New Orleans’ French Quarter offers no shortage of things to do and places to eat and drink. But with our neighborhood guide to the French Quarter we’re going slightly off the beaten path: here’s some itineraries you might not find in all the guidebooks, but you’ll be glad to discover when you’re out exploring New Orleans’ oldest historic neighborhood.
Snacks and Coffee
Little Vic’s on Toulouse Street is a terrific quick-service place to grab some gelato, a slice of Sicilian pizza or an order of cheesy arancini and recharge before heading out for an afternoon or an evening out in the Quarter. It also gets major bonus points for a charming courtyard out back. My newest favorite place in the French Quarter for coffee is Spitfire Coffee on St. Peter Street just off Jackson Square. It’s about 10-square-feet bigger than a shoe box with only a couple seats, so it’s more of a grab-and-go place. But if you’re looking for a well-pulled espresso, or the best in third wave, small-batch coffee from independent roasters, this is the place. I recommend the Steen’s Cane Syrup and mole bitters cortado from their secret menu (just ask for it!). Open the door and smell the deliciousness at Croissant d’Or, a French patisserie on Ursulines Street. I can never resist their almond croissant or ham and cheese croissant. They offer an assortment of classic French pastries, fresh baked baguettes, sandwiches and simple salads. Another great “grab and go” café, Petite Amelie is just down the block on Royal Street from its big sister Café Amelie, and open for breakfast through the afternoon Wednesdays to Sundays. Try the fresh squeezed juices, and one of the many types of Panini Waffle Melts, like the Chicken and Waffle or the Jalapeno Popper with goat cheese, applewood bacon and pepper jelly.
New Orleans is the quintessential home of the cocktail in North America, and we take our imbibing seriously here. Blink and you’ll miss the entrance to Tiki Tolteca, the upstairs evening tiki lounge counterpart to Felipe’s Taqueria on North Peters and Bienville Streets. They’re bringing back the Polynesian classics and creating some new classics, like their frozen Hemingway Daiquiri. Stick around for the small plates to help wash down the rum. If your idea of heaven is a proper, well-made cocktail, then Arnaud’s French 75 bar is where you should meet your Saint Peter for the evening, master bartender Chris Hannah. Step back in time with their old-fashioned cocktail recipes including their namesake cocktail, order some refined bar snacks, and enjoy the beautiful room, an oasis on Bienville Street just steps from Bourbon Street. Take note: it’s also a cigar aficionado bar. Bar Tonique is probably where I’ll end up during a night out or an after-work get together. It’s across Rampart Street from Armstrong Park, and this no-frills bar has all the classic cocktails at service industry night prices that make that second round all the nicer.
Seriously Good Eats
Part forward-thinking proto-tiki cocktail bar, part modern Caribbean restaurant, Cane & Table is hidden in the lower Quarter on Decatur Street (just two doors down from perennial favorite watering hole Molly’s at the Market) and serves dinner and weekend brunch. Don’t miss the game-changing original craft cocktails from proprietor Nick Detrich, and do order some of the delicious food, like the hearty vegetable plate, ropa vieja, crispy fried rum ribs, and rice calas. Saunter over to Exchange Alley for new school Southern fare with Indian, South Asian and other world cuisine influences and local ingredients at Green Goddess, a popular lunch and dinner spot with outdoor seating right in the quaint alley out front. I’m crazy about the Taiwanese inspired beef debris poboy, and their hearty salads.
Chef Kristen Essig’s modern bistro Meauxbar is a new kind of neighborhood restaurant on Rampart. Re-inventing and re-decorating an already popular spot with an upscale, elegant touch with excellent riffs on classic bistro food, you’ll find things like hangar steak au poivre, escargots in bone marrow, sweetbreads, moules frites, and an absolutely to-die-for French onion grilled cheese sandwich that tastes just like the classic soup.
Before or after you munch and sip, you’re going to want to get out and have some fun and see the sights. A trip to the Pharmacy Museum on Chartres Street, particularly with a Thursday or Friday guided tour at noon, is worth the trip. Explore 19th century medical artifacts and tools, learn about America’s first licensed pharmacist (a New Orleanian, naturally) and see some historic Voodoo potions, and hear about the questionable history of early medicine in this fascinating off-beat museum in one of the most beautiful buildings in the French Quarter (it has a great courtyard, too).
Irvin Mayfield’s Jazz Playhouse at the Royal Sonesta Hotel is a cool club perfect for the mix of traditional and modern jazz and burlesque programming they offer nightly, including weekly sets from The New Orleans Jazz Orchestra and regular bookings with piano and organ player Joe Krown, Gerald French and the Original Tuxedo Jazz Band, Jason Marsalis and James Rivers. The slightly naughty and bawdy fun of old-time Bourbon Street burlesque is enjoying a renaissance these days. Look for regular burlesque nights with live traditional jazz bands on Fridays with Trixie Minx at Irvin Mayfield’s Jazz Playhouse, and the Creole Sweet Tease Burlesque at the Saint Hotel on Canal and Burgundy Streets on Fridays or Saturdays (check the schedule), plus regular bookings of Fleur de Tease Burlesque at One Eyed Jacks on Toulouse Street.