The stirrings of home and feelings of homecoming are strong this time of year. Anything can trigger it – that song playing in the background as you shop, those photos from the 80s that your clever aunt rebooted on Facebook, even what’s on your plate or the food cravings on your mind. Around here, no type of restaurant dials into that quite like the New Orleans neighborhood joint.
You know them by heart. They are causal and family friendly. In the way they taste, look and sound they convey a sense of place -- namely this one, New Orleans.
If you’ve been away from home for a bit, or just haven’t parked yourself in front of a traditional New Orleans meal in a while, the flavors can be evocative.
What’s been so interesting lately is how the same familiar tale is sometimes told in different ways. That’s right, even the New Orleans neighborhood joint is getting some new ideas.
Some are the result of fine dining chefs shifting down, which has the tendency to rev up casual New Orleans flavors. Two examples arrived just this fall. There’s Rosedale, a restaurant from chef Susan Spicer that’s tucked away down a little nook of a side street in Navarre, between Mid-City and Lakeview. Not too far away, a new seafood restaurant called Station 6 opened in an old seafood hub – Bucktown. The chef here is Alison Vega, who’s best known for Vega Tapas Café, which she ran before Katrina. Now she and her family are serving a modern take on Louisiana comfort food, which starts with seafood but keeps the fryer in the background.
There are more in neighborhoods all around the area. In Gentilly, go see chef Jordan Ruiz at the Munch Factory for a traditional Creole gumbo on one side of the equation, and on the other tuna tacos, debris fries and beignets drizzled with condensed milk. Uptown, on Freret Street, the High Hat Café has been a go-to for New Orleans flavor with a Deep South backbeat and a lighter hand on the specials board.
Go find Jason Seither out in Harahan at Seither’s Seafood for backyard-style boiled crawfish but also seafood platters that look like they’ve had a visit to the sushi bar and the Tex Mex taqueria on the way to your plate. It’s original, compelling and ready for the Sriracha. Meanwhile, Bevi Seafood Co. has twice now taken over traditional seafood markets and rejuvenated them with a recipe that feels as carefully measured as the boil seasoning. In Metairie and in Mid-City, you’ll find Bevi’s way with po-boys, snacks and seafood shop take-away food readily familiar but just different enough to stand out from the standards.
To be clear, none of this means casting off old favorites. The classics have history and we have histories with them, and you can’t just spin that out of nothing. But what I like about this new generation of neighborhood joints is that while they manage to feel current and modern, and yes, potentially a tad lighter, they don't feel like they were just dropped off from the restaurant concept factory. They feel like they belong in New Orleans and were created by New Orleans. And that, after all, is what makes a restaurant in this town feel at home.
801 Rosedale Drive, 504-309-9595
105 Old Hammond Hwy., 504-345-2936
279 Hickory St., Harahan, 504-738-1116
Bevi Seafood Co.
4701 Airline Drive, Metairie, 504-885-5003; and 236 N. Carrollton Ave., 504-488-7503
4500 Freret St., 504-754-1336
6325 Elysian Fields Ave., 504-324-5372