When you visit New Orleans, you most likely will lodge in either the French Quarter to be near the razzmatazz or in the adjacent Warehouse/Arts District because you are at a convention. I recently stayed at Harrah’s Hotel on Poydras Street, a block west of the Mississippi riverfront and a block south of Canal Street, an energetic force between the two neighborhoods.
Wherever you are, dining choices in the Crescent City are astounding. This is a high-energy foodie town with James Beard award winners, celebrity standouts and local legends in and around the kitchens. Menus tout the influences of a diverse population: French, Spanish, Creole and Cajun and, of course, boatloads of freshly caught seafood. Choose your preferred ambience, from white-tablecloth elegance to flip-flop casual.
While attending a convention, I had opportunities to dine outside the hotel. These will get you started:
FULTON STREET is a brick-paved pedestrian passageway next door to Harrah’s. Less chaotic than Bourbon Street, the atmosphere is still vibrant. The street is lined with local and nationally branded restaurants and bars, all with indoor and outdoor seating. Smack dab in the middle is an elevated gazebo, which doubles as a stage for entertainers and special events. I ate at two restaurants here, Gordon Biersch and Manning’s.
GORDON BIERSCH BREWERY RESTAURANT is known for its authentic German lagers, each crafted onsite at its 35 locations. The bar has multiple plasma televisions and views of the brewery at work. An extensive menu features small plates, salads, pastas, flatbreads, grilled seafood and steaks.
I LOVED: The mini-bratwurst sliders, simmered in GB lager and then finished on the grill, served on pretzel rolls with carmelized onions, was enticing, but I went for the soy-glazed shrimp skewer. Jumbo shrimp were broiled with pineapple chunks and served over a sauteed rice cake and carrot and cucumber salad with toasted sesame seeds. I wish I had ordered two. Perfect with an unoaked chardonnay.
200 Poydras Street
MANNING’S: I confess, I was born without a sports gene, so I didn’t instantly equate this multi-level shrine to the Manning dynasty. But being a Chicagoan and married to a devout football fan, I can at least recognize Peyton on television without a helmet. Once inside this former warehouse building and visually whacked by the massive assemblage of framed jerseys and other memorabilia, I figured it out. The restaurant was created by Archie Manning, the father of Peyton and Eli and an athletic wonder in his own right.
Video monitors are viewable from every seat in the house. At the back of the restaurant are two rows of linebacker-size lounge chairs with drink holders and a ginormous mega-screen. The menu is fast-casual with a Louisiana touch; ie, alligator sausage grilled and topped with okra chow chow. My banquet luncheon of chicken Caesar salad, crispy rolls and butter, and cheesecake was satisfying, so no complaints. When I toured the restaurants later, I noted the thick burgers and fries beckoned a repeat visit.
I LOVED: 24 beers on tap. Hubs would love the recliners.
519 Fulton St.
CAFE AMELIE. It was time to venture into the French Quarter. We arrived at Cafe Amelie, which boasts one of the most beautiful and romantic courtyards in all the city. Here, getting a table was a bit of a challenge on a weekday at 8:30 p.m., even though we discreetly told the hostesses that we were from out of town and our tour guide had highly recommended the restaurant (hint, hint). The wait would be 45 minutes, we were abruptly told. We agreed and passed time in the bar on a bench in the historic carriage house. We asked the bartender about eating at one of the two empty tables. They were reserved, he said. No, he was not allowed to serve food at the bar.
Eventually we were seated in the courtyard, and our server charmed us into relaxation. We asked about food preparation and the soup of the day, and he answered expertly. The special of the day was the redfish, which we were not familiar with. It’s a local fish, he said, flakey but firm. That’s what we ordered, and it was delicious.
By the time we left, around 10:30 p.m., the hostesses had left for the night. No one ever sat at the two bar tables. I’m glad I had the experience at Cafe Amelie, but there are too many great options within footsteps that I don’t need to return.
I LOVED: Our server.
912 Royal St.
BOURBON HOUSE SEAFOOD. I arrived in New Orleans, after a hiatus of several years, with one thought on my mind: A shrimp po’ boy. I set out for the French Quarter without a destination in mind to fulfill a quest for sweet shrimp, tangy sauce, thin-cut lettuce and a roll crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. Tourist bureau literature led me to Bourbon House Seafood. Despite the Early Coffeeshop decor, it’s a Dickie Brennan operation. I expected greatness.
My quest was quashed. Maybe it was because I arrived mid-afternoon when shifts were changing. No fewer than six wait-staffers appeared before me, each only once. Two said they would be waiting on me and then vanished. My Diet Coke got lost. I asked someone politely for water. A different someone brought it.
When my po’ boy arrived, by someone I hadn’t seen prior, the shrimp was so overcooked and the breading so hard, no taste remained. It was petrified into hardened brown pebbles. The accompanying fries were dark brown and limp. I nibbled anyway because I was starving and no one was around to discuss otherwise. Perhaps I’ll try Bourbon House again on another visit. Perhaps not.
Hopefully, the wait-staff is studying hard for law school entrance exams because food service is not a compatible career.
I LOVED: Champagne Happy Hour at the “real” Brennan’s down the street and a couple of blocks over, 417 Royal St. Delightful and tingly.
144 Bourbon St.
THE CRAZY LOBSTER. This waterfront eatery is just downright fun, whether you are alone or with a group. It’s on the Spanish Plaza, alongside the Outlet Collection Mall and the where the riverboat tour boats dock. Huge buckets of steamed seafood is the draw at this casual eatery with an upbeat vibe. This is where I should have gone instead of Bourbon House for my shrimp po’ boy. Here, at the Crazy Lobster, I had an enormous heaping of sweet, lightly fried shrimp. Sit outside, as most people do, and watch the ships cruise by. Local entertainment performs nightly. The wait staff is chatty and welcoming.
The on-table condiment selection at the Crazy Lobster, New Orleans
The house specialties include blackened lobster salad, Cajun crawfish etoufee and jambalaya. Table condiments include locally brewed hot sauce.
I LOVED: The Bloody Mary menu includes Bacon Mary, with bacon-flavored vodka, olives, spiced green beans, lemon, lime, celery and bacon salt.
500 Port of New Orleans Place