As Super Bowl XLVII rolls into town within days of Mardi Gras, things are getting quite “festive” here. These two great waves of celebration, in such proximity, seem to combine for a perfect storm of partying, and no one throws a party like the city of New Orleans.
So, if you’ve come to town to get swept up in football and floats and everything that comes with the festivities, we hope you’ve brought an appetite, because, as everyone knows, cuisine in the Big Easy is a Big Deal.
Maybe you’ve scanned the guidebooks and the Internet for the best places to eat in New Orleans, and it’s difficult to go wrong. However, with the crowds surging, getting a table at famous establishments like Galatoire’s or Arnaud’s will certainly be a challenge.
Instead, take a tip from the natives, and check out some laid-back options that will ensure you get your fill of Crescent City cuisine in fine local fashion, even in a city besieged by revelers.
‘Oyster’ spelled with an ‘E’
At this time if year, the crawfish are just starting to come in, but “erstah” season is in full-on, splendid effect.
Louisiana oysters are world-renowned for their generous size, cleanliness, slight mineral flavor and friendly prices.
And while we love the old-school bivalve bastions of the French Quarter, we’re not crazy about the lines — especially during “Super-Gras.”
Instead, hop the streetcar and take a scenic ride all the way down St. Charles Avenue past the Garden District, Audubon Park and Tulane and Loyola universities, to Cooter Brown’s (509 S. Carrollton Ave.), where the oysters are big and cold, the beer selection is vast, and someone is always up for a game of 8-ball.
Get lucky in the Quarter
If you’re living it up in the French Quarter, chances are pretty good you might have a late night, and you might need some midnight sustenance to keep you going.
When that happens, we suggest you bypass the famous street-corner hot dog carts and seek out Verti Marte (1201 Royal St.), where you you’ll find one of the city’s very best fried shrimp po-boys at a deli counter in the back, behind the cramped aisles filled with groceries, well into the deep hours of the night.
Also catering to the late night hordes of hungry partiers is local favorite Coop’s Place (1109 Decatur St.), which specializes in New Orleans favorites like red beans and rice, po-boys and gumbo, and a rabbit and sausage jambalaya that is, quite simply, one of the finest examples of that dish in the city.
It’s a dark place, filled with boozy, loud locals and video poker machines and excellent food; basically, everything New Orleans is about.
Beignets out of this ‘Monde’
Cafe au lait and hot beignets, under a snowy mountain of powdered sugar, are, quite rightly, a New Orleans classic.
It’s a beloved, historic combination, enjoyed by locals just as much as — if not more than — by visitors to the Crescent City.
Still, getting a table at Cafe du Monde can be tricky this time of year. We suggest heading down to the foot of Canal Street, in Mid-City (another great streetcar ride), to the city’s newest temple of coffee and doughnuts: Morning Call Coffee Stand.
Located in the City Park Casino, the beignets are easily on par with their cousins in the French Quarter, with the added bonus of being nestled on the grounds of the city’s biggest and most gorgeous public park, where you can walk off your breakfast and enjoy the massive live oak trees elegantly crowned with Spanish moss.
History in a glass
Looking for a bit of history with your cocktail? Not surprisingly, New Orleans is near-drowning in historical haunts, the most popular of which may be Pat O’Brien’s and its famous hurricanes.
Again, while we enjoy Pat O’s, it’s clearly going to get a little crazy when the party tide starts to roll in. Instead, we enjoy getting a table in the courtyard at the Napoleon House (500 Chartres St.), which in 1821 was offered by the mayor of New Orleans, Nicholas Girod, to accommodate Napoleon Bonaparte, should he ever make it out of exile.
Their famous Pimm’s Cup, a classic, citrusy cocktail garnished with a fresh cucumber slice, is the perfect antidote to a long day of wandering about the streets of the Big Easy.
Scott Gold can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.