New Orleans, La. –
Each autumn around this time, the Voodoo Music Experience provides yet another example of how hard it is to keep our great New Orleans parties hemmed in. Naturally, food is a big part of the reason why.
Voodoo is the annual rock and pop music festival scheduled for this Halloween weekend in Mid-City. Now, granted, this is a ticketed event that happens inside City Park. But it doesn't necessarily stay there. For people heading to and from the festival, or for those who just like to be near the action when something's happening in town, the dense cluster of locally-run eateries just outside City Park along Esplanade Avenue creates something akin to its own festival.
This is the same colorful, historic area that sees many thousands of Jazz Fest revelers course through each spring en route to the Fair Grounds Race Course, and it reprises that role again, on a smaller scale, for Voodoo. When the crowds turn up, it's like a neighborhood-sized food court of options for light bites or hearty meals en route to the actual event. In fact, it's easy to feel as though you're already part of an outdoor party if you spend some time in this unique corner of town.
For instance, Cafe Degas serves classic French bistro cuisine, but forget about any stuffy French stereotypes. The dining room here is essentially a covered patio, and in nice weather it's wide open to the street scene. Just next door, Nonna Mia serves family-style Italian dishes on its wrap-around porch and large, landscaped side yard. At both places, diners talk with passersby from their tables and vice versa.
Pass by the Spanish restaurant Lola's and it can seem like a cocktail party is in progress outside. Patrons queue up with drinks in hand on the sidewalk and wait their turn for meals of paella and ceviche. Across the street, Santa Fe recently remodeled to add a long, deep, covered patio stretching along Esplanade, while its Tex-Mex menu has seen a major makeover too.
Just off Esplanade, it's common to find people mingling outside Swirl Wine Bar & Market, or perhaps nibbling from cheese plates at the petite bar inside. Some people start an evening at Swirl before heading to dinner at one of the nearby restaurants. That walkable circuit might well wrap up with coffee and dessert at Swirl's neighbor, the Fair Grinds Coffee House, a colorful community gathering spot for everyone from parents with toddlers to gadfly retirees to artsy conspiracy theorists.
Nearby, Liuzza's by the Track might look like a corner barroom to newcomers, but regulars know it's the place for no-holds-barred gumbo and BBQ shrimp po-boys oozing peppery butter. For a more upscale option, remember that Ralph's on the Park sits literally across the street from the Voodoo festival grounds. Order apps or entrees at its urbane bar for a more casual festival-time experience here.
Those who really make a night of it at Voodoo have a few late options too. The 1950's-vintage joint Bud's Broiler is now open 24/7, cooking up its hickory sauce burgers by the numbers. Just around the bend, the Beachcorner Bar & Grill serves its own huge burgers into the wee hours, or what we call "'til" in our intentionally unspecific local lingo. With Voodoo in town, it's a good bet "'til" won't come until late.
Voodoo Music Experience is scheduled for Oct. 29-31 at New Orleans City Park. Find details here.
Beachcorner Bar & Grill
4906 Canal St., New Orleans, 504-488-7357
500 City Park Ave., New Orleans, 504-486-2559
3127 Esplanade Ave, New Orleans, 504-945-5635
Fair Grinds Coffee House
3133 Ponce de Leon, New Orleans, 504-913-9072
Liuzza's by the Track
1518 N. Lopez St., New Orleans, 504-218-7888