Ian McNulty

Producer

Ian covers food culture and dining in New Orleans through his weekly commentary series Where Y’Eat. 

Ian is also a staff writer for the daily newspaper the New Orleans Advocate, covering the culture, personality and trends behind the city’s famous dining scene.

He is the author of two books - “Louisiana Rambles: Exploring America’s Cajun and Creole Heartland,” a travel narrative about south Louisiana culture, and “A Season of Night: New Orleans Life After Katrina,” an account of the first months in the city after Hurricane Katrina.

He has been a contributor to WWNO since 2009.

Pumpkin gelato is a highly specific flavor of the season at Angelo Brocato's Ice Cream in New Orleans.
Ian McNulty

You can't really count on the calendar to tell you when seasons change in New Orleans. Balmy and temperate one day, you know we can still plunge right back into humidity the next. You’ve got to be on your guard. But there are other cues that let us know where we stand.

Photo by Ian McNulty - The gumbo at Dunbar's Creole Cuisine is loaded with meat and seafood.
Ian McNulty

No two bowls of gumbo should be exactly the same. Heck, even when they’re served from the same pot the precise mixture of seafood and meat and seasoning may differ from bowl to bowl, based on the luck of the ladle.  This is certainly the case with Creole gumbo, a down-home style sometimes described as kitchen sink.

And yet, even for the endless gumbo variations out there, sometimes an overarching house style for a particular gumbo can speak to you in a voice you may recognize even years after your last taste. 

That’s just how food memories are wired, and that was my experience recently over a bowl of gumbo at Dunbar's Creole Cuisine. 

Ian McNulty

We don’t hear much about German heritage in New Orleans, until October that is, when it comes at us with all the oomph of an oompah band. Suddenly you’re showing your nephew how to do the chicken dance, you’re dissecting the differences between bratwurst and weisswurst on your sausage platter and you’re proclaiming “prost!” as the foam drops another inch down your stein.  

The patio at Treo on Tulane Avenue in New Orleans.
Ian McNulty

In deepest summer, there is a certain mindset in New Orleans that regards the outdoors as enemy territory. Maybe you’ve succumbed to it once or twice yourself.

When this mindset sinks in, the outdoors is something to be monitored and cordoned. You dash from door to door at your own risk, and air conditioning on an outing for dinner or drinks is as necessary as air tanks for a deep sea dive. When true fall arrives, of course, all is forgiven and an outdoor perch is the place to be.

Red snapper from Maypop (top) and char-grilled pork steak with herbs from Marjie's Grill, two innovative new restaurants in New Orleans.
Ian McNulty

Brace yourself, I'm about to use the F word. That would be “fusion.”

Alright, maybe that's not such a big deal to you, but in certain restaurant circles fusion is one provocative term. It brings food memory flash backs to the days of sesame crusted everything, of the indiscriminate use of plum sauce and of milky green wasabi mashed potatoes.

Betsy's Pancake House in New Orleans announcing its return to business after Hurricane Katrina in 2006.
Ian McNulty

After Hurricane Harvey, it was no surprise that restaurants here in New Orleans quickly became a hub for many local efforts to help. 

In the long haul, though, restaurants in the very areas hard hit by Harvey that will be their own sources of community self help.

A fried shrimp po-boy from Avery's on Tulane.
Ian McNulty

We talk about it with our best friends and with perfect strangers. We rant about it online and we dream about it at night. It's a natural fixation when we’re hungry, yet we still talk about it when our mouths are full.

It's the food of New Orleans, compelling, often uniting, frequently divisive and never boring, at least not if you’re doing it right. May it always be at the ends of our forks and on the tips of our tongues.

Red snapper sushi from the specials board at Shogun in Metairie gets a precise garnish.
Ian McNulty

What’s your go-to sushi bar in New Orleans? It might be that first place where you tried a California roll way back when, or it could be the spot that always has something different on the specials board to try. Maybe it’s the sushi bar that just happens to be closest to your house, or it’s one across town where you’ve built a rapport with a particular chef.                        

Whatever seals the deal for you, though, sushi lovers in New Orleans tend to be highly loyal to their favorite Japanese restaurant.

A flood line crosses a po-boy at a New Orleans sandwich shop in 2006.
Ian McNulty

When I first moved to New Orleans, back in 1999, I was amazed by how often people talked about restaurants that no longer existed. But I had it all wrong, of course. In New Orleans, just because a restaurant is no longer open for business does not necessarily mean it no longer exists.

Buffalo oysters are topped with blue cheese at Felix's in the French Quarter.
Ian McNulty

The longer this summer stretches on, the more I find I have oysters on my mind. Someday fall will arrive, peak oyster season will be close behind and this hot, rainy summer will be in the history books.

But I can't wait that long. This summer has been a rough one already, and I'm ready for a taste of one of the real blessings of living in Louisiana: the prodigious oyster harvest.

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