While New Orleans’ unique culinary history is well known, its influx of new restaurants can be dizzying. Many of the newer restaurants provide an homage to traditional New Orleans culinary dishes, many do not. The choices are endless. On Magazine Street alone, we can chose from African, Mayan, Japanese, Chinese, Caribbean, Italian, Israeli, Lebanese, Indian, Mexican, Korean, French, Vietnamese, and Thai. Gourmet Hotdogs, Elk Burgers, Gluten-Free, Sweet Potato Pancakes and Vegetarian, co-exist with Paleo.
So, where do locals go for local food? Where do we take our never-ending houseguests for an authentic, inexpensive, casual Creole New Orleans meal? Where do I find my New Orleans traditional wash-day Red Beans & Rice?
Lately, I find myself returning to the following three.
Recently, Mardi Gras houseguests requested Crawfish Étouffée and Gumbo, but wanted to wear jeans, with no reservation, no Downtown, and no fuss. I took them to Ignatius Eatery on Magazine. The Étouffée was a pleaser—as are the $2 martinis til‘ 2 p.m. I ordered my usual, the Shrimp Rémoulade Salad. The Rémoulade is listed as an appetizer, but for me it’s an entrée. It’s served in a large soup bowl, lined with mixed greens, cherry tomatoes, diced crisp celery, and cucumber. On top was over 20 perfectly seasoned boiled shrimp tossed in the most traditional of Rémoulade sauces. This is only an appetizer if you share it. It costs $8.95. Both the Seafood and Chicken and Sausage Gumbos are superb.
If you’re still hungry afterwards, I recommend the small or luncheon-sized Red Beans & Rice with Sausage for $6.95, or the luncheon or small Crawfish Étouffée at $8.95. Happy Hour offers Cochon de Lait Sliders, Mussels, and drink specials. Their Dirty Martini is tops.
Owner Debra Dunn and Jerry Roppolo are said to have wanted to fill a growing void Uptown for local cuisine. Thankfully they did. Chef Blake McDonald, formerly a Sous Chef at Antoine’s and Brennan’s, obviously understands local dishes. He tells of learning to cook from his grandmother, who emigrated from Santa Domingo in 1895. One of her unique dishes was alligator. He describes how he was taught to braise, bake, and then grill the meat before serving. Not many Uptown locals grew up on alligator, but McDonald did. He brings the dish to Ignatius. His Alligator Sausage Poboy won the award for Best Unknown Poboy on the Travel Channel’s “Chow Master” TV series.
Ignatius also serves Creole Jambalaya, Trout Meuniere, and Shrimp Poboys: the dishes our out-of-town guests seek. Knock them all out in one meal. A winner is the Cochon de Lait Poboy with Jalapeno Coleslaw. The fries are hand-cut and the sides are solid Southern neighborhood fare.
Joey K’s Restaurant
Cindy and Sam Farnet have operated Joey K’s Restaurant on the corner of Magazine and Seventh for twenty-six years. That’s a lot of neighborhood home cooking. A recent trip to Perlis had Uptown fixture Patrick McCausland or as I know him, “Mr. Pat,” extolling the virtue of Joey K’s Red Beans & Rice with Smoked Sausage. His impeccable taste never wavers.
The beans tasted exactly like the beans I grew up eating. Miss Cindy’s Onion Rings arrived in a tower of fried perfection best washed down with a schooner of beer. Naturally, a basket of Liedenhiemers is served next to the omnipresent Crystal and Tabasco bottles.
Other favorites are the Stuffed Bell Peppers, Monday’s White Beans & Rice with Fried Pork Chop, Stewed Cabbage, or Wednesday’s Lima Beans with Ham Hocks. Fried Oyster, Shrimp, and Seafood Platters and all you eat Fried Catfish are reminiscent of Fitzgerald’s on the West End. Personally, I love the White or Navy beans best. I always preferred them over Red, but they are impossible to find on menus. If for no other reason, visit Joey K’s for the White Beans & Rice. It’s seriously authentic New Orleans’ home-cooking.
Willie Mae’s Grocery & Deli
I’d read about Willie Mae’s Scotch House’s famously celebrated fried chicken for decades, but never made it to Tremé. My collection of Food & Wine, Gourmet, and Saveur magazines all mentioned the legendary original restaurant. But, back then, I didn’t venture that far afield. The few times I did, they were closed. It seemed it was never meant to be. The truth is the new location of Willie Mae’s Grocery & Deli on St. Charles Avenue, is neither grocery, nor deli. It’s a restaurant. The neighborhood variety.
Sadly, the James Beard Award-winning Miss Willie Mae died last September at the age of 99. However, her great-granddaughter, Kerry Seaton Stewart continued the family business, moving a branch Uptown. Now Miss Willie Mae’s “America’s Best Fried Chicken” is closer than ever. More importantly, the sides are Uptown. I should be talking about the three pieces of golden batter fried chicken, but I’m fixated on the sides. Order them all. My love is the Butter Beans & Rice with a side of Corn Bread and side of Seasoned Greens with Rice and Gravy. Rice and Gravy! When is the last time you saw that on a menu? It’s actual old New Orleans, perfectly seasoned, rich brown gravy on plain white rice. Can I say it again? Rice and Gravy. It’s the gravy your grandmother made every Sunday and now it’s on St. Charles Avenue. I’m hungry. I’ll stop here.
3121 Magazine Street
New Orleans, LA 70115
Monday–Sunday: 11am to 10pm
3001 Magazine Street
New Orleans, LA 70115
Monday–Saturday: 11am to 9pm
Willie Mae’s Grocery & Deli
7457 St Charles Ave
New Orleans, LA 70118
Monday–Thursday: 11am to 8pm
Friday & Saturday: 11am to 9pm
Kristine Froeba is a fourth generation Uptown girl whose varied background includes food and travel writing, celebrity ghost writing, public relations, social media management, fundraising, preservationist, reluctant tabloid hack, and litigation specialist. She describes herself as part foodie, part writer, part historian, historic renovation zealot, and full time dabbler.