dining

Ian McNulty

In New Orleans, there’s long been a natural order when it comes to enjoying a bit of natural beauty with your dinner and drinks. It was the courtyards of old French Quarter restaurants or a seat by the flaming fountain at Pat O’Brien’s. Watching streetcars rattle past from the porch at the Columns Hotel always qualified, and any balcony was fair game. 

But now the game has changed, and here’s the latest twist: more restaurants and bars are going the full monty, devoting most of their space and much of their business model to the al fresco appeal.

One night recently at Commander's Palace the two reigning queens of New Orleans cuisine shared a table and, for a moment, the spotlight. It got me thinking about the long game, one so long we can't even see it amid the hubbub of what's new, who's ranked where, and which spot is getting all the attention. It got me thinking about the future, and who’s next.

A smoked brisket sandwich from the butcher shop Cleaver & Co. in New Orleans.
Ian McNulty

Back in the day, neighborhoods had their own butcher, their own baker and, well, maybe not their own candlestick maker, but at least other purveyors who were masters of their trades. You get the point.           

Today, butcher shops are making a comeback in New Orleans. But while the old butcher shop techniques are often the same, the way this next generation courts customers has changed. They’re finding new ways to introduce the prospect of a full butcher’s case to a clientele that may have been raised on supermarket staples and processed products.

Out to Lunch, with Peter Ricchiuti.
Alison Moon / It's New Orleans

For a long time in New Orleans, if you wanted to eat healthy, you could eat at home. Although that sounds like a joke, it was pretty close to the truth. If you were eating out and wanted a salad, you’d be lucky to find anything other than a pedestrian appetizer.

Today, things are looking brighter for the healthy eater.

Jerk chicken from Coco Hut, a Caribbean restaurant in New Orleans with a bold way with spice.
Ian McNulty

Keeping some semblance of cool as our summer heat rages on can take some strategy. We park the car under oak limbs and walk on the shady side of the street. We keep ice water handy and, when it's time to eat, something cool and light sounds like just the thing.

But across the spectrum, there is another way, and it’s to embrace the heat, to own it. Revel in fiery foods and you may just beat the heat at its own game.

Bao, or Chinese steamed buns, anchor the menu of traditional dishes at Bao & Noodle in New Orleans.
Ian McNulty

The meal started with a sticky cluster of peanuts spiked with chiles that temporarily numbed the tongue. There was a salad that had the crunch of fresh-cut slaw and brought a bona fide caffeinated buzz from bits of fermented tea leaves strewn throughout.

The Pontchartrain Hotel is a St. Charles Avenue landmark that recently reopened in New Orleans.
Ian McNulty

In New Orleans these days, some restaurants aren't just up against all the other eateries in town. Some revived historic restaurants are also up against idealized memories of themselves that live on in the city's long memory.

The bar at Tujague's Restaurant, a New Orleans restaurant marking its 160th anniversary.
Ian McNulty

Give any restaurant enough time and an institutional history will accrue. Give it as much time as Tujague's has on the clock, and it can develop its own lore and legends and even some dichotomies that might seem like contradictions but end up defining the place.

The longtime deli FredRick's is now Bienvenue Bar & Grill.
Ian McNulty

Around downtown New Orleans, a small circuit of old fashioned diners and delis give their own particular read at the food life of New Orleans, set to the reliable rhythms of red bean Mondays and fried seafood Fridays.

Szechuan pepper shrimp at Nine Roses in Gretna, La.
Ian McNulty

A circuit of Vietnamese and Chinese restaurants in New Orleans serve their own renditions of a distinctive, twice-fried style of seafood that makes a refreshing change of pace from the local standard. 

It goes by different names too --  salt baked seafood, salt and pepper seafood, Szechuan pepper seafood or rang muoi.

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