The Best of Dining – New Orleans

March 20, 2016
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If the sizzling restaurant scene in New Orleans, Louisiana accurately reflects the city’s tenacity and enduring spirit, then the BigEasy is most certainly back in the game, reinventing itself through ingenuity and culinary artistry. Vibrant menus infused with new savory delights speak volumes about this city’s successful on-going gastronomic revitalization. Although tourism has dipped since hurricane Katrina and the recovery has not been swift for some businesses, iconic establishments are still drawing the crowds, and new restaurants with innovative ideas are springing up throughout various neighborhoods.

According to the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau, nearly all of the city’s restaurants have reopened after the recent hurricanes (with few exceptions) and today the city has more eateries than ever before. Parts of town that are presently seeing an influx of new restaurants include the Warehouse District, the commercial corridor of Magazine Street, Mid-City, along with the Riverbend and Lakeview areas. The famed French Quarter, which has not been affected by flooding as some residential neighborhoods, still retains the high energy that has characterized it for years. In fact, the city recently received honors in Travel + Leisure magazine’s “America’s Favorite Cities” 2008 survey. New Orleans’ restaurants are as diverse as the crowds they draw. Hot spots like Cochon attract attention from locals and globetrotting foodies alike,

 

  while the classic 26-year-old Upperline restaurant consistently provides delicious selections in an intimate setting. Casual, tiny luncheonette-style eateries like Mena’s Palance and the New Orleans Cake Cafe’ and Bakery are unpretentious gems – and thriving. Not surprisingly, each restaurant has something in common: The contagious spark emitted from an extremely energetic staff working together to redefine New Orleans. It’s the resurgence of the NOLA dining evolution. Despite the widely held misconception that Louisiana cuisine is comprised only of Cajun and Creole flavors, it is, in reality, an exceptional cuisine that blends numerous unique cooking styles. NOLA is influenced by a true melting pot of cultures, including Creole, Cajun, French, Spanish, German, African, Haitian, Caribbean and most recently, Vietnamese. This diversity has encouraged many NOLA chefs over the years to become a bit more adventurous when planning a restaurant’s menu
or determining that evening’s specials.JoAnn Clevenger, owner of the bustling Upperline restaurant, is passionate about New Orleans’s relationship with its ethnically diverse food, and discusses this topic with the exuberance of one who is truly devoted to keeping her loyal
customers happy. She says, “New Orleans cuisine is continually evolving because we take the many different cultural influences and then add in our own zesty signature flavors — therefore creating an added layer of complexity.” Clevenger continues, “At the Upperline, we recognize that restaurants are not just about taste of the food. After all, a real dining experience stimulates all of the senses.”

At the laid-back, welcoming Mena’s Palace, the focus is all about the home cooked comfort food and ensuring the customers keep coming back. Manager (and owner’s daughter), Ellie Christakis, believes the success of her family-run restaurant centers on relationships. She explains, “We appreciate our clientele, and often get to know them on a personal level. They are the reason we are still viable today.”

Cochon
930 Tchoupitoulas Steet
New Orleans, LA 70130
501 588-2123
www.cochonrestaurant.com

On the cusp of the French Quarter lies the Warehouse District, where Cochon’s smoke-scented contemporary-style dining room with clean lines and warm wood tones serves up tantalizing fare that appeals to all palates. Simply put, Cochon is the real deal. Born and raised in Louisiana, Chef/Owner Donald Link and Chef/Partner Stephen Stryjewski introduced this unique “boucherie” in 2006 to produce authentic Cajun flavors that can only be achieved by preparing in-house charcuterie, such as
boudin, andouille, smoked bacon and rillettes.

As a foodie destination, Cochon is creating a buzz within the industry, as Link is the 2007 recipient of the James Beard Foundation “Best Chef” Award, while Stryjewski was named the Best New Chef 2007 by New Orleans Magazine; and a “Chef to Watch” by the Times Picayune. More recently, Cochon was the 2008 International Moderate Restaurant of the Year and one of the Best New Restaurants of the Year by the International Restaurant & Hotel Awards (IRHA).

Cochon’s small plates feature rustic Cajun cuisine with a modern fl air, like fried alligator with chili garlic aioli; and spicy grilled pork ribs with crispy watermelon pickle. A house favorite is the Louisiana cochon with turnips, cabbage and cracklins, but the menu is not only for the carnivores, as the fisherman’s special redfish is pleasantly roasted with mild and light flavors. Dessert is nearly impossible to pass up, as pastry chef Brittany Waters’s sweet temptations (with accompanying wine pairings) will leave you powerless, like the fluffy poppy seed angel food cake with citrus salad and Satsuma sherbet. This hip restaurant’s open kitchen features counter seating, where guests can experience the bustling culinary activity and the smoldering wood-burning oven.

When filming in New Orleans, the Hollywood crowd hangs here, so don’t be surprised if you spot a celebrity enjoying a taste of peppery boudin.

New Orleans Cake Café and Bakery
2440 Chartres Street
New Orleans, LA 70195
504 943-0010
www.nolacakes.com

How far would you go for a cupcake? This tiny café in the gentrified Faubourg Marigny section of town is positioned under-the-radar, but has caught the eyes of many loyal fans. Owner Steve Himelfarb, A.K.A. “The Cake Man” is a fixture in this up-and-coming neighborhood, and together with business partner and pastry chef Allison Gorlin bakes heavenly cakes and cupcakes with flavors like red velvet, chocolate mint and pineapple upsidedown.

With its upbeat atmosphere and impressive down home comfort food, New Orleans Cake Café and Bakery invites guests to linger leisurely over chicory coffee or simply dash in for a quick bite. A friendly, hard-working staff warmly greets hungry visitors from all walks of life to this cozy, homey café — but don’t let the cuteness fool you. Albeit pace can be a bit cramped here, an eclectic crowd of hipsters enjoys delectable breakfast and lunch specials next to long-time neighborhood residents, along with a few tourists seeking a little adventure.

Loyal customers may come for the sublime cakes, bagels, croissants and cupcakes, but return for the salads, omelets, sandwiches — and even crab and oyster specials. The French toast with fresh challah atop homemade orange-pecan syrup is a sure bet, as well as the shrimp and organic grits with sautéed tomato and onion.

Upperline
1413 Upperline Street
New Orleans, LA 70115
501 891-9822
www.upperline.com

Miles away from the French Quarter is the artsy but upscale Upperline restaurant. This 1877 townhouse exudes a quiet authenticity, as the ambiance is chic yet unpretentious. Real foodies willingly make the trek to experience this little oasis of regional fine dining situated in the tony Uptown neighborhood adjacent to the Garden district. Discerning diners are delighted by the array of whimsical, dazzling artwork adorning the walls, and impressed by the superior quality of the
interesting and classic Cajun and Creole flavors that are a hallmark of the Upperline’s cuisine.

The Upperline captures the essence of New Orleans with chef Kenneth Smith’s inventive Southern menu. House specialties include tasty turtle soup with a dollop of sherry; spicy shrimp served with light, moist jalapeno cornbread; and sumptuous duck etouffée. The popular fried green tomato with shrimp remoulande was first introduced years ago by owner JoAnn Clevenger. Another tasty seafood dish, the crispy oysters St. Claude, was named in honor of another area restaurant that unfortunately did not reopen after hurricane Katrina.

The hospitable, knowledgeable staff is invested in your meal, as they provide an added element of style to the dining experience by frequently steering diners in the right direction for appetizer and entrees choices, as well as offering wine pairing suggestions from their award-winning list with hard-to-find selections. In fact, the Upperline has been the proud recipient of the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence every year since 1995.

Also, the Upperline’s staff collective talent obviously transcends the food world. Where else might you hear an unexpected rendition of “Happy Birthday” that rivals a Broadway chorus? (Well, maybe off-Broadway, but the song still sounds surprisingly well-rehearsed and professional!)

Mena’s Palace
200 Chartres Street
New Orleans, LA 70130
501 525-0217
www.menas.com

Around the corner from the lavish Hotel Montelone lies the casual, low-key Mena’s Palace, with a familiar ambiance that’s like stepping into the past and right into a southern eatery from years gone by – with the low prices to match. Home-cooked comfort food takes center stage at this welcoming, family-run icon that has been a mainstay in the French Quarter for 34 years. With one rectangular dining room featuring exposed brick walls, and less than twenty nondescript wooden tables and six plain bar stools, Mena’s is an ideal homey, comfortable respite from the boisterous scene just outside its front door.

Frequently filled with locals chowing down on their lunch breaks, Mena’s also attracts tourists with their reasonable prices and big menu bursting with rich soul food and Creole favorites – all made with a distinctive Greek accent. Owner and chef Leo Christakis whips up different fresh specials every day except Sunday, while his daughter, Ellie, manages Mena’s staff of accommodating, devoted employees (most of whom have been with Mena’s for years). Christakis personally creates varieties
of tangy seafood gumbo, fried spicy catfish or oyster po’boys on thick fresh rolls, and a satisfying red beans and rice with sausage. The Greece influence shows up in items like the chicken gyro, two different Greek salads and special seasonings. Menu favorites include Cajun tasso, a homemade delicately seasoned ham that is intensely smoked overnight, and chicken fried steak with a side of fiery jalapeno fries.

For those craving a classic southern breakfast, Mena’s does not disappoint. Eggs and egg omelettes are always served with creamy grits, a fresh biscuit, hash browns or toast. Also available to round out the meal are sides of spicy sausage, ham and bacon. In a nutshell, Mena’s is an authentic breakfast or lunch spot for those budget-conscious visitors seeking a quick meal and speedy service with a generous spicy helping of that famous NOLA Southern hospitality.

 

 

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