The new year is upon us, and with it the customary food and dining ideas for a healthy start. Don’t look for any of that here.
Instead, I bring you burgers and barbecue, chicken wings and tacos and boudin and pizza for a long holiday weekend with lots of football.
New Year’s falls smack in the middle of a majestic run for football fans. The college playoffs are here, the Allstate Sugar Bowl is in our Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Friday, and many other bowl games dot the TV schedule. And if the Saints manage to win Sunday and sweep the Falcons, maybe this desultory season will have a mark of grace after all.
The mainline sports bars will be busy, and of course the convergence of the holiday and the Sugar Bowl means downtown around the Dome will be packed.
That’s fine, but there are other options. The spots below are each good for watching a game, with many TVs tuned to sports. But they aren’t typical sports bars. They’re off the beaten path for visitors, they serve bar food at least a few rungs up from the standard and some (as noted) are even family-friendly.
‘Que with a (TV) view
3001 Tchoupitoulas St., 504-301-0117
The new NOLA Brewing Tap Room is a beer lover’s clubhouse extending over two floors with booths downstairs, a patio upstairs with a river view and some real exotic brews on tap. McClure’s Barbecue provides the food -- with traditional platters, burgers, smoked wings, and smoked meat nachos or poutine. Potential downside: the tap room serves only beer, plus soft drinks. Definite upside: that beer, made on premises, is fresh as can be and poured in copious variety (note: closed Jan. 1 for a private event).
3000 Dryades St., 504- 875-2876
Black Label Icehouse is an unexpected find deep in this stretch of Central City, with local beers on tap, iced tubs of longnecks, a small stage for bands and TVs everywhere. The smoker out front supplies the kitchen with Texas-style brisket and other meats, augmented by a barbecue burger, “crack poppers” (smoked candied bacon and cream cheese stuffed in jalapenos) and smoked chicken wings.
If you’re babysitting…
244 W. Harrison Ave. 504-309-8767
You can keep an eye on the game at the Backyard from the bar, from the dining room, from the patio and even from the playground. Yes, the playground. The Backyard, which opened in Lakeview last spring, was conceived with families in mind, especially those inclined to let the kids romp in the fenced play area while the adults relax. If you’re in charge of babysitting during bowl season, this could be a clutch play. The open kitchen makes smoky chicken wings, muffuletta-style deviled eggs (stuffed with olives and salami), and an assortment of sandwiches led a burger built from two slim, griddled patties with cheese over the top and in between, which gets a nice golden crust along the way.
4725 Freret St., 504-322-2815
Midway has the draft beer selection of a serious beer bar, nice wines, and pizza unlike anywhere else in the city. These are deep dish pies, major undertakings for a table to work through over the course of, say, a quarter of football. There are good sight lines around the room to the bar-mounted TVs, and as a pizzeria it is family-friendly.
440 S. St. Patrick St., 504-483-2517
For Ohio State fans, this tucked-away corner bar is home away from home, as the hub of the Cajun Buckeyes alumni club. This bowl season, the Yacht Club (note: it’s not really a yacht club) also hosts alumni club parties for Penn State and Michigan State. For anyone, though, it makes an especially good perch for games, with an impressive array of screens in different settings (the bar, the patio, a semi private back room). And it has one of the more interesting bar food menus in town, with Buffalo-style frog legs, shrimp and grits made into croquettes, steamed mussels, crawfish fries, and even a platter of raw vegetables, cheese and hummus that can feel downright virtuous.
8124 Oak St., 504-324-6558
This is the beer and brown liquor haven related to the wine bar Oak just next door, and while it’s a tavern Ale shares some of Oak’s clean-lined style. The menu is long on variety and unique twists. Try the fried tofu tacos (even if you’re not a vegetarian), the lamb sliders or the mini bagels made into three-bite pizzas with spicy sauce, salami and bits of andouille. The sight lines are good, with many large outdoor TVs in the courtyard, and there’s the potential to tap the wine list at Oak for a change of flavor.
1510 S. Carrollton Ave., 504-510-4040
Bourrée by Boucherie isn’t quite a bar, and it’s not really a restaurant. Instead, it’s part retail butcher shop, part daiquiri stop and part snack bar, from chef Nathanial Zimet and the crew next door at Boucherie. With a few booths and high-top tables and some flat screens on the walls, it can also feel like an off-the-grid den for games. Wings and boudin (both traditional and original) anchor the menu, which adds fries, pork rinds and boiled peanuts to the Cajun-style snacks. It’s a good call for butcher shop items to go too, if you’re watching at home (note: closed Jan. 1).
3021 St. Claude Ave., 504-272-0205
This bar is run by the same crew behind the French Quarter’s famed Molly’s at the Market renown. This explains for the appearance of Molly’s signature frozen Irish coffee at Junction, and even the walk-up sidewalk counter feels like a nod to Decatur Street. But Junction has its own style – namely a Deco rail road motif - and stakes its own claim with an impressive selection of 40 drafts and a specialty burger menu. They start with grass-fed beef from the owners’ family ranch upriver in in St. Amant, La.. They’re mid-sized and succulent without being too greasy, served without fuss from the bar alongside fries and wings. Junction has just a few TVs but the setting is a good one to settle in with a spread of bar food and a sampling from the taps.
714 1st St., Gretna, 504-325-5530
This cross-river expansion of Jefferson’s popular road house tavern and music venue has more of a sports bar feel, with many TVs inside and on the ground floor patio. Another key different at this new location in old Gretna is the second rooftop patio, for a view of the city and perhaps a chance to cool off if your team isn’t doing well. The menu is the same as the original Rivershack, with burgers and po-boys and lots of bar snacks to the tune of Buffalo shrimp and fried pickles.
509 S. Carrollton Ave., 504-866-9104
This Riverbend watering hole has long been a crossroads for fans of different teams, and not necessarily the local ones, with TVs everywhere. New owners took over earlier this year (including proprietors and bartenders from downtown’s Rusty Nail), but they have taken a very gradual approach to any changes. That means the kitchen still grills and fries up its huge selection of specialty sandwiches and po-boys, and the oyster bar still keeps the raw dozens coming.
Follow Ian McNulty on Twitter @IanMcNultyNOLA.