If you couldn't find someplace new and different to eat around New Orleans in 2011 it's probably your own fault. Certainly, our chefs and restaurateurs did their part this year to bring new options, new flavors and whole new concepts to the scene, and if you had a highly-specific craving in mind when setting out to sample them that was all the better.
For instance, whether your ideal pizza follows the thin-crust style of New York, the deep-dish style of Chicago or the artisan standards of Naples, Italy, new pies from Pizzicare, Midway Pizza and Ancora have you covered, respectively.
If you like your burgers thin, old-school and meticulously crafted, Tru Burger and the Company Burger emerged to whet your palate, and they were joined by stuffed burgers from Juicy Lucy in Mid-City and still more burgers from Cheeseburger Eddie's in Metairie. And if your hankering was more toward hot dogs, you had plenty of company at Dat Dog, a new wiener stand that's proved so popular it's already planning to move into larger digs just across the street.
That street would be Freret Street, and it's no coincidence that half of the new restaurants mentioned above opened along this resurgent, eight-block commercial corridor. After steadily building momentum, 2011 was the year Freret Street broke out as the hot new restaurant row, with seven restaurants opening this year and more planned in 2012.
While Freret has centralized a lot of new interesting eats, another trend this year spread them all over town, often in unexpected venues. From just a few examples a year ago, pop-up restaurants have exploded across New Orleans, with unorthodox eateries appearing inside other restaurants, inside bars and just about anywhere else their resourceful entrepreneurs could put them.
One of the longest-running local examples of such DIY dining, Bacchanal Fine Wine, ran into trouble this year when City Hall temporarily shut down its outdoor food and music events. The flap drew more attention to an ongoing complaint by some over what they call confusing, inconsistent or heavy-handed city regulation of food ventures, and that issue was also the underlying theme of September's inauguralStreet Food Derby. The event gathered food vendors from around the region and drew a huge crowd to sample them all in one place.
The doors closed at some local restaurants, like Feast, after not quite a year, and Bacco, after nearly 20 years. But more opened, including Root in the former Feast space, Ste. Marie in the CBD, Vacherie in the French Quarter, Irish House in Uptown, Metairie's Caf b and Heritage Grill, both from the former Bacco's team, and, late in the year, Apolline, a revamp of the former Dominique's on Magazine, and Tamarind by Dominique, a new restaurant from the former chef and namesake of that restaurant, Dominique Maquet.
The year also offered many examples of the heart and generosity running through the restaurant scene. Whether it was events like Liuzzapalooza or Beasts & Brass to support local restaurant people in their hours of need or road trips to bring Louisiana food and hospitality to tornado-stricken towns in Alabama and Missouri, restaurants across the spectrum stepped up to prove that in our community it's more than just what's on the plate that counts.