Where Y'Eat: When Suppertime Meets Showtime

May 15, 2014

New Orleans is obsessed with food and music, but how often do they share equal billing under the same roof here? We've scouted some new and old favorite options, from barbecue with blues to contemporary jazz with Creole flavors.

To one view of New Orleans, food and music go together like red beans and rice. But really, sometimes it seems like food and music occupy different spots on a divider plate. Barring an exceptional jazz brunch here or a music club hosting a great food vendor there, the city’s twin obsessions for the tasty and the tuneful can seem like separate pursuits. 

That’s changing, however. More venues have emerged for food and music to share the bill while the march of more and more offbeat eateries has put new food options right by the foot of the stage. If the recently-wrapped Jazz Fest inspired you to explore more of the indigenous cultural riches so many people travel here to experience, I have a line up places to get a dose of music and food under the same roof. 

Let’s start at the top with a few marquee options. First, there’s the Little Gem Saloon on Poydras Street. Though its building had languished under neglect for many years, this historic spot is now a lovingly redeveloped restaurant and music destination stretching over two floors and serving a menu of bistro dishes taken on a rustic Southern spin. The local proprietors have their own vineyards out in Oregon, so you can even sample the family wine next to Gulf oysters while jazz and blues acts hold court on stage. That’s quite the pairing.

Across town on St. Claude Avenue, there’s also a new shine on Sweet Lorraine’s Jazz Club, an important part of the city’s contemporary jazz circuit for 15 years now. After an overhaul to throw off some lingering hurricane damage, Sweet Lorraine’s has a stylish but laid-back nightclub setting and a dinner menu with whole flounder, stuffed shrimp and other big Creole flavors. There’s also now lunch at Sweet Lorraine’s, which has a long roster of specialty burgers by day.   

The Three Muses on Frenchmen Street is a more modern rendering of what New Orleans music and contemporary cuisine can do together, with a menu that runs through squid ink pasta, lamb sliders and Korean kimchi platters. The shows start early, and this tiny place tends to fill up fast. But if you can go with the flow the energy here as the bands get cooking and the plates go around can make a spell at the Three Muses feel like a house party in progress.

For other reads on food and music together, let’s push just a little deeper and take a small leap of faith. There’s Buffa’s Lounge on Esplanade Avenue, for instance. Upfront it looks and functions like a vintage neighborhood watering hole. But in back, Buffa’s resembles a dinner club, with musicians performing in one corner and blackened redfish and bratwurst jambalaya holding down half the tables. And in Mid-City, the new Blue Oak BBQ is doing a slow-and-low rendition of brisket, ribs and pulled pork inside the music hall Chickie Wah Wah. This place doesn’t look like a barbecue joint, especially not when top names from New Orleans jazz and blues are performing. But try Blue Oak BBQ’s chicken wings and you’ll see it’s not just the musicians on stage who are really smoking. It’s another example of what can happen when supper time intersects show time in New Orleans.

Blue Oak BBQ at Chickie Wah Wah

2828 Canal St., (504) 822-2583; blueoakbbq.com

Buffa’s Lounge

1001 Esplanade Ave., (504) 949-0038; buffasbar.com

Little Gem Saloon

445 S. Rampart St., (504) 267-4863; littlegemsaloon.com

Sweet Lorraine’s Jazz Club

1931 Saint Claude Street (504) 945-9654; sweetlorrainesjazzclub.com

The Three Muses

536 Frenchmen St., (504) 298-8746; thethreemuses.com