Early on Saturday, the French Quarter will start filling with men and women alike wearing red dresses, while later in the day they’ll be joined by others clad in one interpretation or another of “dirty linen.” The New Orleans Red Dress Run begins at 9 a.m. in Louis Armstrong Park, but it’s not uncommon to see runners (or zigzagging walkers) lurking around Royal Street for Dirty Linen Night, the annual gallery opening and art walk that begins at 6 p.m. Whether you plan on doing one event, or both, the bottom line is this: It will be a long day, so you’d better eat.
Fortunately, the downtown area boasts early morning eateries to provide the pre-race nourishment. If you’re craving a late-night bite after the evening art stroll, stop by a restaurant that features small plates. They are perfect for sharing with friends. And given the eventful day, you will likely have lots to talk about.
Over easy, on the go
Let’s begin with breakfast. It is no secret that the Ruby Slipper is a mecca for outstanding morning meal options. On any given day, each of their four locations is packed. To understand the surging popularity, just look at the menu.
The hot-smoked salmon Bennie (their take on eggs Benedict) is built on a warm buttermilk biscuit, topped with poached eggs, red onions, capers, and a dill hollandaise sauce. The chicken St. Charles layers crispy chicken breast and poached eggs over a biscuit, smothered in a tasso cream sauce.
Lisa Miller, the general manager of the Canal Street location, is especially fond of the bananas Foster pain perdu (French toast with rum-flambéed bananas and raisins), which comes with a side of applewood-smoked bacon. The Ruby Slipper, which clearly stands by the theory that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, also serves strong, locally roasted French Truck Coffee.
This is the first year the new Canal Street location will be open for Red Dress Run, and Miller said her staff is bracing for the crowds.
“We expect it to be crazy,” she said.
In the core of the French Quarter, the Grill offers breakfast classics, like eggs any style, creamy grits, crispy hash browns, and hot pancakes. The chef’s omelet includes turkey bacon, ham, potato chunks, and onions, along with Swiss and American cheese, topped with spicy chili.
While these breakfast items will boost your athletic endurance, the lively atmosphere alone serves as a wake-up call. Originally opened as an extension of the famous Camellia Grill diner from the Riverbend (the name has since changed), the setting here is a familiar open design with clattering pots and pans in motion and affable cooks and waiters swapping jokes with diners propped on bar stools next to the marble countertop. Customers can get a glimpse of the action taking place inside the kitchen and outside on Chartres Street. The street scene on Saturday morning will surely be sight to behold.
“The Red Dress Run brings lots of people into the French Quarter,” said Ronald Jaeger, owner of the Grill. “You can’t help but notice all of the red dresses and those hairy legs.”
Down river a bit, closed to Esplanade Avenue, EnVie Espresso Bar & Café offers an array of morning fare, like a bagel and lox plate, veggie wraps (breakfast meats can be added), along with a sirloin steak and egg platter that comes with crispy hash browns.
Rushing to get to the Red Dress Run? This quirky coffee shop offers breakfast in a go cup (yes, your entire meal, stacked in portable container). If you are not a breakfast person but want to put a little something in your belly before sipping libations, try one of their fresh baked almond croissants or cranberry scones.
EnVie also serves liquor-infused coffee concoctions. An Irish Cream coffee, a raspberry schnapps mocha, or a “white Rushin’” will undoubtedly rev the engine for the Red Dress Run.
Over in the Marigny, the recently opened Horn’s restaurant has already become a hot spot for early risers. Owner Kappa Horn, who also runs Slim Goodies in Uptown, presents innovative breakfast options, such as French toast with grilled peaches, topped with sweet kettle corn, and caramel sauce.
As for beverages, Horn recommends the chilled blueberry and watermelon blend, which provides the perfect base for a dash of tequila or an ample dose of champagne. She notes that anyone who shows up at Horn’s (or Slim Goodies), wearing a red dress, gets a 10 percent discount on their meal this Saturday.
Galleries, then gastronomy
Later in the day, after the town has been painted red, an artsy crowd will commandeer the French Quarter. Dirty Linen Night takes place from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Royal Street, where art galleries welcome merrymakers with wine and spirits. Snacks are often served, but if you are searching for a late-night bite, you have many options, including some new ones this year.
“We’re looking forward to a later crowd — people who have been out all day and having fun, sort of letting loose after they have checked out the galleries on Royal Street,” said Natalie Secco, the general manager of Meauxbar. “We have a good menu for people who want to show up and order a few things for sharing.”
A longtime neighborhood favorite, this small, European-inspired bistro reopened in May with new ownership and a sleek new look. It also has a new menu, created by chef Kristen Essig, featuring more options for small plates than traditional entrees. Secco recommends the cheese plate, along with the beef tartare and chicken liver mousse. The escargot — marinated in a mixture of vermouth, shallot and thyme butter, tucked into a chunk of bone marrow, and accompanied by slices of toasted baguettes — is an especially delicious dish, along with the pork belly and crispy scallops.
Just a block away, Marti’s, which opened last fall in the space that was once Peristyle, will serve a variety of fancy bites from the bar — from marinated Mediterranean olives and Marcona almonds, to spicy Spanish-style pork meatballs, garnished with toasted almonds and aged sheep’s milk cheese.
Chris Banks, the general manager of Marti’s, recommends the blue crab claws, which are sautéed in garlic, lemon-butter, chili flakes and sea salt, along with the house-made pork shoulder rillettes. He notes that during happy hour (5 p.m. to 7 p.m.) drinks are half price.
The bar section of Marti’s, which is situated at the entrance of the restaurant, is characterized by slow-spinning fans, suspended from high ceilings, and the illustrious mural of the City Park Peristyle. Grab a stool and enjoy a break from the typical hustle and bustle of the French Quarter.
South of Bourbon Street, SoBou presents exotic small plates and “snacky things” created by chef Juan Carlos Gonzalez, who is originally from Puerto Rico. The tropical influence is apparent in signature dishes like shrimp and tasso pinchos, protruding from a slice of grilled pineapple, and the yellowfin tuna en escabache, topped with grilled red onions, pickled fennel, and citrus. The tiny yellowfin tuna cones, which look and taste a little bit like dessert, are also popular. And they are just plain cute.
“We mostly feature small plates, but the whole idea behind the menu is to encourage sharing and trying a bunch of things, so we do have some family-style options as well,” said Patrick DiFilippo, the restaurant manager and sommelier.
Cosimo’s Bar on Burgundy takes traditional pub grub to a new level. Open late, the kitchen serves gourmet pizzas, hefty sandwiches, and appetizers with an Asian twist. This funky neighborhood bar is favored by French Quarter residents, including artist Emile Rhys, who described Cosimo’s as “a destination place.”
On Decatur Street, near Esplanade Avenue, Cane & Table features a rustic, Caribbean-inspired décor and a diverse menu. Small plates include crispy rum ribs, ceviche served with a side of fried plantains, and blue crab Rangoon.
Nick Detrich, the managing partner of Cane & Table, recommends the three-pea hummus with yucca chips and the fried Louisiana pickle plate with fig mustard.
With its charming indoor and outdoor seating areas, Cane & Table can accommodate an ample crowd of people. This Saturday will be no exception.
“We’re expecting to have a fair amount of folks for Dirty Linen Night,” said Detrich. “But don’t anticipate a long wait for a table.”