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.

Matassa's Market dates back to the 1920s in the French Quarter, and it has changed to adjust to an evolving marketplace.
Ian McNulty

Conjure the image of the small neighborhood grocery and I bet the picture in your mind looks pretty appealing – something hands on and small scale, with character and personality between the register and the grocery aisles.

As a business plan, though, maybe the classic neighborhood market these days looks like a flourish of old-fashioned retail romanticism.

Cabbages will be flying as St. Patrick's Day parades roll in New Orleans. Just watch your face!
File photo

It’s March in New Orleans, parades are again on the calendar and feasts are on the itinerary. Have fun, but for heaven’s sake, beware of flying produce and at all times, watch out for your teeth.

I’m talking about a different type of seasonal awareness for our food, and one that was brought home to me in a natural but still unlikely place – the dentist chair.

Louisiana soft shell crabs are a prized find at local markets.
Ian McNulty

People in Louisiana are accustomed to finding delicious local crab everywhere – from fine dining restaurants to neighborhood joints to family affair seafood boils. But right now, Louisiana is finding its crab somewhere unexpected – and that’s off limits.

The state is in the midst of a first-of-its-kind closure of its blue crab fishery. It started just before Mardi Gras and continues through late March.

Ian McNulty

Some of the city's old-guard restaurants hold heralded places in Carnival tradition, and king cakes have been glittering extra brightly lately as chefs and bakers around New Orleans put their own stamp on its form and flavors.   

But, when it comes to keeping people going through the long haul of Carnival, the heavy lifting often falls to much more humble fare from unsung suppliers. These are the grocery stores, the delis and the specialty caterers of New Orleans, businesses that work at fever pitch once the parade season reaches its prime time. 

Ian McNulty

Plenty of us plan our days around food, fixating on that upcoming lunch or what’s for dinner. Since I cover dining and food culture for a living, this is actually part of my job description.

Still, for anyone, sometimes the workday gets away from the plan. You didn’t pack a lunch, you need to eat and wherever you land must be fast, and it must be close by.

The "square pizza" at Pizza Domenica in New Orleans is made with fresh-milled fllour from Bellegarde Bakery.
Ian McNulty

The wood-burning oven at the Uptown eatery Pizza Domenica turns out pizzas that are thin-crusted, char-marked and round. These days though, the same oven is also producing bigger, thicker, square-shaped pizzas.

They spread a terrain of sauce and cheese and darkened ridges across the length of a baking pan. They look distinctive. But the shape is just the tip of the slice for what makes these pizzas different.

Chicken wings with Korean-style sauce and mango at Bourree at Boucherie in New Orleans.
Ian McNulty

The chicken wing rules the roost when it comes to football food, and this year I’m on the chicken wing bandwagon too. I mean, could there be any food more appropriate for a Falcons Super Bowl appearance than wings?

When you hear me talking about restaurants, it’s usually good news, like new picks from the latest additions to the New Orleans dining scene, or sizing up a delicious new trend or revisiting the classics that are so beloved in our restaurant community.

After all, this is the way New Orleans talks about its restaurants -- incessantly and with anticipation. In this town, we really do talk about dinner while we’re having lunch.

But, I’ve also been listening, and what many people in the restaurant business are talking about these days has been less appetizing.

King cakes have become a popular cultural icon in New Orleans, though some still look for the satisfaction of an old classic style.
Ian McNulty

King cakes have been popular in New Orleans for a long time. But not this popular. Something has changed.

King cake has become a cultural statement, one of those emblems of pride that New Orleans uses to celebrate itself. King cake is the Saints fleur-de-lis of food. You live it, you wear it, you rally around it.

Middendorf's Restaurant has had a roost along the waterfront in Manchac since 1934.
Ian McNulty

Fried catfish cut as thin as a dime, a view of the water that ends with the sky and a regular crowd coming from the north shore and the south shore to meet in the middle - these are hallmarks of a trip to Middendorf's, the vintage Louisiana seafood house just off the highway on the marshy edge of Manchac.

No one wants it to change, least not the people who now run Middendorf’s.

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