The beauty of New Orleans is truly unreal. One can amble for blocks through the French Quarter and feel as though they’ve somehow teleported directly back to the 1800s. Courtyard after courtyard, the sultry environment beckons you to explore further and become one with your new milieu. And your Set of Drifters recommend you do just that! Come on, don’t be shy. See a secret doorway, or a hidden garden? Poke your head inside. How else would we have stumbled across Café Amelie, a consistently wonderful dining spot that we’ve since revisited time and time again?
Located on the grounds of a 150-year old carriage house that once sheltered Princess Alice - America’s premier Princess of Monaco - Café Amelie was opened in 2005 to pay homage to her mother, Amelie Miltonberger. (The Miltonbergers were just one of the influential families who helped make cast-ironwork fashionable in the French Quarter.) Whether dining inside the historic house, or al fresco out front on the picturesque courtyard, there simply is no more romantic a place to dine in New Orleans than Café Amelie.
Happily, Café Amelie’s take on traditional French Creole fare (with a twist) is equally inviting. We love that their menu of accessible dishes truly seems inspired by the season. Some of our favorites in the past have included satsuma pepper-glaze jumbo shrimp, fresh mozzarella fireballs, and a curried pumpkin soup that we just couldn’t get enough of! Be sure to wash it all down with an “Amelie,” the cafe’s signature drink of vodka, fresh house limeade and muddled mint. Yummmm!
The only drawback we have found about Café Amelie over the years is its somewhat erratic hours. According to their website, the restaurant is closed on Mondays AND Tuesdays, but open for lunch Wednesday through Friday from 11:00 AM until 4:00 PM. A weekend brunch supersedes lunch Saturdays and Sundays from 11:00 AM until 3:00 PM while dinner at Cafe Amelie is served Wednesday through Saturday from 5:30 PM to 9:00 PM, and on Sundays from 6:00 PM until 8:00 PM. Our best suggestion is to check in with a host or hostess whenever you happen by Amelie’s courtyard just to ensure you can fit this experience into your schedule. You will not be disappointed!
Café Amelie - 912 Royal Street, New Orleans, LA 70116, (504) 412-8965
Stanley! (and Stella!)
With so many fine restaurants (of all price points) clogging the cobblestoned streets of New Orleans, we won't even attempt to tell you where you can find "the best" or "most authentic" Creole and Cajun food in the city... though you can always ask us for more suggestions. One spot that does deserve a special mention however is Stanley! (named after the famous Tennessee Williams character from the New Orleans-based classic, A Streetcar Named Desire.)
Located right on Jackson Square with better-than-average people watching opportunity, this handsomely-styled restaurant is both sleek and accessible at the same time. We snuck in during a rainstorm at lunchtime to sample a souped-up seafood gumbo that warms our hearts (and stomachs) to this day. Accompanied by a generous dose of fries, the hearty shrimp, andouille sausage, oyster and chicken concoction had us returning for a second helping on a subsequent trip three years later.
Elsewhere, the "comfort food" menu at Stanley! is framed around a 1940's/ 50's diner, but with eloquent modern touches. Make sure to try out custom-made beverages from the on-site soda fountain. And that Thanksgiving Turkey Croissant and Pepperoni Pizza Caesar Salad Poor Boy? My friends, these are sandwiches you just have to see to believe. We’ll definitely be back!
Stanley! is open daily from 7:00 AM until 10:00 PM. You may just want to hit them up for breakfast, where the Bananas Foster French Toast muscles it out with the Breaux Bridge Benedict as ultimate favorite! Set of Drifters tip: Stanley! has a counterpart, of course. "Stella!" is located just down the street on Chartres Street. Dinner prices are going to set you back a bit, but if you and your party consider yourselves "foodies," then who the heck cares? In addition to multi-course prix-fixe selections, Chef Scott Boswell offers an international caviar menu! So what are you waiting for?
Stanley! - 547 Saint Ann Street, New Orleans, LA 70116, (504) 587-0093, http://www.stanleyrestaurant.com/
Stella! - 1032 Chartres Street, New Orleans, LA 70116, (504) 587-0091, http://restaurantstella.com/
Muriel's Jackson Square
Having opened in 2001 in a historic Jackson Square building that has seen its fair share of New Orleans history, Muriel's Restaurant is somewhat of an institution within the French Quarter. And if you’re looking for upscale handling of traditional Creole cuisine, this will be one of your best bets while in town. Dining at Muriel’s in November 2009, we were impressed not only by the fantastic food and atmosphere - courtesy an extensive millennial renovation that brought this centuries-old building back to former glory - but also by the restaurant’s clientele. Earwig a bit on your neighbors, and you’ll realize that you’re surrounded by the classy, sophisticated patrons of New Orleans’ art scene! But don’t let that concern you. Muriel’s is hardly stuffy. In fact, proprietors even have a sense of humor, or at the very least, some superstition.
Every night, management keeps one table set aside for Pierre Antoine Lepardi Jourdan, Muriel’s resident ghost! Yes, that's correct. Though not the only spirit who haunts Muriel’s, Pierre Antoine is the most prominent. After purchasing the edifice following a devastating 1788 fire that destroyed much of its splendor, Pierre Antoine rebuilt and refurbished his new home inside and out. Sadly, his reign over the majestic property would be short-lived. In 1814, he overzealously gambled the manse away in a poker game! (Perhaps he should have laid off those sazeracs!) Crushed by his loss after decades of intense restoration work, Pierre Antoine could simply not let go of his home, and before handing it over to his new owners, he committed suicide instead!
The exact location of Pierre Antoine’s tragedy now houses Muriel’s "Séance Lounge," where much of the restaurant’s spectral activity continues to this day. (Set of Drifters tip: We hear glasses fly off bar shelves in the more low-key “Courtyard Bar” as well. Ghosts and fine cuisine... Need we say more?
Treat your tastebuds to Executive Chef Gus Martin’s lunch menu Monday through Saturday from 11:30 AM to 2:30 PM. Notable dishes include a stuffed mirliton salad with shrimp and andouille stuffing and the pecan-crusted “puppy drum.” Dinner is served Monday through Saturday from 5:30 PM to 10:00 PM and Sunday from 5:00 PM to 10:00 PM. Don’t miss the wood-grilled tournedos of beef, served with buttered turnips, spinach and leeks (all topped off with au poivre). Set of Drifters tip: Entree prices can be high at Muriel’s so why not try their table d’hote three-course deal for $37.95 USD? Oh, and we must not forget about Muriel’s classic Cajun-inspired Sunday Jazz Brunch. The festivities unfold weekly from 11:00 AM to 2:00 PM, though you might want to book this one in advance!
Muriel's Jackson Square - 801 Chartres Street, New Orleans, LA 70116, (504) 568-1885
If you happen to have spent the previous night downing hurricane after hurricane on Bourbon Street, Cafe Beignet is the perfect antidote. While everyone and their mother is (still) standing in line at Cafe du Monde (see "goodies"), do yourselves a favor and slip on over to Cafe Beignet instead. This charming breakfast spot over on Royal has been a favorite of Brady’s since September 1999 when he passed through New Orleans on a road trip from San Francisco to Miami!
While you can certainly get a decent "cup of joe" at Cafe Beignet, it's the foodstuffs, both sweet and savory, that make this place worth a visit. Let's start with the obvious - beignets, a New Orleans mainstay. We must admit these French pastries are pretty darn tasty, even though you may feel a little guilty after eating a round of them. At Cafe Beignet, they come in orders of three! But trust us, one order is all you’ll need to feed your standard family. At Cafe Beignet, these powdered sugar donut-like treats are fairly large and cumbersome, and may be more suitable to eating with a knife and fork! Set of Drifters tip: We recommend you wait for your beignets to cool down a bit before biting into their bliss. These hotties are deep-fried fresh for every order!
Aside from the sweets that give the cafe its name, the establishment also offers a decent, but basic, menu of freshly made breakfast and lunch dishes that can be spiced to order with any number of local hot sauces on offer. (You can even buy some of them to bring home with you after leaving your heart in NOLA.) We’ve always treated ourselves to the breakfast croissant, though that Crawfish Omelet certainly sounds tasty. On a budget, then this place can’t be beat. Every item on the menu is under $10 USD! Cafe Beignet is open daily from 7:00 AM until 5:00 PM. Set of Drifters video: Check out our YouTube channel for video from this event!
Set of Drifters tip: Make sure to say "bonjour" to the cafe's resident cat! (And watch out for those sparrows who like to dive bomb the floor’s crumb collective.)
Cafe Beignet - 334-B Royal Street, New Orleans, LA 70116, (504) 524-5530
Louisiana Pizza Kitchen
We first checked out this unassuming spot after Set of Drifter Brady got his inaugural tattoo in New Orleans back in November of 2009. The night was cold and dark, but tasty treats and beer inside the Louisiana Pizza Kitchen worked fast to ameliorate any discomfort laid down by Mother Nature - or the tattoo artist’s unforgiving needle!
A recent return trip for lunch back in October of 2012 confirmed what we already knew. Quite frankly, this is some of the best pizza you will ever have - not just in town - we’re talking in your entire life! A bold statement for sure, but the recipes, ingredients and local pride that go into each and every pie assure your taste-buds some of the most intriguing, and hearty combinations you’ll every experience, and oddly, in a location that you’d least expect it. (Louisiana Pizza Kitchen is smack dab across from the famed French Market, and offers great people-watching from its handful of outdoor tables.)
While award-winning salads, appetizers and zesty sandwiches/ wraps make up over half the menu, the real star here is, of course, the pizza, inspired by European and Mediterranean tradition, but with a little Creole flair for good measure. We recommend the Pepperoni Classic (so good, you want to eat it faster than your stomach can handle), and for you veg-heads, the “Four Seasons,” a pie that combines artichoke hearts with asparagus, sun-dried tomatoes and mushrooms! Feeling a little dangerous? Why not try the Salsiccia Marinara? Marrying Italian sausage with local smoked Andouille and alligator, this one is definitely worth a photo or two!
A pizza-sufficient wine list accompanies a roster of Abita flavors you’ll want to sample throughout your French Quarter stay! Just too, too delicious. Don’t miss it.
Louisiana Pizza Kitchen - 95 French Market Place, New Orleans, LA 70126, (504) 522-9500
The Original French Market Restaurant & Bar
It’s very rare that your Set of Drifters ever visit the same restaurant more than once when traveling. Heck, we don’t even like to tread familiar waters back home in Los Angeles unless the spot is really special (Burbank’s Smoke House comes to mind). To that end, it’s quite an anomaly that we actually ended up visiting the Original French Market Restaurant & Bar twice - in five days during our 2012 booze-cation to New Orleans!
Now we know what you’re all thinking. The Original French Market Restaurant? Isn’t that for, ahem, tourists? Probably... but with such robust, fresh boiled shrimp on offer, who can really resist? We certainly couldn’t, not after seeing the cookery out front of their 210 year-old Decatur Street windows!
Our first visit to the Marullo Family’s NOLA mainstay may have been just after the evening’s dinner rush, but even so, we were absconded upstairs to the more relaxed bar where additional seating awaited. (Negative points for the blaring football game, though we suspect natives need their Saints fix!) We quickly ordered up some Abita Purple Haze and waited for our pirate’s bounty - a feast of no less than 16 jumbo shrimp boiled to perfection, and accompanied only by some rémoulade and a few lemon slices. Simple and deeeeeeelicious!
We were so hooked that we had to return again for lunch a few days later, and on Halloween no less. Dressed head-to-toe in moss-colored ghillie suits, you can bet it was a bit more difficult to peel ‘n eat that afternoon. Still, those succulent Gulf beauties made the mess well worth it. (There was hardly a dry eye in the house when we left the joint with shrimp shell pieces dangling from our “Swampman” torsos!)
Long story short - when dining at the Original French Market Restaurant & Bar, keep it simple. Go for the boiled shrimp and crawfish, and don’t expect much more beyond that. (A side Caesar salad and bowl of jambalaya were less remarkable.)
Set of Drifters video: Check out our YouTube channel for video from this event!
The Original French Market Restaurant & Bar - 1001 Decatur Street, New Orleans, LA 70116, (504) 525-7879
Magnolia Grill of New Orleans
In New Orleans, there comes a time in each day when you just gotta get the party started. That time is usually somewhere in between beignets at breakfast and, well... 10:00 AM. On our most recent arrival to NOLA in October of 2012, we chose the lo-key Magnolia Grill of New Orleans as an appetizer to our five-day stint of decadence! And even though it was early in the day, a few bottles of “Purple Haze” Abita were certainly in order.
Located only a hop, skip and a jump from the best shops on Decatur (and through a back entrance, the French Market - see “goodies”), the Magnolia Grill describes itself as “a true American diner.” While we’re usually not ones to argue with such simple claims, to us, this quaint little spot feels so much more.
Sure, there are a number of stools lining a counter where an open kitchen features a duo of line cooks grilling burgers ‘n more. And yes, tasty milkshakes beckon from a menu that is both simple, yet comprehensive in choice. (Heck, there’s even a 50s jukebox in the corner!) But what sets the Magnolia Grill apart from a host of other “American diners” is the surprising high quality of food. Quite simply, we have never had a better-tasting Caesar salad, perfectly augmented with blackened catfish! And heck, that gumbo ain’t bad either.
Aside from all-day breakfast specials, and a host of traditional po boy sandwiches, Magnolia Grill of New Orleans delivers standard Southern seafood platters and their own take on the classic “Muffuletta,” a New Orleans-born sub sandwich comprised from layers of salami, ham, mortadella, provolone and mozzarella cheeses and marinated olive salad! Party’s on!
Magnolia Grill of New Orleans - 1122 Decatur Street, New Orleans, LA 70130, (504) 566-6003
To Tujague’s or not to Tujague’s? That is the question. In light of recent news, we’d say to Tujague’s. This New Orleans restaurant/ bar combo has been a French Market-adjacent institution for over 155 years, though that status is currently threatened!
It all started way back in 1856 when French expat Guilliaume Tujague first set up shop with wife Marie to feed nearby dock workers. Imbued with seven-course table d'hôte lunches based on European menus from home, Tujague’s Creole restaurant flourished all way up until his death in 1912. Before passing, Guilliaume sold the restaurant to staff member Philbert Guichet who, with Jean-Dominic Castet, moved the restaurant a few doors down to the corner of Madison, taking over the location where Elizabeth Kettenring Dutreuil Begue had once introduced “brunch” to America!
Under the new partnership, Tujague’s continued its success well into the 20th century, attracting presidential luminaries from both sides of the Atlantic who sipped on proprietary “Grasshoppers” while standing aside the original cypress bar brought over from Paris. The Guichet family sold Tujague’s in 1982 to Steven Latter. Though he originally had no intention of running the restaurant himself, fans of its long history soon inspired Latter to do just that. His renovation strived to pay tribute to the restaurant’s tradition, even going so far as to resurrect original menu highlights (including a piquant remoulade and boiled beef brisket that remain even today).
Latter’s management of Tujague’s helped to secure the corner property - and particularly its saloon - not so much as one of New Orleans’ culinary must-stop, but more so as a neighborhood hangout (akin to that bar from Cheers). And let’s be honest, when we first dined here in 2007, the prix-fixe meal was of shrimp remoulade, filet mignon, bread pudding, et. al. was only good, not great. Still, we did enjoy perusing the historic photographs and clippings around the bar’s exquisite framed 1850-s era mirror, as well as the grooves who sauntered up next to it.
We suppose it’s the lack in quality of food, not service, that has hurt the reputation (and business) of Tujague’s in recent years. And combined with Latter’s death in February 2013, this has put Tujague’s future in major jeopardy. As of this writing (May 2013), Latter’s brother was still deciding what to do with the legendary property. Many fear he’s ready to sell it off to the highest bidder, and that lot may include Kishore Motwani - already the owner of 20 too many tacky T-shirt shops within the Quarter!
“Save Tujague’s” campaigns are already in full effect. Hopefully, some smart entrepreneur will listen and come in to save the day. Who knows? Perhaps the shakeup is a blessing in disguise. Tujague’s culinary experience could certainly use a shot in the arm in order to restore the restaurant to what it was once in its heyday! In the meantime, hurry now to soak in this classic before it’s too late! We hear reservations are filling up fast!
Tujague's Restaurant - 823 Decatur Street, New Orleans, LA 70116, (504) 525-8676
The Marigny Brasserie
What we said then (2008): If you are looking for a more substantial breakfast, and your hangover is pushing well into "brunch" territory, we recommend The Marigny Brasserie, located on Frenchman in the funky Faubourg Marigny neighborhood (see "sights"). This spot is a favorite for locals and travelers alike, thanks to its extensive "New Orleans Italian/ Creole" menu that often comes with a side of live entertainment. (On the morning we visited in December of 2007, we were very impressed by the trio of singers who "brought it home" through a series of New Orleans Dixieland standards. Oh yes, those Saints did come marchin’ in!)
Sunday mornings are particularly busy at the Brasserie, and you should probably think ahead by garnering a reservation ahead of time. Brunchers can choose between a wide variety of gourmet omelets and benedict dishes (such as the local legend "Crawfish Benedict.") But it's not all breakfast at the Marigny. The restaurant is also open for lunch and dinner, and boasts a side bar that is often crowded even when the restaurant is between meals. Expect to pay a little more here, but the quality certainly lives up to the price!
What we say now (2013): What happened? In only five short years, the quality of this place had slid quite a bit. Though one attendant claimed the restaurant was understaffed the morning following NOLA’s annual Halloween festivities, it ultimately was no excuse for the poor, slow service, sub-standard cappuccino and under-warmed food! (Get this: it took us almost 10 minutes just to get a glass of water!)
While waiting much too long for our food, the manager did finally come over to apologize, but with no follow-through, we were left with an even worse taste in our mouth, and the quality of our food did little to rectify that. While we suppose it could have been an “off day,” the conditions in the men’s restroom proved that things have been “going south” for some time.
If you so choose to give them another chance (I’m not sure we will), The Marigny Brasserie is open Sunday through Thursday from 11:00 AM until 10:00 PM and Friday and Saturday from 11:00 AM until 11:00 PM.
The Marigny Brasserie - 640 Frenchmen Street, New Orleans, LA 70116, (504) 945-4472