Once upon a time, “New Orleans” was “Nouvelle Orleans.” The city began as a French colony founded in 1718 and remained under French control until 1762 when France handed over Louisiana and Nouvelle Orleans to appease the Spanish after their defeat during the Seven Years’/French and Indian War (the 1762 agreement was unofficial, followed by the official Treaty of Paris in 1763). For forty years, New Orleans, while a Spanish colony, retained its French roots through food, language, and culture, while of course also absorbing elements from the Spanish.
Although the city honors the many cultures that constantly add to our figurative gumbo, New Orleans has a taste for historic tradition and its early roots as a French colony.
In 1802, New Orleans was returned to France before Thomas Jefferson purchased it and the rest of the Louisiana Territory in the 1803 Louisiana Purchase. From then on, New Orleans was an American city. However, in many ways it clung to its French roots. Shortly thereafter in 1809-10 with the uprising in Saint-Domingue, a French colony, and the subsequent establishment of Haiti, more than 9,000 refugees fled to New Orleans. With a common Francophone culture, these migrants were absorbed in the city’s fabric, further enriching the French culture of New Orleans.
Although the city honors the many cultures that constantly add to our figurative gumbo —Irish, Germans, West Africans, Isleños from the Canary Islands, Vietnamese, Hondurans, and scores of other immigrants— New Orleans has a taste for historic tradition and its early roots as a French colony (we even celebrate Bastille Day each year). In exploring the French connection, a variety of restaurants as well as shops, both new and old, have cropped up throughout the city. Get a little taste of France by exploring some of these establishments.
This cozy French bistro (3127 Esplanade Ave.) is named after Edgar Degas, the French Impressionist painter who lived briefly in New Orleans in 1872. Open for lunch, dinner, and Saturday brunch, Café Degas offers reasonably priced and delicious menu items, such as the generous plateau de fromage (cheese plate) for $15; soupe gratinée d’oignon (French onion soup) for $8.50; and the mignonette de veau au Parmesan (Parmesan-crusted veal) for $22. Lunch and dinner specials are also available and ever-changing.
Café Degas is open Wednesday-Saturday for lunch from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. and dinner from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. and is open in between lunch and dinner for drinks, salads, and appetizers. Saturday brunch is from 10:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
Charming and nostalgic, Le Croissant d’Or is a French-inspired patisserie nestled in the French Quarter at 617 Ursulines Ave. The shop serves savory quiches like Quiche Lorraine and soups prepared daily, as well as fresh pastries like éclairs, croissants, and baguettes. Pick up a Béchemel sandwich and a café au lait to enjoy in the courtyard before the rest of the city wakes up — they even have WiFi and distinction as a “cybercafe” for you to check in on work email (if you absolutely have to).
Le Croissant d’Or is open daily except Tuesdays from 6:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
Uptown on 6078 Laurel Street sits Patois, a French restaurant with local flair operated by the grandsons of Leon J. Touzet, a Frenchman who immigrated to New Orleans and worked in many notable local restaurants. Menu offerings include moules frites (mussels and French fries) and Gulf Fish Almondine.
Patois is open for lunch on Fridays from 11:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., dinner Wednesdays and Thursdays from 5:30 to 10:00 p.m. and Fridays and Saturdays from 5:30 to 10:30 p.m., and brunch on Sundays from 10:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
In operation for more than 100 years, Napoleon House (500 Chartres St.) shouldn’t be mistaken for a restaurant of French cuisine. On the contrary, it was opened by Sicilian immigrant Joseph Impastato and serves muffulettas and cannoli, along with classic New Orleans staples like po-boys and jambalaya. But stay with me. The French (missed) connection stems from the Napoleon House’s first occupant, former New Orleans mayor Nicholas Girod, who offered the home to Napoleon Bonaparte in 1821 during his exile. Napoleon died of arsenic poisoning that same year and never actually made it to New Orleans, but it has been known as the Napoleon House ever since.
The Napoleon House is open Sundays and Mondays from 11:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Tuesdays-Thursdays from 11:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., and Fridays and Saturdays from 11:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.
This Uptown French bistro and creperie (1410 Robert St.) first opened in 1983, turning out French-inspired menu items like escargot, crêpes such as the crêpe Bourguignonne (beef braised in red wine with carrots, mushrooms, and potatoes), fondue, Croque Monsieur (a decadent ham and cheese sandwich), and ratatouille.
La Crêpe Nanou is open for dinner Sunday through Thursday from 6:00 to 10 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 6:00 to 11:00 p.m. and for Sunday brunch from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
Established in 1840, Antoine’s (513 Royal St.) is the country’s oldest family-run restaurant and a stalwart of French Creole cuisine. The restaurant has 14 uniquely designed dining rooms and serves classics such as Oysters Rockefeller and crawfish bisque.
Antoine’s is open Monday through Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. and from 5:30 to 9:00 p.m. as well as for Sunday Jazz Brunch from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
This new store on Magazine Street sells imported traditional French candies such as traditional pralines, nougat, and fruit pâté, as well as other food products and goods. Customers can purchase candy by the piece, bag, or gift box, and there is also an in-house candy bar. Most candies are made from natural ingredients with no preservatives and have been made in the same style for hundreds of years.
La Riviere Confiserie is open Tuesday through Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. (Note: the shop will close from July 14 through Aug. 10, 2016 — the owner is going on a buying trip in France for all sorts of new candies)
This well-recognized French Quarter shop at 627 Royal St. sells 17th- and 18th-century French antique furniture, as well as mirrors, patio furniture sets, pottery, olive jars, light fixtures, and more.
Antiques de Provence is open Monday through Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
This shop’s roots date back to 1843 when August Doussan immigrated to New Orleans from France and became the city’s first full-time parfumeur. Trained employees assist buyers in selecting the best fragrance for their body chemistry, out of perfumes that have been developed using the same consistent methods since the store’s founding.
Bourbon French Parfums is open daily from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. at 805 Royal St.
This women’s clothing store at 8131 Hampson St. sells hats (including custom-designed hats), evening and cocktail dresses, lingerie, accessories, and perfumes. The shop was founded by Yvonne Lafleur who spent time working in Paris in the 1970s, and the store operates with a quality over quantity mindset. Alterations are provided at no additional charge.
Yvonne Lafleur is open Monday through Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. and Thursdays until 8:00 p.m.
A custom millinery shop at 523 Royal St., Fleur de Paris provides hats for all occasions, ranging from evening to bridal to derby hats. The hats are elaborate creations of feathers, fabric flowers, and ribbons, and come in a number of styles.
Fleur de Paris is open daily from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.