was somewhat overshadowed last year, with Beshlandia in turmoil; newly reinvigorated by a change in management, it’s time to give the place a closer look. Chefs Brian Landry and David Whitmore are the minds behind the menu that cleverly matches the somewhat bizarrely decorated Modern American restaurant—think brash, think crazy quilt of colors, think Louisiana bordello, spread out in a series of highly-Instagrammable rooms. Bottomless Veuve Cliquot for $25 at Friday and Sunday lunch, dishes as vivid as the room around you, squid ink pasta with pink Gulf shrimp, duck confit hash for brunch, a gluten-free, garlicky fried chicken parm dripping with red sauce, and for dessert, the Mile High Pie, a Neapolitan ice cream on an Oreo cookie crust doused in chocolate syrup. It’s a delicious and simple holdover from the hotel’s previous life—growing up in New Orleans, you came here to eat that. Now it’s back, and hopefully for a long time.
With additional reporting by Lorin Gaudin