Take a Bite of the Big Easy: A Guide to New Orleans’ Infamous Restaurant Scene

With only three days in New Orleans, I was skeptical about being fully able to experience the famous Creole/Cajun cuisine I’ve heard so much about.  I quickly found myself the recipient of a plethora of exciting options. Helpful recommendations from friends and the knowledge of a local resident combined to create the perfect recipe for a well-mapped tour of the NOLA restaurant industry and all the mouthwatering temptations it has to offer. Here’s a run-down of tasty restaurants that offer not only titillating food, but a unique experience bound to spice up anybody’s visit to this crescent city.


The Columns:

Atmosphere: Romantic and Victorian; Details magazine named The Columns  “one of the top ten sexiest places on Earth”.

Stepping into The Columns, you feel as though you are walking into another century. 15 ft. ceilings, mahogany stairwell, ceiling fans, glass chandelier, Southern-style porch, concave mirrors and Victorian EVERYTHING come together to create this extremely elegant hotel, restaurant and bar.

Renowned architect Thomas Sully designed this romantic dwelling in the 1880s. The Columns plays home to the movie Pretty Baby, a film mostly noted for a nude scene involving a 12-year-old Brooke Shields.

Their menu fosters a good variation of Creole and Continental dining options—a pleasing situation for those with a light stomach that are dining with someone who possesses more of an adventurous appetite. (This may have been the case with my trip as my stomach is not able to handle very much action, while my partner-in-crime’s was the ideal candidate for a food excursion in the Big Easy.) I opted for some sliders that left me more than satisfied. They also have a popular Sunday Jazz Brunch with a menu that includes Turtle Soup for those feeling extra bold.

There is nothing I can say to sum up how breathtaking this place actually is, except that if you don’t visit it at least once on your journey you are truly missing out on something special.

Boucherie:

Atmosphere: Simple and gives off the feeling the food is truly fresh; excellent for dining with both family and friends.

As we couldn’t get a table at the self-proclaimed“real Nawlin’ food” restaurant, Jacques-Imo’s (said to serve large portions of extreme cuisine smothered in a hefty amount of fat) we were led to the delightful Boucherie. Though just a short walk away, Boucherie seemed to be in a different world than the boisterously loud Jacque-Imo’s.

In this cute and quaint setting, we were promptly served intricate cocktails by the host during our short wait for a table. One would never guess that this quiet, yet vibrant restaurant originated out of a food truck.

Boucherie provides fine food made from locally sourced agriculture. While the restaurant’s name literally translates to Butcher, I have to say that the Heart of romaine Caesar salad I ordered was the best salad I’ve ever had—a bold statement, I know, but an honest one.

The salad was topped only by the wildly creative dessert selections. Our table ordered both the Krispy Kreme bread pudding and the bacon brownie. Both tasted exactly as they were billed. Some of our party could have done without the bacon brownie, but the bread pudding was enjoyed by all and left me craving it for days.

Coop’s Place:

Atmosphere: Prominent dive bar that makes you feel as though you’re going to taste some “real” NOLA cuisine.

With its surly wait staff, this place immediately won over my heart. A joint where the rude, yet shockingly charming attitude is as big as the menu. This large menu can be found both on the sheet they hand you and scrawled across a massive chalkboard on the cluttered walls between Saints memorabilia and Mardi Gras beads.

My blackened chicken was decent, but nothing to write home about; my boyfriend’s rabbit & sausage jambalaya dry, but tasty. All things considered, they have rabbit jambalaya on the menu making this bar not only a perfect place to grab a cold beer (and excellent Bloody Mary), but a sure stop for anybody wandering around the French Quarter searching for something real.

Port of Call:

Atmosphere: Charming. The perfect place for any occasion.

Right along the border of tourist heaven lays this authentic treasure chest of a restaurant. Inside this dark bar built in 1963 is a fireplace with candles burning in it, giant fishing net ensconcing the very low ceilings, a fish tank behind the bar, and an extremely friendly staff full of personality. Port of Call provides the perfect, intimate vibe—as if everyone in the bar is there together.

Known for having the best burgers and steak in town, the Port of Call also offers a list of fanciful cocktails for only $5. This is the type of restaurant that makes you feel like you’re at home. I’m excited to go back to New Orleans simply so I can return to this place.

Camellia Grill:

Atmosphere: diner-esque, classic.

In an impressive, old building, this restaurant is made up of one long winding bar.

Our waiter, Bill, was quite the interesting character and had us laughing the entire time. When my dining partner asked what was in the gumbo Bill went on to explain a long list of phony ingredients involving various snake parts. He really sealed the deal however when he randomly gave me a chocolate milkshake, on the house.

The prices on their menu are more than affordable; they have a $3 minimum per customer because most of their meals are in the $2 range. The gumbo was unbelievable and the red beans and rice (a traditional Monday night dish in New Orleans) were scrumptious.

If you want to experience a bit of savory history without spending more than a couple dollars, this is definitely the place.

Commander’s Palace:

Atmosphere: Classy and fancy, a place where upper-class older ladies gather for lunch, most likely to discuss other fancy restaurants and high-society events.

This place was absolutely mind-blowing. It requires reservations and has a dress code, which added the perfect touch of class to our trip. While waiting for a table the hostess told us to wait at the bar, which entailed walking through their enormous kitchen. I cannot imagine a restaurant in New York allowing a constant stream of customers flowing through their kitchen.

The dining room had an astounding décor, especially the unique wallpaper. It was crowded, but the service remained fast and friendly. Anybody looking to dive into some noteworthy seafood should put this place on the top of his or her list. While the seafood on the menu was abundant and the prices were cheap considering its elegance, the best part of Commander’s Palace is without a doubt the 25-cent martinis. No, that is not a typo; they actually have 25-cent martinis. For anyone who doesn’t like the strong taste of a regular martini you can opt to have a Cosmopolitan or one of the other colorful variants on the menu. I never knew a place like Commander’s Palace could actually exist.

Cochon:

Atmosphere: Lively, upscale BBQ.

A favorite amongst locals, make reservations ahead of time as Cochon proves to be quite popular. A large, inviting room with an open kitchen creates an interactive, fun vibe.

The menu is made up mostly of meat products. Some of the more unique items include Alligator and pork cheeks. Accompanying the hefty meat meals is a long list of cocktails including a rye flight, which was ordered by my dining companions, to much success.

Though we skipped the last course, I did see a variety of desserts being delivered to the table next to ours. They looked delectable and were of gigantic proportions.

Cochon, in its own way, appeared to be the hippest of all the NOLA restaurants I came across.

Guy’s Po Boys:

Atmosphere: Small with quick-food, Great for lunch on a hot, summer day.

This was the last meal of my trip and probably the best. Just what one would imagine a Po Boy’s place to be: crowded with a quick turn over and minimal décor, as the food speaks for itself. They have cold Barq’s root beer in glass bottles, brownies and “candy cakes,” otherwise known as pralines.

I ordered the fried chicken po’ boy which was labeled as “small,” but turned out to be so big I was only able to devourhalf of it. The chicken was not of your typical greasy variety—in fact, it was so good it almost felt healthy (I know, I know). There really couldn’t have been a better way to end the trip than to get a po’ boy at Guy’s followed by a stroll to the Mississippi River at the nearby Audubon park. It was so pleasant I almost wanted to miss my flight home.

February 19, 2011

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