Al Fresco Has Arrived In Town

Mary Ann Fitzmorris October 14, 2019 09:08 Anxiously Awaited

These last few days have proven that we are into the four great days of fall for eating outdoors. I joke that in New Orleans, we have four in October and four in April, and the rest of the year al fresco dining is only for the diehards like the Marys who, (full disclosure) have been known to expect unlucky servers to wait their table in the cold and sometimes even rain. Though, to be fair, we’ve only done rain if it started after we sat down. Threatening clouds and distant thunder still works for us.


But for normal people,  lovely weather is a must for al fresco dining, and here it is, warranting some discussion about where to enjoy that outdoor meal. Since this is not California, most restaurateurs have not given serious thought to the matter, and a restaurant hitting all the notes is rare, those being: great outdoor space, beautiful view, polished food and service. 


So if you are ready to go al fresco, here are personal favorites from a truly committed outdoor diner, so enthusiastic about the idea I’m sure servers have wondered if I should be truly committed at times. 


Number One goes to either of the two places we went over the weekend. The Lakehouse on the Mandeville lakefront is a truly gorgeous place with lush gardens and a welcoming outdoor bar with great outdoor furniture, polished food and a wonderful view of the lake. By day it is fun to watch the stream of passersby on the sidewalk outside the garden, by night it is fun to watch the lights of the cars inch across the bridge.


The south shore has its own comparable experience in the Blue Crab. (sunset pictured) Neighboring Felix’s can’t touch this place in any way, even in the view, which is a much denser part of the marina. The Blue Crab is perfectly situated as the boats are on their way out. The view of this marina action is better next door, at Landry’s, but the food nixes the whole idea there. Blue Crab has a happy hour that may be king of the happy hours, with their excellent $1 apiece oysters, and about five other menu items, all fried. Their onion rings are also great. The food is way downscale from Lakehouse, but service here is also good.


Every place else in town has something wrong with their outdoor experience. We love Andy’s Bistro in Metairie for their sumptuous outdoor furniture and their cozy space with overhead lights, but it looks out on the street. Still, we are there because the happy hour is also great here with their yummy flatbreads and friendly service. It’s like hanging in your own backyard, except you don't have to get up for anything. Another outdoor space that is nice but on the street is Saba on Magazine.


Tableau in the Quarter is another superior outdoor experience, except that it is Tableau. Upstairs a balcony wraps around the building, allowing for a view of the Quarter madness below. Once we were there and observed a sort of domestic incident. From above. Much better. Copper Vine Wine Pub on Poydras offers a similar experience, and the "below" there is even better.


Back on the north shore, the tiny tables that wrap around Oxlot 9 are charming, or across the street at Del Porto, or out front at Forks and Corks. I hope Osman changes his mind about not serving on his gorgeous patio at Pardo's, but drinks there work too. Sleepy downtown Covington removes the chance of street encounters like you might have at Palace Cafe or Marcello or Herbsaint. And of course the Mexican places have their outdoor spaces: George’s, El Paso, La Caretta’s and Habanero’s.


The French Quarter has some lovely quiet courtyards like Brennan’s and Broussard’s and Sylvain, Cafe Amelie and Bayona, and the sexy little warren of a space at Dori’s Metropolitan. I know that the old G & E Courtyard Grill had the sexiest everything in town, so that means that Cane & Table has a nice outdoor space. Newcomer Vyoone's in the Warehouse District has an outdoor space not to be missed.


There is no doubt I am forgetting some, and I’m certain that there are others I have not experienced, so please send us an email to tom@nomenu.com if you know of one.


Tom loves to repeat the story of a local restaurateur whenever the subject of outdoor dining comes up. An advertising exec was trying to mention al fresco dining in an ad to include the lovely patio at his client's place. After listening to this pitch for a while, he puffed on his fat cigar and growled, “Now who the  #@&%*@ is Al Fresco??” Tom punctuates that tale with “I hate Al Fresco.” I couldn’t agree less.