With Jazz Fest beginning this week, New Orleans will fill with music lovers and live music will greet them everywhere around town, from the stages at the Fair Grounds to clubs, theaters and all manner of venues where acts are often double- or even triple-booked this time of year.
Meanwhile, at Live Oak Cafe, a little banjo with your breakfast or ragtime with your lunch is just business as usual.
A fixture of the Carrollton neighborhood for years, this cafe at the corner of Oak and Dublin streets was long known as the Oak Street Cafe. Last year, new owners took over and renamed it Live Oak Cafe. After a winter hiatus for some extensive renovations, it reopened this month with an expanded dining room, a made-from-scratch menu for breakfast and lunch, and an eclectic roster of live music for the morning and early afternoon.
Fashioning itself as the quirky little sister of the ever-popular New Orleans jazz brunch, Live Oak Cafe provides emerging and under-the-radar musicians with a place to strut their stuff seven days a week.
“I try to provide something that you can’t get anywhere else,” said Jason van Ness, the music coordinator for Live Oak Cafe. “A lot of these musicians, their acts are just so interesting, but they just don’t fit in any other location. They’re so different. I try to give them a spot to where they can have their own creative outlet and do what they want to do.”
The diversity of stylings gives regulars an ever-changing soundtrack to accompany their sausage and eggs.
“No act repeats anytime in a month, and I don’t give anyone residencies or anything like that,” van Ness said. “You never really know what to expect when you come up here. I have barbershop quartets booked and steel drum players booked; today we just had an amazing vibraphonist who was in town. Things are always little bit different.”
In the coming weeks, a flamenco guitarist, a Jamaican soul band and an Indian sarod player all will ply the restaurant’s black-and-white tiled floors between the regularly scheduled hours of 10 a.m. and 1 p.m.
“I have a guy who is covered in tattoos with a handlebar moustache who dresses like a clown and gets a tattoo while singing Italian opera coming in,” van Ness said with a laugh. “He gets a tattoo live onstage while singing opera with the most beautiful string section behind him you’ve ever heard.”
While the cafe keeps tightlipped about any potential special acts during Jazz Fest, van Ness strongly hinted at the possibility of some surprise appearances.
“I would say, week to week, we have 90 percent local artists. If we have some folks coming through town who are really interesting, I’ll book them, but it’s mainly local people,” he said. “During Jazz Fest, it’s definitely a time of the day when other venues aren’t open to artists, so you’ll just have to stop by and see, maybe, who’s here.”
As the performance roster has grown more diverse, the menu at Live Oak Cafe also has grown and kept up with the times.
Locally sourced ingredients anchor the menu, and eco-friendly practices like recycling and composting are part of both the restaurant’s values and normal operating procedures.
Early birds arriving before 9:30 a.m. are privy to generous breakfast deals, like egg and cheese biscuits or a pair of eggs over cheese grits for $3.50. Play the “sweet tooth wild card” option when ordering pancakes and the kitchen will exercise its daily whim of sugary bliss on top of a short stack, like the recent addition of peaches and cream. House-made sausage patties shine with a sweet-spicy kick.
Lunch presents familiar favorites with inventive twists, including a vegetable sandwich with feta-herb spread and a daily-changing “seasonal surprise.”
“We’re creating a uniquely New Orleans experience,” van Ness said. “There isn’t another restaurant that’s doing what we’re doing in terms of music and food in the morning. You have a few breakfast places, but no one uses all the fresh ingredients and artists. It’s a totally different vibe.”