For a foodie, few interludes are more pleasurable than five days in New Orleans. The raw materials, particularly seafood, are outstanding; the quality level of the cooking is extremely high, even in the most modest establishments; best of all, prices are reasonable, at least compared to the six boroughs (the sixth, of course, being South Florida). With the exception of dive bars, you can pretty much stumble in anywhere and get a good meal—and you probably won’t go too far wrong in some of the raunchier watering holes, either.
Here’s a quick roundup of some casual spots worth checking out:
DEANIE’S SEAFOOD, 841 Iberville St.: The original Deanie’s was founded in Bucktown, a fishing village in Metairie, in 1961. The French Quarter outpost is a large, sprawling place that does not accept reservations, but serves some of the most authentic Creole cooking around. If you can never get enough crawfish (and who can?), try their Crawfish Quartet prepared four different ways—etoufée, au gratin, fried tails and crawfish dressing balls (basically a fritter).
LE BAYOU, 208 Bourbon St.: An oasis in the madness of the French Quarter, Le Bayou serves “true new Orleans cookin’” with understated style. Half the dining room is taken up by oyster bars, always a good sign. I had a piece of blackened redfish here that was a thing of beauty—supremely fresh, perfectly prepared, moist and juicy.
CAFÉ DU MONDE, 800 Decatur St.: A mandatory stop for coffee and beignets. There are now three cafes and eight stands in the metropolitan area, but this is the original location, dating to 1862—a large, open-air terrace covered by a canopy, serenaded by street musicians at most hours. The coffee is still served with chicory, and the beignets are light, fluffy and sinful, smothered in a small mountain of powdered sugar.
CRIOLLO RESTAURANT AND LOUNGE, 214 Royal St. (in the Hotel Monteleone): An elegant room with an open kitchen and good service. Highlights included a flavorful Crawfish Bisque and an interesting, impressionistic Shellfish Panzanella.
DICKIE BRENNAN’S STEAKHOUSE, 716 Iberville St.: Okay, it’s not causal, but it’s awfully good. I was fortunate to be invited to the 40th anniversary dinner of the Sidney Frank Importing Company, held in a private room, with designer cocktails paired to each course. If you want casual, there’s a long and friendly bar you can eat at, with a stunning selection of Bourbon.
ACME OYSTER HOUSE, 724 Iberville St.: If you have the patience to wait in the long, snaking line, this is the place to go for a Po’ Boy. Eighteen different varieties are offered, but the headliner is the Peace Maker (golden fried oysters and shrimp, dressed with Tabasco-infused mayo).