The enterprising neighbors and opportune eats in the colorful neighborhood around the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival make for an appetizing scene before or after the show.
Everyone knows you should be ready to eat during a day at Jazz Fest. But no one says you have to show up starving. And on the way back out, I’ve found it’s a good idea to have a little room in the tank too, to be ready for opportune eats.
As much as I crave the old food favorites at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, some of the most memorable quick bites I find this time of year always seem to come from the periphery outside the Fair Grounds.
Some of this is the home cooking of enterprising neighbors, working to cash in on the crowds coursing past their porches. Naturally, this is an unpredictable lineup year to year, but I usually manage to find barbecue chicken or pork chops plucked from the grill and slapped on white bread, pralines wrapped in plastic sandwich bags and lemonade in paper cups (and sometimes spiked for a wink, nod and a dollar extra). It’s the sort of grassroots New Orleans food and drink that blossoms along parade routes, and while unsanctioned it’s always something I look forward to at Jazz Fest time.
The other type comes from neighborhood cafes making the best of a festival rhythm that simultaneously brings tides of people past their doors and cuts off much of their normal business.
Some regulars in my routine are iced coffee from Fair Grinds Coffeehouse; empanadas on the go from Santa Fe; pizza by the slice from a tent by Nonna Mia Café as a brass band lights up Ponce de Leon Street; and a BBQ shrimp po-boy served from a stand behind Liuzza’s by the Track, which functions for the fest like the garage band of Creole cooking.
A little farther out, and new this year, there’s also Pagoda Café. This is a walk-up, mostly-outdoors operation based around a vintage, pagoda-style building serving strong coffee, breakfast tacos and (in an example of neighborhood synchronicity) sausage rolls made with meats from Terranova’s Supermarket, a nearby Italian grocery. It’s an easy stop on the way to the fest, or on the way home since the normal breakfast and lunch hours are extended during festival days to 8 p.m. Wander in a different direction to Pal’s Lounge, a neighborhood bar where during each Jazz Fest evening the pop-up Indochow will be serving Southeast Asian-style snacks along the lines of shrimp dumplings and pad Thai.
I’m not suggesting anyone skip the food inside Jazz Fest. It’s an essential part of the experience. But on the way in, the locals can help gird you for a long day of fun.
And afterwards, there’s that moment when the sun starts sinking behind the trees of the Jazz Fest neighborhood, that crossroads where divergent grids of city streets intersect in a grand jumble of triangle lots, pocket parks, cloistered bends and colorful houses. Well, it’s a scene that always makes me want to linger. Properly supplied with a cold drink and a something tasty to eat pick up right along the way, this is always a headliner experience for my Jazz Fest.
Fair Grinds Coffeehouse
3133 Ponce de Leon St., 504-913-9072; fairgrinds.com
Liuzza’s by the Track
1518 N. Lopez St., 504-218-7888
3125 Esplanade Ave., 504-948-1717; nonnamia.net
1403 N. Dorgenois St., 504-644-4178; pagodacafe.net
949 N. Rendon St., 504-488-7257
3201 Esplanade Ave., 504-948-0077; santafenola.com