Tour De French Quarter

Written by Mary Leigh Fitzmorris July 28, 2021 13:00 in Dining Diary

It’s a curious coincidence that yesterday I received a text from a niece visiting town, asking about restaurant recommendations. We had just spent the day before talking about restaurant popularity on the radio show. 

The radio conversation was prompted by a visit we made to Leonardo’s Trattoria in Mandeville, a restaurant with a fanatical fan base, meaning don’t dare not love it in a conversation with a regular patron. I call these restaurants “cult” favorites. The conversation expanded to include what I call “media darlings”, places easily identifiable by the number of cabs pulling up to dispense people. The last category is institutions, which may or may not actually be good. We have more than our share of these in New Orleans.

In the last twenty years, social media has changed everything. When Tom started to follow his passion for food, his job was daunting. Each review included information like hours, price point, and basics like address and phone number. The internet has made all that available with one click (though it is much less reliable in COVID world. (ALWAYS CALL BEFORE YOU GO!) 

As Tom has always said, New Orleans is America’s best eating city. Some would argue with that, but it is undeniable that the place is full of great food. So when my niece asked the question, I had to really think. I will share the advice I gave her in the context of the radio conversation.

As I said, we have more than our share of “institutions.” There are the Grande Dames, of course. Antoine’s is the original and Tom’s personal favorite, but there are also Arnaud’s Broussard’s, Tujaque’s, and Galatoire’s. Each of these has their own personality, and a great meal can be had at them all. Arnaud’s is the staid, elegant one, followed by Broussard’s, with Galatoire’s the fun one, Tujaque’s the hip one, and Antoine’s the most antique, though it is getting more fun by the day.

There are several other restaurants in the French Quarter of note:

Mr. B’s is everyone’s favorite, and should be on any visitor’s Don’t Miss list. I can’t recall a single person I’ve ever spoken to that doesn’t love, not like, Mr. B’s. The decor is more modern Parisian bistro, but the food is delicious New Orleans. (An earthquake has recently occurred there, with the tragic death of their longtime beloved chef Haley Gabel, so there may be a hiccup, but it’s still Mr. B’s.)

Brennan’s is known for breakfast, but it is so much more. This exquisitely beautiful restaurant turns out polished perfection always, and they have a very nice happy hour.

The Pelican Club is an understated gem with delicious New Orleans food that is also sometimes inspired by other cultures. The Pelican Club has been a Tom favorite for thirty years.

The Court of Two Sisters has food not in the league of the others, but it is known for its beautiful courtyard and very popular buffet of New Orleans classics. Certainly worthy of consideration.

GW Fins is a wildly popular seafood restaurant that happens to be in New Orleans. The scope of the seafood here is much broader than the bounty of Gulf waters, but it is prepared New Orleans style, with a Southern influence. Delicious! If you are going carbless and have compromised willpower, beware, the signature housemade biscuits are irresistible.

R’evolution is a gorgeous newcomer, but it has been popular since Day 1. A collaboration between our own Cajun master John Folse and Rick Tramonto of Chicago, these two have fused their talents and respective culinary repertoires into a winning combination.

Irene’s is a tough reservation, and with good reason. Here is delectable Sicilian Italian food in an environment that could be in Italy. Irene DiPietro emigrated here with her family from Sicily, and the whole family has operated delicious Italian restaurants for decades.

Muriel’s just off Jackson Square, also serves delicious classic New Orleans fare, but it may be more recognized for its bewitching environment and ghosts.

Doris Metropolitan is an Israeli steakhouse that is glamorous, sexy, and very European, just in case you want something different. Expensive.

Not far from the French Quarter are some notable restaurants in the CBD and Warehouse districts. The Roosevelt Hotel is the home for Domenica, a Besh Restaurant Group Italian place serving delicious Neapolitan pizzas which are a half price deal at Happy Hour. And on Monday night the Sazerac Lounge at the Roosevelt offers Carl’s Fried Chicken, which is a “thing” here, serving family-style spicy fried chicken, red beans, coleslaw and biscuits with drizzled honey. 

The CBD is also home to Restaurant August, the flagship and best of the Besh Group. Trenasse in the Intercontinental Hotel is a polished seafood restaurant with a fantastic oyster bar.

And speaking of oysters, Acme in the Quarter, Casamento’s and Pascal’s Manale’s Uptown are three hundred-plus year-old institutions. Drago’s at the Hilton on Poydras and in Metairie is also renowned as the home of the chargrilled oyster.

In the neighborhood restaurant category, Mandina’s on Canal is the beloved institution, but Katie’s, a block or two away is far better. Nearby is Parkway Poor Boys, definitely worth a visit.

Cochon and its more casual adjacent joint Butcher, as well as sister restaurant Peche, are “media darlings,”especially if you are young and hip.

Uptown you’ll find the famous Commander’s Palace, which needs no further explanation. Coquette is nearby, and closer to town is Gris-Gris, definitely more casual than the other two and possibly more delicious. Alon Shaya’s current place Saba, and his former place Shaya, are both on Magazine separated by mere blocks, serving similar food.

This being New Orleans, home of great seafood, there should certainly be restaurants on the water, and indeed there are. At the Lakefront there are three, Landry’sBlue Crab, and Felix’s. These are not interchangeable. Only Blue Crab is worth the visit and it definitely is. To get better than Blue Crab for waterfront dining requires a drive to other shores of the lake. 

Very worth the drive to Lake Pontchartrain’s north shore are Pat’s Rest-A -While in Mandeville, The Anchor in Madisonville (its upstairs sister restaurant Tchefuncte’s is on par with R’evolution in New Orleans, and the legendary Middendorf’s in Manchac (at least visit the original building) home of the thin fried catfish. Definitely an institution.

For desserts, we have more institutions. Brocato’s, an utterly unique Sicilian Italian ice cream parlor and emporium has,  after 100 years, become a “media darling.”Absolutely worth visiting, along with Hansen’s Snowballs, where the Sno-Wizard machine was invented, and The Creole Creamery. This relative newcomer isn’t a cult favorite, a media darling, or an institution (yet) but it is a place worthy of an ice cream lover’s fantasies. 

My niece responded to my text list with the comment that they wouldn’t be able to fit in the plane seat on the way home? “My response to her was, “Of course, isn’t that the point?”