Wednesday, April 14, 2010
1081 Restaurants Open Around Town
Food, Drink, And Jazz On Harrison Avenue
The Harrison Avenue Marketplace is this afternoon in the lively stretch between Canal Boulevard and City Park. This one one of the primary neighborhoods that seemed to get new energy in the aftermath of Katrina. More restaurants, stores, and shops are there now than before the storm.
The Marketplace--which has gone on every second Wednesday since 2007--is less like the farmer's markets elsewhere around town, and more like a miniature version of the French Quarter Festival. Food vendors and people selling all sorts of other things fill the parking lot of the Lakeview Grocery, in the 800 block of Harrison Avenue. There's live jazz from 4:30 until 8 p.m., courtesy of a group called Omega 3. The food vendors serve grilled oysters, crawfish bisque, crab cakes, crepes, quiches, barbecue, breads, bread pudding, and more. Arts and crafts fill in the gaps. It's a fun event.
Harrison Avenue Marketplace. Lakeview: 800 Block of Harrison Avenue. Website.
A Half-Million Came To Eat And Listen
French Quarter Festival
Largely because of the perfect weather, attendance at the French Quarter Festival this past weekend shot past a half-million people. That's about ten percent more than last year. The methods the FQF uses to count attendees is inexact--there's no admission price or gate--but it gives a reasonably valid result.
Besides, all the other indicators said that something big was going on. The city's hotels were near 100 percent occupancy, a condition that only occurs at Mardi Gras and during major sports events. The ferry from the West Bank carried 45,000 people to the Festival. Last year's load was half that.
More statistics? Okay. Abita Brewing Company said that it ran through 944 barrels of beer, against 748 last year. Every drop of Abita Jockamo India Pale Ale in the state was quaffed; there's none left. Rouse's boiled 30,000 pounds of crawfish, about twice as much as last year.
I overheard a few people saying something like, "This is as much fun as the Jazz Festival, and a hell of a lot cheaper." Well, the music isn't in the same league. But, still. . .
On the other hand, the French Quarter Festival organization is trying to figure out a mechanism for getting attendees to pay something. Watch out for this. It could turn into a monster.
Monday, April 5. Bear's. Roast beef poor boys have been on my mind for weeks. Only Lent and being in the wrong place when this urge came over me prevented my acting on it. I asked Mary Leigh today whether she would have lunch with me at Bear's, she went along with it, even though the only thing she likes there (roast beef poor boys not being on her list) is cheese fries. Topped with bacon. Everything's better with cheese, isn't it? And bacon, too?
I just read an article by Calvin Trillin in the New Yorker about the growing Canadian passion for a dish called poutine. It sounded familiar. Poutine is French fries topped with brown gravy and cheese curds. The latter, Trillin said, tastes like cheddar before the flavor goes in. I've seen the stuff. It reminds me of Creole cream cheese. So we Creoles and Cajuns have been eating poutine down here for a long time without knowing it.
The small roast beef poor boy at Bear's fills me uncomfortably. The fries make that worse. Really, a perfectly good lunch here would be half of a small poor boy, without the fries. Even if that's what I had, I don't think I would have been hungry for dinner later. Which, after a whole one I surely wasn't.
Bear's makes a spectacular sandwich. But they need to upgrade their hygiene. I'm sure they're passing their health inspections and all, but the place feels dirty to me--in about the same way that Charlie's Steak House and Uglesich's did on the old days. But, as I did at Charlie's, I'll keep eating here anyway.
Bear’s Grill & Spirits. Mandeville: 1809 N Causeway Blvd. 985-674-9090. Poor boys.
WHY IT'S NOTEWORTHY
It lives up to its name. Outdoor tables fill the front of the restaurant, and even inside the building the feeling is of being on a patio. That's enough to make it popular among the college crowd, which keeps the place busy, especially in the late evenings. The food is less impressive. Pizza is the specialty, and it's reasonably good, although the crust is too soft for my tastes. The menu goes on to include a great deal of Middle Eastern food, salads, sandwiches, and pasta dishes. The menu is flashy with food and drink specials.
WHY IT'S GOOD
My main problem with this place is that much better versions of everything it serves can be found within a block or two. Ciro's makes incomparably better pizza. Better Italian dishes are across the street at Antonio's. Jamila's and Babylon both make much better Middle Eastern eats. It's more about the crowd and the scene. And the late-night hours, which is a premium to the college crowd.
Fresco opened in 2002, taking over a space that previously had hosted the Maple Gardens Chinese restaurant. It reopened just two months after the hurricane, and became immensely popular for that.
The preferred tables are those on the patio, but even inside it feels like you're outside, somehow. The setting is very casual and the service is performed with no frills.
Roasted eggplant dip.
Mediterranean shrimp (with garlic butter and feta).
Buffalo chicken wings.
Roasted lamb salad.
Pizzas to order.
Spicy chicken pizza.
Shrimp or chicken pesto pizza.
Stromboli (turnover pizza).
Baked fusilli pasta with ground beef, marinara, and melted mozzarella.
Spaghetti and meat sauce.
Spinach and portobello mushroom pasta.
Cheese tortellini with ham and broccoli.
Shrimp Italiano pasta.
Roast lamb wrap.
Philly cheesesteak wrap.
Shrimp pesto wrap.
Italian feast sandwich.
FOR BEST RESULTS
The best food here is the pizza, but suppress the desire to load it up with ingredients. The Middle Eastern appetizers make a good starting point.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
Nothing I've eaten here couldn't have been made with more care and better ingredients. It's not terrible, but its not good enough to grab me.
FACTORS OTHER THAN FOOD
Up to three points, positive or negative, for these characteristics. Absence of points denotes average performance in the matter.
- Dining Environment
- Consistency -1
- Service -1
- Value +1
- Wine and Bar
- Hipness +1
- Local Color +1
- Outdoor dining
- Open Sunday lunch and dinner
- Open Monday lunch and dinner
- Open after midnight
- Open all afternoon
- Unusually large servings
- Quick, good meal
- Good for children
- Easy, nearby parking
- No reservations
Twenty Best Quiet Restaurants
The question often comes up: "Why is it so hard to find a quiet restaurant these days?" The answer is that restaurants are intentionally being built to be noisy. "Why on earth would anyone do that?" is the inevitable retort. Because it keeps people from occupying the table too long, is the cynical answer. (It's also true, particularly in chain restaurants.) But there's another. It's that every survey of diners reveals a preference for lively acoustics, and a discomfort with being in a restaurant so quiet that if one speaks in a normal voice one can be heard several tables away.
Here is a list of restaurants which are usually quiet. This is something that varies, obviously, with the fullness of the dining room and the character of the crowd. Antoine's back room is usually no louder than a church right after Mass ends. But on the Friday before Christmas, it's very loud.
The ranking is neither for quality of food no quietude, but a complicated, intuitive amalgam of the two that I doubt I could explain. You just have to trust my feelings on this. And disagree if you like, on our messageboard. This subject is discussed here.
If you click on the icon in the entries below, you'll be taken to a full review of the restaurant.
Hush puppies are essential to a catfish fry, and they're good with any other seafood platter, too. You make them especially good by keeping the texture light and including flavors other than that of the cornmeal. Fry them in the same oil that you used to fry the fish or chicken. Although the original idea for hush puppies is to just roll the stuff you used to coat the fish into a ball, better results come from making a batter specifically for hush puppies. I like white self-rising cornmeal.
- Vegetable oil for frying, preferably oil previously used for frying fish or (best of all) chicken
- 1 1/2 cups white self-rising cornmeal
- 1 1/2 cups self-rising flour
- 1/2 tsp. sugar
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1/2 tsp. salt-free Creole seasoning
- 1 cup corn, drained
- 2 green onions, sliced thinly
- 1 small jalapeno pepper, seeded and membrane removed, chopped
- 2 sprigs parsley, chopped
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1 3/4 cups milk
1. In a heavy saucepan, heat the vegetable oil while mixing the other ingredients. You want to get the oil up to 350 degrees.
2. Mix the cornmeal, flour, sugar, salt and Creole seasoning in a small bowl. Stir with a whisk to blend completely. Add the corn, green onions, jalapeno, and parsley and stir to blend well.
3. In a second, larger bowl, beat the egg and blend in the milk and 1/4 cup of water. Add the dry ingredients from the first step to the wet ingredients, and mix with a whisk until no dry flour is visible. (Add a little more milk to the mixture if necessary. The mixture should be sticky but not runny or grainy.)
4. With a tablespoon, make balls of the batter. Let them rest five to ten minutes. Then fry four to six at a time until they're medium brown; they should float on the oil when they're ready. Remove and drain, and allow the oil temperature to recover before adding more hush puppies.
Serve as an appetizer with a mixture of equal parts of mayonnaise, horseradish, and sour cream, or with tartar sauce. Or alongside fried seafood or chicken.
Makes about eighteen hush puppies.