Readers write to me about lots of stuff, but I probably get more questions about New Orleans than anything else. My father and step-mother have lived outside the French Quarter since I was eleven so I’ve spent plenty of time there and written about it quite a bit, too. But it’s been awhile, and new hotels and restaurants are popping up all over the place. Spring and fall are the best times to go, so if you’re thinking about a trip or heading down for Jazz Fest, I’ve updated my lists.
When I’m not staying at my dad’s (allergic to his dogs), I’ve lately been staying at the Old No 77 Hotel. I still count the Soniat House as a favorite, but if you’re on the hunt for something a little less dear, this is your spot. It’s an old warehouse turned into loft-style rooms, complete with vintage floorboards, giant windows and brick walls. The decor runs a bit mid-century, but the rooms are simple and spacious. The hotel houses the very buzzy restaurant Compere Lapin, which is lively and crowded for dinner and leisurely at lunch. Breakfast is a daily treat of cappuccino and freshly-baked pastries (both sweet and savory) and the lobby is a fun place to hang, either at the communal table with your computer for a few hours of work, or plotzed on the cozy couches. It’s well located, smack in the middle of the Arts District, with plenty of museums and restaurants, plus the French quarter is a very easy stroll away.
The freshly revamped Ponchartrain Hotel in the Garden District is a MUST SEE, and you will definitely find me here on my next visit. This historic hotel, where Tennsee Williams apparently penned Streetcar Named Desire, is now a send up of it’s 40’s roots, a cool combo of jungle chic and deco. The restaurants are managed by the James Beard award-winning chef John Besh and if breakfast at the classic Silver Whistle Cafe was any indication, I can’t wait to try the others. Don’t miss the pecan waffle or cheddar biscuit with sugar-cured ham and tomato jam, and finish off with a slice of their famous Mile-High Ice Cream Pie with hot fudge drizzled tableside. The main restaurant, The Caribbean Room, is hugely popular (and very expensive by New Orleans standards) and was booked solid when we were there. I peeked in at the bar and restaurant, and it’s straight out of a 1940’s movie. Catch an artisanal cocktail at the Hot Tin Roof for panoramic views of the city. Midweek rates start at $143 but climb to double that most weekends.
Shaya is rated as one of the best restaurants in the U.S. but you won’t find gumbo on the menu. And it’s not what most tourists seek, but you won’t be sorry to skip Creole and Cajun for a night once you snag a reservation here (and they are NOT easy to come by). New Orleanians flock in droves for Alon Shaya’s fresh take on Mediterranean fare. We barely got past the pita! Perfect pillows of the stuff emerge from the wood-fired oven often enough to keep you well stocked as you dip them into myriad versions of hummus and tabbouleh like you’ve never had before. But try to save room for the slow-cooked lamb, a crispy, savory, slightly sweet concoction served with whipped feta and pomegranate sauce. I was completely wowed.
There are plenty of restaurants doing fresh takes on classic New Orleans cooking, but Balise is a standout. Justin Devillier of the renowned La Petite Grocery and James Beard Award finalist opened this cozy, classic and almost minimalist spot in a 19th Century townhouse in the Central Business District. Head here for Gulf Shrimp Pan Roast, Pickled Quail Eggs, or even a burger. It’s easy to cobble together a fantastic meal from the apps, snacks and sides, if you’re looking for something lighter, but I went all in with flaky biscuits with chicken liver mousse and strawberry preserves.
Can’t bear the line (or the inevitable afternoon nap afterward) at Mother’s? Head to Willa Jean, a delicious and delightful breakfast spot for classics like crawfish and grits, or lighter fare like the ubiquitous avocado toast. Nope, actually don’t. The thing to eat here is biscuit anything (cheddar pretzel? yes, please) and wash it down with a boozie slushy. Grab some of the gorgeous home baked breads and pastries to go, too.
Press Street Station
This is an unusual cafe located at the intersection of the Bywater and Marigny neighborhoods and housed inside the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts Institute (NOCCA). The chef here hails from a favorite restaurant, Maurepas, now sadly closed. These days he’s teaching high school kids how to cook and Press Street Station is the result. We had a ridiculously yummy brunch in the sunny room of gulf shrimp and grits, Bywater Bennie, and pancakes with Steen’s syrup. Worth the detour and your meal here supports this tuition-free arts conservatory.
Click below for more articles on New Orleans:
New Orleans Eat & Drink – old school favorites and new school eats.
An Unusual New Orleans AirBNB
My parents live in a historic 1890’s Greek Revival mansion, on Esplanade Avenue halfway between the French Quarter and City Park. If you’d enjoy an authentic taste of New Orleans in a home bursting with antiques and art, you might like the Mimosa Suite which is available on AirBNB. Large private claw-footed bath (no shower), pool, private 2nd story balcony, and bikes. Unique and quirky. Close to Jazz Fest grounds and the adorable Pagoda Cafe.