While the beach may beckon on a hot holiday weekend, budgets or time constraints can put a trip down the coast out of reach. But the growing ranks of waterfront venues closer to home provides an increasingly viable plan B for a view of blue water, a chance for cool breezes and that change of scenery that can feel so restorative.
Some of these are full-fledged restaurants, others are bars with food. All offer more than just a nice water view — which is rare enough in an area of levees and floodwalls — but also actual direct water access, and all should be hopping this weekend.
Many have live music or DJs and some will expand their entertainment schedules for Labor Day weekend (and one even has a seaplane option in the mix).
Good Times on the Tchefuncte
Along the Tchefuncte River, the picturesque town of Madisonville was hard hit by Hurricane Isaac in 2012, but today, the riverfront area feels vibrant.
The biggest change has been the transformation of Friends Coastal Restaurant (407 St. Tammany St., Madisonville, (985) 246-3370; geauxfriends.com). What had been a rambling old eatery was rebuilt and reopened this spring as a huge, multifaceted restaurant and events hall, festooned with decks and outdoor bars and looking a little like a cruise ship permanently docked beside the riverfront oaks. The bar area beneath the elevated restaurant has a stage and even a sandy playground for kids. Over Labor Day weekend, the main dining room serves its usual menu (grilled redfish, seafood platters, “buffaleaux shrimp,” etc.), while the downstairs bar area will have grills going for hamburgers, hot dogs, sizzling oysters and other fare.
Just down the river, meanwhile, Morton’s Seafood Restaurant (702 Water St., Madisonville, (985) 200-3382; mortonsseafood.com) feels as classic as ever. This family-friendly bar and grill marked its 30th anniversary in August, and at some point during those years, its flashing sign announcing hot boiled seafood has become something of a navigational beacon for those passing by boat or car. The covered porch and dining room give clear views just across the street to the swing bridge, boat traffic and a screen of oaks.
Between Morton’s and Friends sit two vastly different options for a drink with a view. One is Abita Roasting Co. (504 Water St., Madisonville, (985) 246-3340; abitaroasting.com), a coffeehouse and café with iced coffee on tap, bottled beer in the cooler, a menu of sandwiches and pastry and shaded patio overlooking the river. The other is the Riverside Bar (708 Water St., Madisonville, (985) 845-3731), which has the feel of a roadhouse (21 and older) and a slate of bands on stage.
Across the river, Hook’d Up Bar & Grill, (100 Marina Del Ray Drive, Madisonville, (985) 845-8119) part of the Marina Del Rey complex, is nestled right amid the boat slips. Bands play on the deck, and the kitchen sends out revved-up bar food, like a fried catfish po-boy covered with etouffee and the Hook’d Up Burger stacked with fried jalapenos and onion rings.
Follow Madisonville’s Main Street downriver and around the bend, past what might look like the end of the road, and eventually you come to T Rivers Bar & Grill (1999 Main St., Madisonville, (985) 845-1711; triversbar.com) near the mouth of the Tchefuncte. This bar (21 and older) also saw a major overhaul since Isaac, with two levels of patios and a wrap-around dock, bands and DJs on the schedule and the Gator Shack, a grill for burgers, wraps, boudin balls and snacks. For Labor Day weekend, Southern Seaplanes will be here offering 15-minute air tours for a view from above.
West End, a Little to the East
While Hurricane Katrina whipped away the last vestiges of the old West End, a modern rendition is hitting its stride across the marinas near the New Canal Lighthouse.
Landry’s (8000 Lakeshore Drive, (504) 283-1010; landrysseafood.com), part of the Houston-based seafood restaurant chain, was the only action here for a while, with its huge dining room and broad deck facing the sunset.
More recently, two local concepts emerged more or less at once — Brisbi’s Lakefront Restaurant & Bar (7400 Lakeshore Drive, (504) 304-4125; brisbisrestaurant.com) and the Blue Crab Restaurant & Oyster Bar (7900 Lakeshore Drive, (504) 284-2898; thebluecrabnola.com). Like Landry’s, both were built with the perils of waterfront property in mind — namely, high on pilings. Both also have gamely turned the space this creates underneath their dining rooms into open-air bars and party pavilions right against the docks.
At Brisbi’s, this area is dubbed “the Yat Club,” and on weekends bands take the stage, football fills the TV screens and grills dish out burgers and wings, tuna sandwiches and nachos. Up the canal a bit at Blue Crab, a boat-shaped bar under the rafters dispenses Bushwhackers and other frozen drinks alongside orders of boiled seafood, raw oysters and a build-your-own grilled cheese sandwich option. Both spots have live music this weekend.
Can’t Pass Manchac
The famously thin-fried catfish at Middendorf’s (30160 U.S. 51, Akers, (985) 386-6666; middendorfsrestaurant.com) has long justified the drive out to its secluded location on Pass Manchac, the waterway connecting lakes Pontchartrain and Maurepas. Lately, that location has become more of a lure too, as this 1930s-vintage seafood house has developed a dining deck, a boat dock and even a stretch of man-made beach to make the most of its waterfront spot.
Horst Pfeifer, proprietor here since 2007, previously was chef/owner of the upscale Italian restaurant Bella Luna. It never reopened after Katrina, but starting this week, Pfeifer is bringing back one of his old specialties from those days, serving handmade fettuccine Wednesdays through Fridays as a special during September.
As Labor Day weekend rolls on, Middendorf’s hosts live music on Saturday and Sunday (closed Monday).
Landing in Frenier
Frenier isn’t so much a town as a collection of camps in a little clearing of cypress forest on the lakefront outside of LaPlace. There’s a slip for boaters putting in and a great view for those who just want to hang out.
The recent news from Frenier concerned the impending return of the Crab Trap, a popular boiled seafood joint. That restaurant won’t be open in time for Labor Day, but a second, more elaborate eatery here is primed for a big weekend.
Right next to the boat launch stands Frenier Landing (113 Dottie Lane, LaPlace, (985) 224-2178; frenierlanding.com), which is trimmed in cypress and fishing camp decor and fronted by a spacious elevated deck facing the lake. It’s a full-service, mid-range, family-friendly restaurant with lots of seafood, an oyster bar and specialties like the Oysters Frenier — fried, topped with Brie and set over creamed spinach. Bands perform Friday and Saturday nights (closed Monday).
Follow Ian McNulty on Twitter, @IanMcNultyNOLA.