The Big Easy, the city synonymous with Mardi Gras, has been a food-focused destination for more than 200 years. In the decade since Hurricane Katrina, the city’s fidelity to fantastic food is evermore present. Chefs have flocked to New Orleans, La. to eat, get inspired and even open up shop.
Ever wonder what it would be like to travel to NOLA as a chef with local chefs guiding the way? Well, we do, so we asked recent visitors to NOLA, Jay Duffley, Executive Chef of Joe Fish Seafood Restaurant and Bar in North Andover, Mass. and North Reading, Mass. and The Loft Steak and Chop House in North Andover, Mass.; Jim Dietz, Sr., owner of Joe Fish Seafood Restaurant and Bar and The Loft Steak and Chop House; and Jimmy Dietz, Jr., Director of Operations at Joe Fish Seafood Restaurant and Bar and The Loft Steak and Chop House, to share their tasting notes and tips on where to eat in NOLA.
For decades, locals and visitors alike have patronized the city’s famous and storied bars, restaurants and cafes, but where are today’s hidden gems, the places where those in the know go? The trio went on countless kitchen tours, discovering new foods and hole-in-the-wall places while eating their way through the city, and shared their insights and insider views with us. Get ready for Southern hospitality and meals you won’t soon forget.
Before pulling up a seat at NOLA’s hidden gems, here is a primer of the NOLA classics that first-timers must visit.
Café Du Monde: The city’s beloved beignet joint has been the place for dark roasted coffee infused with chicory and topped off with steamed milk and beignets, fried, square French-style doughnuts covered in white powdered sugar, served 24/7 since 1862.
Arnaud’s: You can’t leave New Orleans without having a Creole supper at Arnaud Cazenave’s eponymous French Quarter restaurant, which has been serving exceptional Creole food like shrimp Arnaud, Gulf shrimp marinated in Creole remoulade sauce, since 1918.
Galatoire’s: Carrying on the tradition of founder Jean Galatoire, who opened the restaurant on Bourbon Street in 1905, the restaurant is famous for specialties like soufflé potatoes and duck and Andouille gumbo.
Commander’s Palace: An institution in New Orleans, La. that opened in 1880, Chef Tory McPhail sources ingredients from within 100 miles of the restaurant, crafting creative haute Creole dishes.
Napoleon House Bar & Café: The Colonial-era bar is where artists and writers have come for classic cocktails like the Pimm’s Cup (Pimm’s No. 1 and lemonade topped off with 7-Up and garnished with a cucumber) for 200 years.
Carousel Bar: Hotel Monteleone’s bar features the only carousel you need to be 21 years old to ride. The revolving 25-seat bar is a joy to ride as you sip classic cocktails like the Vieux Carré (Bénédictine, Cognac, American rye whiskey, sweet vermouth, Peychaud’s bitters and Angostura bitters), which was created at the legendary hotel in 1939.
Old Absinthe House: A mainstay in the French Quarter for 200 years, you can’t leave NOLA without dropping in for an Absinthe House Frappe (Herbsaint and anisette topped with a splash of soda water) and leaving your business card on the walls of the storied bar.
Now, here are the places where well-connected chefs dine and drink:
Duffley, Dietz, Sr. and Dietz, Jr. were fortunate enough to get a tour of all four of the Dickie Brennan & Company group of restaurants by owner and managing partner Steve Pettus. They were led on a six-plus hour tour of Dickie Brennan & Company’s four restaurants, sampling food and cocktails along with touring the kitchens and restaurants. “Steve was like a walking encyclopedia of food to the ins and outs of how to run successful restaurants to his historical knowledge of NOLA and beyond,” said Duffley.
The setting: The Palace Cafe, a really cool old building that used to be a music store (Werlein Music Building). As you walk into the restaurant, there is a classic sidewalk patio with plenty of outdoor seating. Once inside, the first thing you see is this huge grand staircase that leads to a second-floor dining room and an awesome bar. Duffley took note of the chef working in the glassed-in open kitchen where diners can see all the action.
The food: The food we sampled was wonderful — classic Creole with a contemporary flair. The crabmeat cheesecake with pecan crust, wild mushroom sauté and Créole meunière was out of this world. The charcuterie is all done in house and they even have their own charcuterie room on the third floor, as well as a more private dining area, a wine room and a kitchen where their Master Chef creates.
The drinks: The Palace Cafe has both classic and contemporary cocktails on offer. Duffley’s favorite was the Barrel Aged Negroni (Genever, Campari and vermouth blanc) and their classic Bloody Mary for an eye-opener.
Dickie Brennan’s Steakhouse
The setting: As you walk into Dickie Brennan’s Steakhouse, there is a large and inviting reception area with a classic steakhouse bar on the left, then dining rooms to the right. In the front, there is a shallow staircase that leads to the main dining room with big half moon leather embossed booths up against the back wall and white tablecloth-topped tables in the center of the room. There are more private dining areas to the left.
The food: After touring the kitchen, Duffley, Dietz, Sr. and Dietz, Jr. ended up at the dessert station where the pastry chef shared samples of their fabulous in-house made desserts: coconut chiffon cake layered with Italian buttercream, toasted coconut, and topped with a vanilla crème anglaise and triple chocolate cake, a five-layer dark chocolate cake filled with white and milk chocolate mousse and covered with chocolate buttercream ganache. “I’m a big fan of steak houses,” said Duffley, “and this one’s up there on the top.”
Bourbon House Seafood & Oyster Bar
The setting: Located conveniently on Bourbon Street is Bourbon House Seafood & Oyster Bar, a seafood restaurant with classic dining rooms.
The food: The restaurant features local fresh seafood, fresh shucked oysters on the half shell or charbroiled and finished in Creole bordelaise butter.
The drinks: Duffley calls Bourbon House “a really cool bar with great craft cocktails” and a must-try world-renowned Bourbon selection.
The setting: Tableau is located in a three-story historical building that is attached to Le Petit Theater. In the center of the courtyard, there is the world’s oldest functioning fountain.
The food: Duffley, Dietz, Sr. and Dietz, Jr. were treated to a sit-down dinner: classic French Creole dishes with a sophisticated twist. “The chef sent out a sample of the seafood gumbo, turtle soup and soup of the day (creamed spinach and artichoke) — awesome!” said Duffley. “Our server suggested we all split the Legacy Cowboy Rib Chop for Two (a 22-ounce Prime bone-in rib eye, marchand de vin, béarnaise, grilled asparagus and potato gratin) and some barbecue Louisiana shrimp. Still not done, Steve sent out four desserts for us to try, including praline monkey bread pudding with vanilla bean ice cream and butterscotch sauce.”
The setting: Cutting edge: GW Fins is where you want to go to see what is trending in NOLA. With a really cool bar and fun, funky dining rooms, GW Fins is a must do when in NOLA.
The food: Duffley was quick to praise Chef/Owner Tenney Flynn, as well as the food. “We started with the lobster dumplings with fennel, tomato concassé and lobster butter and were very impressed. Being from New England, I’m pretty much a lobster snob,” notes Duffley. “The smoked sizzling oysters were probably the best I tried in NOLA. The seafood gumbo with crab, shrimp, oysters and long grain rice is a must-try. We split three entrees, and they all were prepared perfectly: sautéed American Red Snapper and served with local long grain rice, crawfish Étouffée and crispy okra; Parmesan-crusted sheepshead with jumbo lump crab, asparagus, crispy capers, Meyer lemon and brown butter; and Louisiana Drum with chicken cracklin’ crust, white sweet potatoes, green beans, Shiitakes, pecans and brown butter — top 10 best thing I’ve ever ate!” They finished off the meal with the Salty Malty ice cream pie with a pretzel crust and caramel whipped cream for dessert.
Sammy’s Food Service & Deli
The setting: Sammy and Gina Schloegel and their daughters run this lovely establishment over on Elysian Fields Avenue. Sammy is the cousin of Jimmy (Gump) Faro from Constitution Seafoods of Boston. Jimmy has been selling us seafood for almost 15 years now. Walk into Sammy’s Food Service & Deli and I’m sure you’ll be waiting in line for a bit, especially around lunchtime. Sammy’s has been featured on “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives,” and he has been voted best po’boy in NOLA multiple times.
The food: We ordered a bunch of po’boys, including the award-winning Ray Ray (Southern fried chicken breast with ham and Swiss cheese) and their Roast beef and shrimp po’boys. Sammy and Gina treated us like family, bringing out samples from their menu including Jimmy (Gump’s) favorite fried stuffed shrimp. “Sammy’s has the best Creole gumbo I’ve ever had,” said Duffley.Search for flights to Boston
- All the chefs Duffley spoke with recommended Katie’s Restaurant and Bar on Iberville Street. The family-run restaurant serves comfort food like crawfish beignet, an overstuffed beignet filled with crawfish, jalapeno peppers, onions, and three kinds of cheese; fried then topped with a jalapeno aioli, and po’boys like fried green tomato & shrimp remoulade with lightly breaded slices of fresh green tomatoes topped with grilled gulf shrimp and our remoulade sauce and The Legend, French bread stuffed with cochon de lait and barbecue shrimp.
- Ye Olde Original Dungeon or The Dungeon on Toulouse Street in the French Quarter is Duffley’s favorite bar a dark and Gothic bar that he describes as “Wicked cool!”
Main image: istockphoto/vectorarts