I’ve been spending a little time lately at job interviews – not that I’m unhappy in my current position (decent hours and health insurance count for a lot. I also really like the folks I’m working with). But I figure it’s always a good idea to keep up with what’s going on in the city’s food and restaurant industry. One of the best ways is to talk to would-be owners and managers to find out who’s planning to do what. While I’m always interested in opportunity and in getting back to running my own shop one day, it’s also good mental exercise.
The first thing I can tell you is 2013 is going to be a very dynamic year for the New Orleans food and restaurant scene. From a new museum to creative food ideas to remarkable décor, there will be some major openings over the coming 12 months. There will also be more (mostly online) outlets writing about it and offering critique. Once the Super Bowl hoopla leaves town and we get back to our relative normal, all of us will get an opportunity to go see for ourselves what has been on the creative minds of the various new partnerships around town.
In some cases, owners are rushing to get their new places up and going in time to be a part of the Mardi Gras/Super Bowl goings-on. This rush to completion might be reflected in the food and service immediately after opening – meaning it’s going to feel and taste like the rush job it is. “Soft” openings and working out kinks will be bypassed in the hurry to make some bucks. If you go to one of these new places, I’d be sure to pack a sense of humor and some patience and plan a second visit sometime in March.
Conversely, some owners are choosing to wait until March before bringing out anything new. It’s a more measured approach, and odds are your initial visit will be a more pleasant experience. That said, I’ve talked to some of these new operators and I can tell you some of their ideas are Just. Plain. Weird.
Having made plenty of my own (sometimes repeated) mistakes, my ears are particularly tuned to similar errors by others when it comes to location and menu choices. For instance, I know from experience that simply offering good food will not turn a location from dog to Destination. I also know when a menu goes from banal to beneficial to bizarre.
I talked with one (very nice, very earnest, very inexperienced but very well-financed) guy who wanted to offer regular New Orleans fare (po-boys, jambalaya) while bringing in seafood from all around the Gulf PLUS items from the Caribbean (but “nothing Hispanic.”) PLUS some items from said islands’ former colonial master (Holland). What? Certainly it is possible to offer all these things at once – with a menu nearly as large as the King James Bible. But you have to wonder about the long-term viability of a place with such a multipersonality disorder. That said, he’s planning for the French Quarter, where such an idea just might work. Or not.
Too often, a place opens with the food the owner likes to eat and sticks with it until the owner gets tired of eating it and/or runs out of money. The opposite approach is to try to please everyone – meaning ultimately no one is pleased. Both situations will rear their heads as the 2013 restaurant scene unfolds. We’ll also see the classic case of someone putting all their money into decorating and aesthetics while leaving the food to twist in the wind with old concepts that have already peaked in this part of the world.
Then again, I’ll be interested to see who surprises me. Every year, there will be a few spots that are so good at some classics, so different in approach or so creative with the menu that they quickly become standbys. And, yes, a couple of them become destinations despite a poor location.
It’ll be fun to watch.
Craig Giesecke has been a broadcaster and journalist for over 30 years, including nearly two decades at the AP and UPI covering news, sports, politics, food and travel. He has been the owner of J’anita’s for five years, serving well-reviewed upscale bar food and other dishes. Comments are encouraged and welcomed.