Any time you visit the French Quarter Festival, it’s always a good idea to come hungry. This year, it will help to be curious too.
That’s because this edition, April 7-10, includes an unprecedented number of new food options interspersed across the various festival food courts, with the likes of alligator chili Frito pie, gumbo-topped hot dogs and jerk chicken tacos joining the line-up.
Some longtime vendors have added new dishes, and nearly a dozen new vendors will make their French Quarter Festival debut. These range broadly across the New Orleans dining landscape, from established names like Andrea’s Restaurant in Metairie to Whoo Doo BBQ, a new barbecue joint that set up shop just last year.
There’s an entirely new food area at the festival this year, located by the stage at Spanish Plaza near the Outlet Collection at the Riverwalk. A few food trucks will be serving on site for the first time, and some operators of other food trucks from the city’s mobile dining circuit have also joined the ranks of food vendors (working from stands at the festival instead of their trucks). There’s even a well-known food fixture from the city’s second line parade scene, Miss Linda Green, a.k.a. “the Yakamein Lady.”
The food component of the French Quarter Festival has always had a significant ebb and flow. In fact, more than half of the 60 or so vendors participating this year have joined since 2012.
Last year was a challenging one for the festival, with inclement weather over the city for much of the event. Attendance, which hit 732,000 in 2014, was nearly halved to an estimated 386,000 in 2015.
In any year, some vendors will give the festival experience a try and opt not to return. But there is also always a waiting list of others interested when a spot opens, said Georgia Rhody, food and beverage manager for French Quarter Festival. The festival, which prides itself on hosting the “world’s largest jazz brunch” across its many food booths, assesses new vendors through a selection committee (dubbed the “Jazz Brunch Committee”).
Another distinctive feature to French Quarter Festival food is the emphasis on restaurants, rather than caterers or dedicated event vendors. That gets back to the roots of the festival, which was first conceived to lure locals back to the French Quarter after a round of disruptive infrastructure work in the old neighborhood, part of the city’s lead-up to hosting the World’s Fair in `1984.
“We try to make it restaurant focused, that’s why the name of the restaurant is on prominent display, not necessarily the dish,” said Rhody. “We highlight the business where this comes from, so that as people sample around if they like something they can find it again after the festival is over and support that business.”
For festival goers interested in trying something new, the event could add up to one long string of appetizing auditions.
For a full list of food and beverage vendors, click here.
What follows is a guide to new vendors this year, where to find them and what they’re serving:
At the Old U.S. Mint
A year-old grilled cheese specialist with locations in Mid-City, the French Quarter and Kenner.
The Juice: grilled cheese sandwich with roast beef debris and grilled green peppers $5
The Crawgator: grilled cheese sandwich with alligator crawfish sausage and green peppers $5
Tomato basil soup $4
Combo: original grilled cheese with soup $9
Part of the city’s new waterfront revival, a traditional seafood restaurant along the lake.
Crab cake $7
BBQ shrimp stuffed po-boy $6
Chicken pasta $5
At the Riverfront (Aquarium Plaza)
A modern Cajun restaurant led by chef Nathan Richard in the French Quarter.
Blackened shrimp and grits with piquant chili butter $8
Alligator chili Frito pie $8
At Jax Brewery
A famous purveyor of the city’s distinctive street food soup.
Beef yakamein $7
Shrimp and beef yakamein $8
Fried pork chop sandwich $6
A new food truck from the famous New Orleans food brand.
Zatarain’s jambalaya $7
Alligator sausage po-boy $8
Thin fried catfish with dirty rice $7
Dirty rice fritters $6
A popular Magazine Street taqueria and bar.
Brisket taco 2 for $7
Jerk chicken taco 2 for $7
Curry shrimp rundown $7
Near the Natchez Riverboat Wharf
A mobile espresso bar in a vintage French work van.
Cold brew coffee with chicory $5
Iced cafe au lait $6
Iced mocha or vanilla bean latte $7
Frozen crush (espresso, beans, cold brew, chocolate) $9
At Spanish Plaza
(note: this is a new food area with all new vendors)
A stand at St. Roch Market for new twists on local flavors.
Dirty mac and cheese $7
Chef Andrea Apuzzo’s longtime Italian restaurant in Metairie.
Eggplant crab cake meuniere $8
Crawfish ravioli $8
Crabmeat ravioli $8
A food truck (here working from a booth) for creative hot dogs.
Étouffée chili “dawg” $7
Gumbo “dawg” $7
Crabmeat grilled cheesy $7
Combo 2 for $10
A new, New Orleans-style barbecue spot on North Broad Street.
Quarter-rack of ribs $10
Pulled pork on French bread $10
Smoked bacon baked beans $4
Combo: One meat and beans $13
Follow Ian McNulty on Twitter @IanMcNultyNOLA.