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Restaurants & Bars 13

very long - 9 days of (mostly) NOLA eating

msbonne | Dec 23, 200303:01 AM

This message will be long, but I received so much information from posters on this board that I want to provide useful feedback

It was our first trip, and as Western Canadians, we were neophytes about New Orleans cuisine. We arrived on a Tuesday night too late for dinner, so headed for Café du Monde, and inhaled an order of beignets and chicory coffee. The coffee was great, and the beignets hit the spot. We agreed that beignets were a one-time thing – one of those New Orleans “must dos” and we only did them once.

Wednesday morning we had coffee in the Croissant d’Or, which has a charming courtyard. Their chicory coffee was no hell, but the food looked fresh, and was reasonably priced, so we made a note to come back for another visit.

Lunch at Deanie’s recommended by a passerby we asked her for a “local’s” suggestion. Waiter was charming, but room was huge. The potatoes done in the crab boil were a great bread substitute. Had a cup of gumbo, good heat, but a bit too much roux?

Major lesson learned about New Orleans cooking – fried means “deep fried.” Food was very fresh, but a bit too greasy for our tastes.

Back to the Croissant d’Or later to try their espresso (we are coffee-hounds). Espresso was so-so, but bf falling in love with their inner courtyard.

Dinner at Praline Connection in Marigny. I didn’t want to go here, but had to appease bf, whose Fodor’s gave it a star rating. Had a cup of their gumbo, and it was mostly rice. More subtly spiced than Deanie’s, but there were many inedibles in it including a huge chunk of crab shell and some unknown viscera. The rest of my meal (chicken, greens, and a small cup of jumbalaya) was tasty, like good home cooking, and bf’s jambalaya had good flavour. No regrets for trying it, but no regrets for not going back, either.

Thursday was our day to visit NOMA, so we decided to load up on breakfast. Walked from our hotel on Esplanade to Elizabeth’s. This was a lot farther than we’d anticipated, and probably not worth the walk. Food was solid. I had eggs, grits, a biscuit, and a side of their famous praline bacon. Two eggs magically morphed into six, but the biscuit was uninspired, and as this was my only grit-eating experience, I would have preferred something less plain. Far too much food for one meal. The praline bacon was very good, but incongruous with the plain breakfast and the plain room. Bf’s breakfast po’boy was “solid”. We wondered why we’d made the trek, as there must be better breakfast places closer to the FQ.

After NOMA we went to Liuzza’s by the Track for gumbo. This was a standout, and will forever be my gumbo gold standard. Thanks to the chowhound who recommended this place. Just a neighbourhood joint, but some good eating!

Spent a pleasant hour at Fair Grounds Coffee. We both really liked their coffee and the place.

Later that night, still full from Liuzza’s gumbo, we took the streetcar/trolley out to the Camellia Grill for pie. We loved everything about the Camellia Grill, not least our charming waiter, Leon. Darn fine pie, too! This will be one of the first places I visit if I return to NO.

Lunch at Murphy’s Seafood in Hammond on our way out of town. Lots of cars in the parking lot, so we figured it must be reasonably okay. Ordered a crawfish salad, and the crawfish came deep fried. Not my preferred way of eating. Bf ordered seafood penne, and was pleasantly surprised the pasta was al dente, although the sauce was a bit too rich.

Friday dinner in Natchez, MS, at Biscuits and Blues, which I’ll only mention because their biscuits were fantastic. Hot, crispy bits on the underside, and just the right amount of saltiness. Biscuits to die for. Garlic mashed potatoes to die for as well.

Saturday breakfast was leftover ribs, the portions at Biscuits and Blues were so generous.

Saturday dinner at Café des Amis, in BreauxBridge. Delicious half and half salad of grilled (finally figured out how to avoid the deep fryer) gulf shrimp and crawfish. Best shrimp I’ve ever eaten, and loved the crawfish. Bf had crawfish pie, really a puff pastry covered in etouffe sauce, pretty good.

Spent the next day in St. Martinsville. We are convinced there is no decent food to be had in that town.

Had lunch at the local grocers. My “four pieces of alligator with hush puppies” magically turned into 12 baby alligator legs with grease balls. Bf’s crab burger was a bread crumb patty flavoured with crab broth. Locals suggested we eat dinner at Possum’s rather than driving into Breaux Bridge. Our verdict – big mistake. There are some good food opportunities in Breaux Bridge, none that we know of in St. Martinsville. The meal at Possum’s is on my 10-worst meals of my life list. Enough said.

Back in New Orleans on Monday for late lunch at the Gumbo House. This is a solid tourist eatery. Nice enough room. The shrimp in my remoulade were chewy and overcooked. Disappointing after the shrimp at Café des Amis, but the chicken and andouille gumbo was very good. Bf loved his red beans and rice. The smokiness of the sausage had infused beautifully into the beans, and I also thought it was fabulous.

Later that night had really good coffee and a bran muffin at Le Madeleine. Lots of people lined up for desserts. Was surprised at the quality of the muffin, made with care and good ingredients, which I didn’t expect given this bakery’s enviable position vis a vis the tourist traffic.

Tuesday lunch at the Original Italian Pie and Pasta House on Magazine, which magically appeared on our radar when we realized we were starving.,We weren’t expecting much. Our waitress was surly, but she eventually warmed up. The Caesar salad was a pleasant surprise, with just the right amount (lots) of freshly chopped garlic. I had a more than passable shrimp and crawfish po’boy. Bf wasn’t crazy about his pizza, but we put that down to a difference in regional tastes, rather than a problem with ingredients or quality. He liked the TurboDog Abita, which was a good thing, as he’d found the Amber pretty boring.

Made a couple of visits to Community Coffee, which we both liked. Starbucks may have its work cut out getting a toehold in NO, which is not a bad thing at all.

We had a 5:30 reservation at Brigsten’s that night which we didn’t keep. I thought I’d left my camera behind at lunch, and by the time I’d doubled back to check we didn’t have enough time to get back to our hotel to change and be at the restaurant on time. This was a disappointment, and Brigsten’s is on our list for when we return.

Much later we had a cheese and mushroom burgers and fries at the Clover Grill. We thought the staff working there were very sweet, but they didn’t quite have the je ne sais quois of the Camellia Grill. The food was fresh. I have a hamburger about once every 2 years, and was very happy with their burger and their fries, which were obviously made with fresh potatoes.

On our way home we found the Verti Mart in the FQ, which we thought was charming and funky. Had we been staying in NO longer we might have tried their takeout for a lunch.

Our last day we had breakfast at Croissant d’Or and I think the best thing about this place is the courtyard. Coffee is so-so, and the food is middling quality, but reasonably priced.

Lunch at Napoleon House. Another starred eatery in the Fodors for bf. Great ambience, and we loved our waiter who cursed vehemently when he discovered we had food but no implements. We split a boudin starter, served with a Creole mustard and apricot relis which we both liked. I had shrimp Creole, which was just okay and bf had more red beans and rice which he thought were great. Food was not bad, and the place is worth a visit just for what it is.

We had reservations at for an early dinner at Marisol.. We were really looking forward to this, but Marisol failed to impress. The room was nice enough, and it was a cold night so the courtyard was not an option. Still there was something lacking – the linens, tableware, the furnishings and general ambience were all batting around .80 and I wanted 1.0. Our waiter was an aging but still cute surfer boy with a Stanford lope. His service was fine, but I wanted someone more local. The food was, well, unimpressive. The bread was delicious but came with our starters, after we had waited starving for 20 minutes. Bf had the crab and coconut soup which was apparently also delicious. I had the Marisol salad, which was fairly good, but didn’t top the gold standard warm bacon and egg salad I’ve been trying to top for 20 years.

Both our main courses were seriously over-salted, which was a shame. Bf ordered the scallops, which were sweet and plump, but rather scarce, accompanied by a green bean and frisse salad which he found uninspiring and far too salty.

I had a hankering for catfish, but was turned off by the asian fusion approach described in the menu (I live in a city filled with chefs who do asian-themed food very, very well, and it seemed an incongruous offering in New Orleans)

I settled on tilefish, white fish served over a white coleslaw heavy with a rocquefort-type cheese dressing, accompanied by 3 jalapeno hush puppies. The food was artfully arranged, but white fish on a white vegetable accompanied by 3 brown balls was uninspiring. And far, far too salty, to the point where the quality of the ingredients was seriously diminished.

For restaurants like Marisol I have a completely different set of expectations for food, ambience, and service than for local eateries, and Marisol just didn’t live up to my expectations. I feel bad about saying this, because I know Marisol has some serious Chowhound fans. It may be that we visited them on a bad night.

After dinner, we picked up a Muffaletta to go from Frank’s on Decatur, which we planned to eat on the plane. We’d been by Central Grocery earlier in the day, and didn’t think it was all that. I live in a neighbourhood with a dozen Italian delis much like Central Grocery, and while they don’t make “muffs” they aren’t in love with themselves, either.

Last day up at 4:30 am for a 7 am flight home. Cold muffaletta on the plane was pretty boring, though everything was very fresh. The olive salad was really good. Many hours later, finally home, I heated up part of the remaining muffaletta, along with some of the olive salad, which Frank’s had packed separately, and it was fantastic (I was also starving!) Got to get back to New Orleans to have a real muffaletta the right way.

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