As much as I crave the food favorites at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, some of the most memorable quick bites I find this time of year always seem to come from the periphery outside the Fair Grounds.
Some of this is the home cooking of enterprising neighbors, working to cash in on the crowds coursing past their porches. I usually manage to find pork chops plucked from the grill and slapped on white bread, pralines wrapped in plastic sandwich bags and lemonade in paper cups (sometimes spiked) and the occassional Jell-O shot. It’s all unsanctioned but always something I look forward to at Jazz Fest time.
The other type comes from neighborhood cafes making the best of a festival rhythm that simultaneously brings tides of people past their doors and disrupts normal business.
Some regulars in my routine are iced coffee from Fair Grinds Coffeehouse; empanadas on the go from Santa Fe; pizza by the slice from a tent by Nonna Mia Café as a brass band lights up Ponce de Leon Street; and a BBQ shrimp po-boy served from a stand behind Liuzza’s by the Track, which functions for the fest like the garage band of Creole cooking.
A little farther out, and new this year, there’s also Pagoda Café (1403 N. Dorgenois St., 504-644-4178; pagodacafe.net). It’s a walk-up, mostly outdoors operation based around a vintage, pagoda-style building serving strong coffee, breakfast tacos, vegetarian banh mi and (in an example of neighborhood synchronicity) sausage rolls made with meats from Terranova’s Supermarket, a nearby Italian family grocery. It’s an easy stop on the way to the fest, or on the way home since the normal breakfast and lunch hours are extended during festival days to 8 p.m.
Wander in a different direction to Pal’s Lounge (949 N. Rendon St., 504-488-7257), where during each Jazz Fest evening the pop-up Indochow will be serving Southeast Asian-style snacks along the lines of tofu spring rolls and pad Thai.
I’m not suggesting anyone skip the food inside Jazz Fest. It’s an essential part of the experience. But on the way in, the locals can help gird you for a long day of fun.
And afterward, as the party unfolds across the Jazz Fest neighborhood, it’s a good idea to keep a little room in the tank for those opportune eats on the street.