The grand reopening of the Saenger Theater and–less recent but just as important a presence in local performance halls–the renovations to the Mahalia Jackson Theater have added a new dining imperative. If you’re going to the play, the opera, or the concert, you may well want to have dinner first. That requires you a) to be somewhere that opens early enough so that you make it to the theater by curtain time and 2) serves a meal that’s special enough for the evening but modest enough that it won’t take all night.
Several restaurants have already declared their intentions by offering special pre-theater menus. Most of these are, in addition to timeliness, sold at attractive prices, usually as part of a three-package deal.
1. Pelican Club. French Quarter: 615 Bienville. 504-523-1504. Open at 5:30, the Pelican Club has long offered a three-course table d’hote menu, including some of their best dishes. Be sure to bring up your theater plans, in case the restaurant will be very busy that night (it isn’t usually at that early hour). It’s a six-block walk to the Saenger, or you can catch the streetcar.
2. Ralph’s On The Park. City Park Area: 900 City Park Ave. 504-488-1000. Ralph Brennan offers a theater-night service at two of his restaurants: Ralph’s on the Park and Cafe B. By five p.m., you valet park (free). A three-course dinner comes to the table for $35. Then a limo ($20 per person extra), gets you to the theater twenty minutes before curtain time. You are returned to the restaurant after the show.
3. Galatoire’s. French Quarter: 209 Bourbon. 504-525-2021. You’re largely on your own in terms of getting a table and arriving by five. A three-course menu ranging from $27 to $35 of traditional Galatoire’s dishes is served in time for you to hoof the four blocks to the Saenger.
4. Meauxbar. French Quarter: 942 N Rampart. 504-569-9979. Meauxbar is a less-well-known, excellent French bistro that happens to be across the street from the Mahalia Jackson Theater of the Performing Arts. They don’t have a special menu, and the tables book out early. But there’s no better restaurant for dining before the opera.
5. Muriel’s. French Quarter: 801 Chartres. 504-568-1885. Muriel’s Jackson Square is within a block of two theaters (Le Petit and Southern Repertory), seven blocks from the Mahalia and a dozen blocks from the Saenger (take a taxi for the latter two venues). But they offer a superb pre-show menu on theater nights for $30, with many choices among their best dishes.
6. Redemption. Mid-City: 3835 Iberville St. 504-309-3570. Redemption–in the church that used to be Christian’s Restaurant–is a long way from the Saenger. But it’s just a block from the Canal Streetcar, which runs frequently and drops you off at the Saenger. Their regular early-evening menu works fine as a pre-theater repast. Park your car in front of Schoen’s, and you’ll hop right off the streetcar and into your auto.
7. Palace Cafe. French Quarter: 605 Canal. 504-523-1661. The Palace Cafe’s name alone makes it sound like a great pre-theater place, and it is. No special menu yet (but I’ll bet they’ll have one soon.) And the streetcar covers the five blocks for you to the Saenger if the walk is daunting.
8. Cafe Minh. Mid-City: 4139 Canal. 504-482-6266. The city’s most ambitious and creative Vietnamese restaurant will not make you stick out if you dress up to go to a play. It’s a half-block off Carrollton Avenue at Canal, where the streetcar runs frequently.
9. Café B. Metairie 1: Old Metairie: 2700 Metairie Road. 504-934-4700. See Ralph’s on the Park, above.
10. Criollo. French Quarter: 214 Royal. 504-523-3341. The grand new restaurant of the Monteleone Hotel picks up your parking for its $50 special pre-theater dinner. From there, it’s five blocks to the Saenger.
11. Domenica. CBD: 123 Baronne (Roosevelt Hotel). 504-648-6020. Domenica is open all afternoon in the Roosevelt Hotel, from whose door it’s only two blocks from the Saenger. Easy (but pay) parking across the street. The mainstay is pizza, but the rest of the menu is unique Italian essays, with very good wines and cocktails.
12. Bourbon House. French Quarter: 144 Bourbon. 504-522-0111. Dickie Brennan’s seafood house is four blocks from the Saenger, and lively and casual enough to afford whatever kind of light dining you have in mind.