Where Y’Eat: Lakefront Restaurant Renewal

Aug 15, 2013

The ritual of seafood dinners by Lake Pontchartrain is getting a second wind as new restaurants find ways to open along the New Orleans waterfront. 

Things are looking up for dining along the New Orleans lakefront these days, though in the evenings it’s no surprise to find most people around here looking west. That would be towards the sunset over Lake Pontchartrain, painting the sky first in the pink hues of boiled shrimp, then the amber haze of draft beer and finally down into the deep red of crawfish and Tabasco.

That’s nature’s day-ending show on the lake, and a perch to enjoy it along with a big spread of Louisiana seafood had for generations been a common, easy treat in New Orleans. Casual seafood restaurants once lined the city’s West End here, with some built on stilts over the water itself, the better to let that breeze blow on through the window screens and over tables crowded with seafood trays. But their numbers were whittled down over the years and Hurricane Katrina finally wiped out the few remaining examples. Today they’re mostly just remembered in nostalgic recollections, like the one I just shared, and the fusty old prints of the great seafood houses tacked up in homes and restaurants around town.

But now there is something new afoot on the New Orleans lakefront, even if the most prominent examples tower many feet above your head. In June, Brisbi's Lakefront Restaurant made its debut in a newly-constructed, dramatically elevated, building right there on a canal leading from the lake to the West End marinas. A few weeks later, along came the Blue Crab Restaurant, which is just a few doors down the canal and just as high in the air. They join the neighboring Landry’s Seafood, a huge restaurant from a Houston-based chain, with dining rooms and open decks overlooking the boats cruising past and, at prime time, that sunset.

The two new local restaurants, Brisbi’s and the Blue Crab, also have significant ties to the New Orleans dining scene. The chef at Brisbi’s is David DeFelice. His family has for many years operated the Uptown restaurant Pascal’s Manale. If you’re familiar with Pascal’s Manale you won’t be surprised to see BBQ shrimp on Brisbi’s menu, or the stand-up oyster bar, this time with a view.

Meanwhile, the Blue Crab is overseen by Kent Burgess, whose family ran the waterfront restaurant Sid-Mar’s right nearby in Bucktown for nearly 40 years until Katrina. The Blue Crab menu is highly reminiscent of Sid-Mar’s, with boiled seafood and po-boys front and center.

And, if you can expand your notion of a lakefront restaurant just a bit, there’s one more revival underway here. Andrew Jaeger, whose family has run seafood restaurants for decades, recently opened Bucktown Burger & Fish Company. Its view is not directly to the water, but rather to the levee and a massive pumping station. But, you can always hike up that levee after dinner to gaze out across the huge, blue lake.

No hike was required for the view out here in the old days, nor was a climb up the stairs to place like Brisbi’s or the Blue Crab. In these new days, however, if that’s what it takes to redevelop the lakefront, so be it. And a little exercise on the way up won’t do us any harm either.

Brisbi's Lakefront Restaurant & Bar

7400 Lakeshore Dr., New Orleans, 504-304-4125

The Blue Crab Restaurant & Oyster Bar

7900 Lakeshore Dr., New Orleans, 504-284-2898

Bucktown Burger & Fish Co.

200 Old Hammond Hwy., Metairie, 504-840-0902

Landry’s Restaurant

8000 Lakeshore Dr., New Orleans, 504-283-1010