Personal Recommendations from an Exile

About the Author
Rick Downing is a Product Manager with Springer-Miller Systems, as well as author of a culinary and travel blog.  Not only has Rick traveled the world seeking culinary experiences but he has curated a cookbook collection of over 6,000 volumes.

Casual and/or Funky
Ok, so this may be my favorite type of restaurant in N’Awlins. It’s all about the food with unique atmosphere thrown in for free. Here is a smattering of suggestions:

Camellia Grill – 626 South Carrolton (Riverbend) – No website
The best thing I can do is quote from Wikipedia, “The Camellia Grill is a landmark diner in the Carrollton section of New Orleans. It is on Carrollton Avenue near its intersection with St. Charles Avenue on the St. Charles Streetcar line. The Camellia Grill opened in 1946. Despite suffering little physical damage, the restaurant was closed after Hurricane Katrina until April 2007, when it reopened under new ownership. During this period of closure, the Camellia Grill’s front door was festooned with hundreds of notes from locals and tourists who missed it. The restaurant only offers counter service and its staff is usually gregarious. It is well known for its long-serving waiters, the most famous of whom was probably Harry Tervalon, Sr., who was the first waiter hired in 1946, and who even after his 1996 retirement remained associated with the restaurant (including cutting the ribbon when the Grill finally reopened after Katrina), until his death in August 2007.”

If I still lived in New Orleans, I would find a way to eat breakfast (or lunch) at Camellia at least once or twice a week. I knew Mr. Harry for many years, just as did thousands of other New Orleanians, and he was just one of dozens of characters in that city that were legendary. You definitely want an omelet though the sandwiches are great, as well. And you absolutely have to order a freeze (any flavor) with a double scoop of vanilla. The best way to get there is to take the St Charles streetcar and get off when it turns the corner onto Carrollton Avenue. The Grill is right there across the street.

Cochon Butcher – 930 Tchoupitoulas Street –
This sandwich shop is next door to Cochon which is another upscale restaurant from Donald Link just a couple blocks up from The Old No. 77 Hotel & Chandlery. Fantastic place to grab lunch. Great sandwiches.

Port of Call – 838 Esplanade Avenue (French Quarter)
OMG, if those walls could talk. The place has been around since the 60’s and hasn’t changed one bit in all that time. Throughout the years I lived there, I would end up in the PoC at least a couple nights a week. I say “nights”, but since the bars don’t close, it would probably be more accurate to say “mornings”. “Extremely casual” is the best description but, trust me on this one, your life will be changed by the burger. I can’t tell you what the hell they do to make it so good but it is beef crack. Do not be distracted by anything else on the menu – order the Mushroom Cheeseburger and the baked potato (loaded). If there are two or more of you (or if you’re just feeling hungry) get a Schooner Salad w/Blue Cheese. They have their own specialty drinks but a cold beer (order a local Abita) is all you need. Esplanade is the last street in the French Quarter but, if you’re not staying down in the Faubourg, you still should walk down there. It is the quiet end of the Quarter and very easy to imagine yourself living there.

Elizabeth’s – 601 Gallier Street (Bywater)
This is what small, local neighborhood dining is all about. The food is pure New Orleans – down home, country, southern, creole. The amazing thing is, there are several dozen places around the city that could be described in almost identical language. I just happen to be particularly fond of this one and going there is a good way to see another NOLA neighborhood. Unless you’re staying down around the Faubourg, you’ll want to take a cab because it would be a bit of a hike but you might also get spooked by the neighborhood. You shouldn’t (though there are most definitely places not to venture around the city) but you don’t live there so you don’t know that. Bywater is an area in transition (though far further along than when I lived there). It still looks a bit rough to non-locals but, if you were to feel uncomfortable, I would feel bad, so I recommend a cab.

Willie Mae’s Scotch House – 2401 St Ann Street (Treme neighborhood)
Since 1957 Willie Mae’s has been serving fried chicken to die for. Treme is one of numerous black neighborhoods in the city but, these days, perhaps the most well-known thanks to the television series of the same name and the sheer number of world class musicians who call those few blocks home. You will want to take a cab there and back but you need not be concerned with being there. Get (at least) the red beans & rice, green beans and the fried okra for side dishes and definitely check out the bread pudding for dessert. This is southern soul food at its finest. Being totally honest, I was late in becoming a devotee of Willie Mae’s but it was only because of my eternal devotion to the late, great Austin Leslie’s soul palace, Chez Helene. (It should tell you a lot that Chez closed close to 35 years ago yet most folks in New Orleans could tell you about the menu as if they just went there yesterday.)

Booty’s Street Food – 800 Louisa Street (Bywater) –
Booty’s is a great example of what happens when you cross street food sensibilities with a NOLA esthetic. I don’t know what the hell it is but I like it. Bring open taste buds and an empty stomach. Now we’re havin’ fun, for sure.

Places You Must Go
Sometimes in life, we make decisions that we later regret and sometimes we don’t know to regret them until someone else points it out. That’s what I’m doing here; I’m saving you a lifetime of regret but only if you pay attention. Don’t ask questions about these…just go. You can thank me later.

Pascal’s Manale Restaurant – 1838 Napoleon Avenue (Freret neighborhood )
Originally opened in 1913, Pascal’s Manale is a cornerstone of local N’awlins cuisine and, more specifically, Italian-Creole goodness. It is not only the genesis of NOLA’s BBQ Shrimp (!!!) but a true keeper of the flame for such dishes as the Seafood Pan Roast, Chicken Bordelaise, Italian Olive Salad, Shrimp & Crabmeat Remoulade, Oysters Rockefeller & Bienville, Bread Pudding. OMG, it is impossible to go wrong with anything on the menu most of which hasn’t changed over the past 100 years. While I could easily list a dozen other foundational restaurants, Pascal’s Manale is as good a way as any to experience the true heart of New Orleans food – no pretensions, no gimmicks, just damn good food. Get in a cab and go…just do it.

Dooky Chase’s Restaurant – 2301 Orleans Avenue (Treme)
Since first coming on board in 1946, Chef Leah Chase has earned the sobriquet “Queen of Creole Cuisine” with every dish served at this legendary dining establishment. At the age of 93 she may be moving a little bit slower but that hasn’t stopped her exercising a sure hand in serving definitive versions of dozens of creole classics. Closed for two years following Hurricane Katrina, the restaurant came back stronger than ever and the whole city rejoiced. While it can be difficult to get reservations for the special menu served on Friday nights, there is an amazing buffet (11:00am to 3:00pm Tuesdays through Friday) that really is the best way to discover authentic Creole. This is why God made New Orleans.

See you in New Orleans for HITEC 2016 at Booth 1933. Let us know how these restaurant recommendations work out!