An appreciation of the restaurant kids' menu, at once training wheels for young customers and life ring for parents who want to enjoy a meal out -- with their children but without too much tabletop drama.
I know there are plenty of parents out there in food-obsessed New Orleans who must get frustrated by the fickle, picky preferences of their kids at the dinner table. Well, consider the cautionary tale of an Uptown family I know with quite the opposite issue.
Their three kids, all under age 10, have been game for just about any type of meal the parents show them, from New Orleans-style BBQ shrimp to Korean barbecue. The parents take a certain pride in the adventurousness of their young gourmands in training. But family restaurant outings have their price, literally.
Just imagine you’re eating tapas or sushi and you have a kids’ bottomless appetite and, someone else is paying. It can get expensive. That’s why even these foodie friends of mine are relieved when they find a kids menu at a restaurant and they can successfully steer their brood to it.
Ah, yes, the kids’ menu, straightforward, streamlined and usually priced well below the regular menu card. It’s a tool that at once functions as training wheels for young customers, and also as a life ring for parents who want to enjoy a meal out — with their children but without too much tabletop drama.
There are many options out there, from the old reliable neighborhood joint to some surprisingly high-brow restaurants that have carved out space for the next generation of diners.
For instance, the Pelican Club is best known for its piano lounge, an elegant dining room and dishes like a seafood martini and trio of duckling. But even this French Quarter fine-dining spot has a kids menu, though its one that sets the bar way above chicken fingers. There’s Gulf fish with jumbo lump crabmeat and jalapeno Hollandaise, and a petite filet mignon with marchand de vin sauce, both just for children.
A kids’ menu has also been a fixture at Dick & Jenny’s from this Uptown restaurant’s start, and over the years its regulars have come to rely on it. So while the kitchen plates up escargot and seared tuna for the regular menu, kids can get shrimp with goat cheese grits or red beans over popcorn rice.
The setting and concept of other eateries makes a kids’ menu practically a requirement. That’s the case at the American Sector, the John Besh restaurant inside the National World War II Museum, which serves its kids meal in a vintage-style lunch box.
High Hat Café on Freret Street, Café B in Old Metairie, Susan Spicer’s eclectic eatery Mondo in Lakeview: all are more examples of family-style restaurants serving kid-sized dishes. And so is Ninja, an Uptown sushi spot with teriyaki, tempura and crayons at the ready for young diners.
Then there’s Irish House, a pub and restaurant that takes things a step farther. Proprietors Alicia and Matt Murphy have five young children, including four-year-old quadruplets, so they have perhaps a natural empathy for their peers in parenting. As such, in the corner of their restaurant, they maintain a toy box, usually overflowing and constantly being refreshed from their own home. If the inclusion of a kids menu sends a certain signal of welcome to parents, a dining room toy box tells the kids, loud and clear, that in here it’s game on.
Dick & Jenny’s
4501 Tchoupitoulas St., New Orleans, 504-894-9880
945 Magazine St., New Orleans, 504-528-1940
Red Fish Grill
115 Bourbon St., New Orleans, 504-598-1200
High Hat Café
4500 Freret St., New Orleans, 504-754-1336
900 Harrison Ave., New Orleans, 504-224-2633
1432 St. Charles Ave., New Orleans, 504-595-6755