In town for a few days for the first time in many years, I wanted to try some of the places I ate at in my old student-days as well as a couple newer ones. The following is geared to the first-timer on a budget:
Palace Cafe Jazz Brunch: A very nice experience for the great ambience and lively music, though the menu indicates the food is more imaginative at other meals here. For appetizers, the green gumbo soup special tasted like somebody poured battery acid in it, and the bananas foster beignets were forgettable - choose other items. The entrees, lyonnaise fish with poached eggs and chicken pontalba, were much better. For dessert my wife ordered creme brulee, which I ordinarily disdain as glorified pudding, but this one was done perfectly. The lemon linzer torte was also terrific.
Acme Oyster House: Fantastic Oyster Poor Boy and good Dixie draft (though flat). I could eat this for lunch every day. Passed on the raw oysters - if I'm going to risk my digestive tract, I'll take raw clams, which have a better flavor IMO. Based on the Poor Boy, they are no doubt very good, though.
The Gumbo Shop: The Bourbon chicken was by far the best of the dishes we tried here. Except for dessert, the rest of it was mediocre. Rather than the combo plate, in which the flavors run together, stick to one main dish. The fresh chocolate brownie was as good as a brownie gets, the bread pudding was decent.
Johnny's Poor Boy: Truly fabulous biscuits (like the polar bear in the cartoon says of the eskimo's igloo, crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside). Great for a plain breakfast after all the richer food. Also looks good for sandwich lunch or dinner.
Cafe du Monde: Great for people-watching and cafe au lait, but the beignets are no big deal and chicory coffee is not to my taste.
Central Grocery: Because it's there, it wasn't busy, and the counterman was friendly. The muffelata is quite good - my wife, who ordinarily dislikes olives, liked it even more than I, who prefers a crustier bread.
Sated, I also stopped at Mother's just to see the place - looks good!
Commander's Palace: As I've posted elsewhere, their lunch is an all-time bargain - App and entree choices for under $15 total and very nice 25-cent martinis. The greeting is warm, the service is friendly and attentive without being overbearing, the ambience is unpretentious though refined, and the food is outstanding. The kitchen is open and the upstairs garden room, as well as the main room, are very nice. The turtle soup was especially good, and the gumbos were also outstanding. Lamb and pork entrees are especially recommended. The spicing of their dishes I find just right - not too mild or hot, with an appropriate depth of flavor. I liked the great pecan pie ala mode even more than their famous bread pudding souffle.
I passed on some of my old spots: Bon Ton (no big deal) and Brennan's breakfast (overpriced poached eggs and bananas foster, a good dessert anyone can easily make at home in 5 minutes at 1/10th the price without all the flaming show-biz.) Also all Emeril's places - I find it hard to believe anybody who makes such bad food on TV can have a good restaurant :-)
So it's apparently true you can't get a really bad meal here, except the lunch on the steamboat ride looked pretty nasty.
Next time: Galatoire's, Brigtsen's (their early-bird sounds great for cheapskates like me), Herbsaint, Mr. B's, Mother's, maybe Bayona and even Emeril's, and more.