It’s almost gameday in the Crescent City, where on Super Sunday, February 3rd, the Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers will face off in Super Bowl XLVII. It’s annually the biggest spectacle in the country and an unofficial national holiday. This year, even more media and fans will be descending upon the host city than ever before. With New Orleans being the sight of the event and the parties included, food is naturally one of the important components of a visit for the out of towners this week, along with the game.
Here now, we’ll march down the SuperDome field as the visitors march into the Big Easy, with helpful advice on where to dine over the next few days when avoiding the bland banquet food at team and media hotel gatherings. Yours truly actually has been giving insight to members of the San Francisco 49ers traveling party, as they hope to get a sense of the city’s culinary scene amidst the hectic chaos that is New Orleans at any time of year, especially Super Bowl Week.
Keep in mind that with so many visitors this week vying for tables and special events occurring too, many of these destinations, if not all of them, will either be swamped with customers or enormously crowded.
And, you don’t need a dining critic to tell you to avoid the food and drink of Bourbon Street (except Galatoire’s). It’s common sense. Don’t do it. You know better than to dine at the fish and chips carts on the sidewalks.
Many articles here at Trev’s Bistro have extensively covered the city’s dining and drinking scene, so make sure to pay a visit to the New Orleans page when conducting research.
Ravens Goal Line: Breakfast and Coffee
The perfect day in New Orleans will commence with an espresso at the impossibly charming café Velvet on Magazine Street in Uptown, using beans roasted by the masters at Portland, Oregon’s Stumptown. Just don’t have the portrait of Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter be the first alarm clock for your day, or you’ll be jaded for hours to come.
Breakfast, if not at Café du Monde (see below), should be at chef Scott Boswell’s (also of Stella!) morning power meal and all day dining French Quarter stalwart Stanley. They’re the only two restaurants worth your time around Jackson Square (very much worth a visit itself). Consider the Eggs Benedict Poor Boy or the Bananas Foster French Toast, New Orleans standards re-imagined. At lunch, the burger will be ordered or poor boys sporting Korean BBQ beef or a pepperoni pizza caesar salad. It is what it is. Don’t ask why they aren’t called “Po-Boys,” or why a pizza-salad needs to be a sandwich also.
Green Goddess, a sliver of a lush floral oasis in the French Quarter is a great breakfast stop or lunch spot for an excellent shrimp and crawfish remoulade with Nueske’s bacon. It’s the rare place to eat vegetarian and feel virtuous in these parts also.
Also, consider crêpes at Merchant on Common in the CBD, though the Illy espresso leaves a lot to be desired. You can always get chicory coffee at P.J.’s or Community Coffee throughout the city, one step above Starbucks.
Ravens 10 Yard Line: Po-Boys, Muffs, Fried Chicken, Gumbo, Jambalaya, and More: The Iconic Dishes
For po-boys, the famed New Orleans sandwich in crusty bread with myriad fillings from oysters to shrimp to roast beef with “debris”, Domilise’s in Uptown is my passionate pick. The oysters in that po-boy version each must weigh about four pounds. Wash all the exceptional local culture here and sandwiches down with Barq’s root beer, avoiding any Abita beer. The Parkway Bakery and Tavern are 1a and 1b with Domilise’s for po-boy supremacy in the city. Leave Mother’s and Acme Oyster House to the tourists who read Fodors.
Different than a po-boy, the oyster loaf is a notable sandwich when oysters are in season, unique to New Orleans, the tour de force at Casamento’s.
Cochon Butcher makes the town’s premier Muffaletta in my opinion, a cured meats beast of a sandwich with ham, mortadella, and salami sharing space amidst mozzarella, provolone, and olive tapénade between slices of Sicilian sesame bread. However, the inventor of the sandwich and still a worthwhile, albeit slightly drier version, can be found at Central Grocery, the only item you can order at this crammed and often slammed Italian grocer near Café du Monde.
Fried chicken? There is the famed version in Treme at Willie Mae’s Scotch House. Or, visit the legendary Dooky Chase for a tried and true gumbo and fried catfish, in addition to more top flight fried chicken. For gumbo, also consider lunch at Herbsaint, dinner at Bon Ton Café, and Liuzza’s By The Track. Emeril’s also presents a terrific crab-andouille gumbo.
Ravens 20 Yard Line: Oysters and BBQ Shrimp
I never really knew what oysters were supposed to be like until enjoying them in a po-boy at Domilise’s. Enjoy these exquisitely plump, massive bivalves smothered in garlic and butter at the über-touristy Drago’s in the Marriott, the Ravens team hotel coincidentally. Hopefully Ray Lewis doesn’t enjoy too many of these oysters…
Enjoy exceptional raw oysters and the famed BBQ shrimp, which isn’t BBQ at all, but a butter-pepper sauce at the old school Italian classic Pascal’s Manale in Uptown. You’ll wear a bib and wash your hands for hours after the dining event here. Nobody gets the Italian cuisine it appears here. There’s no reason too with these shrimp, the size of your fist.
Ravens 30 Yard Line: The Donald Link Trio
Local boy and post-Katrina hero Link’s three establishments are the gold standards in the city right now. As the streetcar rolls by his flagship Herbsaint, enjoy the fried lamb neck with saffron fideo and the classic banana brown butter tart for dessert. Cochon is “the” restaurant of New Orleans presently. Skip the large plates and make sure to feast small plate style on the magnificent wood-fired oyster roast, fried alligator, and smoked pork ribs. The industrial vibe perfectly matches the Warehouse District setting, with no shortage of pig motifs as decor. For dessert, it’s the epic chocolate toffee mousse yellow cake, soon to be my annual birthday dessert.
Next door, get the “Muff” and the “Gambino” sandwiches at Cochon Butcher, aand any charcuterie. With the Saints’ “Bountygate” scandal over, I’m guessing there is no longer a “Free Cochon Payton” cocktail available here. Have an intriguing glass of Slovenian wine instead. Don’t even think of not getting a bag of bacon praline, the classic New Orleans treat meeting 2012’s love of everything salty-sweet. It’s as potent as a night on Bourbon Street, but far more enjoyable.
Ravens 40 Yard Line: The TV Chefs
Ever heard of Emeril? Probably. Bam, enjoy dinner at the slightly stale and formulaic, but still exciting Warehouse District flagship Emeril’s for terrific BBQ shrimp and andouille crusted drum. This is Emeril’s after all, so it’s no surprise to get a (terrific) “Kicked Up” pad-thai. Service feels like a chain establishment and the somewhat boring ch0colate peanut butter pie could serve the 49ers’ offensive line.
Then there’s John Besh. No, not the singer John Tesh. Besh’s flagship is the formal August, presenting an innovative take on Louisiana cooking. It’s probably the closest to a Michelin two star establishment New Orleans has if that’s your ratings style.
Mid-Field: The Grande Dames
Commander’s Palace, the grande olde blue dame in the Garden District, will inspire hope again that service can be special. A meal here of turtle soup, shrimp and tasso Hennican, and bananas foster flambéed tableside as you’d wish for is about as good as dining gets.
On Bourbon Street, life hasn’t changed for centuries at Galatoire’s, where gentleman still shall not forget their coats and Friday lunch lasts long into the cocktail hour. Unfortunately, I can’t defend the supposedly excellent service here, but I can vouch for the unforgettable setting and the shrimp rémoulade. Avoid the Sazerac here with ice that could be served in a bowling alley 7-Up.
Then there’s always Arnaud’s and Antoine’s still holding down the formal French Quarter bread pudding fort.
Too often, the high level of cooking created by Clancy’s out near Audobon Park, Brigtsen’s Frank Brigtsen, Bayona’s Susan Spicer, Gautreau’s Sue Zemanick, and Stella’s Scott Boswell are forgotten amidst the higher wattage celebrity or historical destinations. That’s too bad, as each is truly a NOLA treasure. Just outside town, it doesn’t get better than the chicken cacciatore and oysters Mosca with the old school roadhouse Italian vibe at Mosca’s in Avondale. It’s better to smell like garlic in the morning than Bourbon Street.
49ers 40 Yard Line: Neighborhood New Orleans
Consider visiting Frenchmen Street, on the far side of the French Quarter, the “local’s” Bourbon Street if you will. It has the same sized crowds, without the filthy feel. Three Muses is the essential dining and drinking stop here.
The city is abuzz with lots of young, exciting restaurant, gastropubs, and ethnic eateries. The Delachaise, pies and sausages sharing space at the appropriately named Crescent Pie and Sausage Company, sandwiches and cheese plates at the exceptional St. James Cheese Company, and Bouligny Tavern all are very much worth your dining and drinking time. Sylvain is an excellent French Quarter lunch selection and certainly re-visit John Harris’ bistro cooking at Lilette. Boucherie is the spot to load up on your bacon and whole hog needs.
New Orleans has a significant Vietnamese population, so Banh Mi Sao Mai and Ba Mien should be on your radar. Classic BBQ at The Joint, intriguing African cuisine at Bennachin on Royal St., and Japanese fried chicken at Yuki Izakaya on Frenchmen will certainly be great curveballs from night after night of Cajun inflected cooking at Commander’s Palace and Emeril’s.
Lastly, legendary Chicago chef (and New Orleans native) Rick Tramonto finally opened up his NOLA spot R’evolution, certainly an address to take note of. The early word on cocktails at least is very positive.
49ers 30 Yard Line: Cocktails at Cure and Bellocq
Cure is without question the premier craft cocktail bar in this cocktail-mad city, and may indeed be the pre-eminent cocktail bar in the entire country. Don’t visit without trying the “Arrow in the Gale” or the enchanting “Bandito.” Service is on a whole higher level here, as are the classics including the city’s definitive Sazerac.
The team behind Cure has a new hit on their hands with Bellocq in the Hotel Modern by the Robert E. Lee Circle. Crushed ice, low alcohol cocktails called “cobblers” are the signature here, often based on cordials and fortified wines, rather than spirits. Skip them and get a real drink like you would at Cure, which the very affable and talented bartenders certainly boast no shortage of skill in concocting. And maybe Harrison Ford will be there to join you, like was the case for yours truly.
Bar Tonique, Twelve Mile Limit, and the ambitious upstart lobby bar at the Windsor Court all are excellent, exciting cocktail choices of the “mixologist” movement. At the latter, the bartenders exude tremendous heart and the Beet Pisco Sour is a revelation. You’ll be rooting for them against…the next category.
So the answer is yes, you can drink very well and completely avoid the French Quarter.
Somehow, none of the classics seemed memorable in the right ways when I visited the famed establishments that created, or at least made certain cocktails famous. The 1940’s époque carousel at the Carousel Bar in the venerable Hotel Monteleone is worth a whirl regardless of the drinks, but the “Vieux Carré” (Rye, Whiskey, Cognac, Benedictine, dry vermouth, Angostura bitters, and Peychaud bitters) here was completely dominated by the cloyingly sweet benedictine, and all the other drinks were all out of proportion as well. Whether or not the classic cocktail was created here, it simply wasn’t a great drink upon multiple visits. It was the same case for my second whirl on the carousel, leading me to give up and just order a coffee to spend some time at this amusement park.
Napoleon House, not far from the Carousel Bar in the French Quarter, is known for its Pimm’s Cup on a sultry summer evening, though the classic British apértif certainly wasn’t invented there. Nobody really knows where the Sazerac was invented, but do sample the “essential” version at the opulent Sazerac Bar in the Roosevelt Hotel. It’s far better than the version at Galatoire’s, but not close to Cure’s big league caliber. Again, like at Carousel Bar, proportions weren’t perfect at the Sazerac Bar, this time just tasting like straight up liquor with no faint bitter edge. Strangely, this is where one of the most overrated classic cocktails was invented, the Ramos Gin Fizz. Order it for the theatrical show in its shaking and pouring, but there’s no reason to drink the bland, barely sweet fluff.
You can get good nights at French 75 in Arnaud’s, the French Quarter classic, when master bartender Chris Hannah is presiding. Unfortunately, he wasn’t there on my visit, nothing worked, and I’ll never have another “French 75” again after that too sweet bubbly mess.
And the Hurricane, best known at Pat O’Brien’s next to Preservation Hall, will challenge the best of college frat boys to finish this drink that makes PBR seem magnificent. In his now well known review of Guy Fieri’s Times Square restaurant, Pete Wells of The New York Times described a blue cocktail as “glowing like nuclear waste.” Well, the Hurricane looks and tastes like that description. Go ahead if you dare. Supposedly SoBou makes a drinkable Hurricane. Let’s hope so.
49ers 10 Yard Line: Beer at The Avenue Pub
The two storied bar along St. Charles Avenue with the classic New Orleans wrought iron architecture is a city classic and the runaway best craft beer bar in town. Stop by for an obscure Belgian, a bizarre chipotle-coffee Mikkeller, or the excellent local Hopitoulas IPA by NOLA Brewing. Other than that, craft beer isn’t everywhere like in a Denver or San Diego.
49ers Goal Line: Café du Monde, Bakeries, and Dessert
At any hour of the day, Café du Monde is there for your beignets in powdered sugar and chicory laced café au lait needs. Even the (Jim) Harbaugh family stopped by this week. The lines will be long, the atmosphere frenetic, and don’t think of wearing black slacks here with all that powdered sugar. Seriously, I know first hand. But as far as tourist haunts go, this is the rare place that actually delivers for all the hype. I’d pay big bucks for someone to bring me a fresh beignet right now.
Unfortunately it’s not the season for “snow-balls,” but on those humid 90 degree summer days, nothing beats Hansen’s Snow Blitz’s cardamom snow balls (very fine shaved ice). Instead, spend an afternoon away from football at the New Orleans Museum of Art, and enjoy a superb almond macaroon and the homemade “Baci” (chocolate hazelnut) gelato and strawberry ice at Angelo Brocato’s in the city’s miniature “Little Italy.”
As far as the game, we’ll see the 49ers more often at the Ravens’ Goal Line (Stanley’s and Velvet). 49ers 23 Ravens 17. 1 TD run for Frank Gore and a 4th quarter TD pass from Colin Kaepernick to Vernon Davis.
Wherever you are Sunday for the game, laissez les bon temps roulé!