Two years ago, I spent several months eating my way through New Orleans to compile a four-part series of my Top 10 New Orleans breakfasts, lunches, dinners and brunches. Those original lists can be found at www.robertstjohn.com.
Scroll down for Andouille Cheese Grits recipe
Over the past couple of years, I’ve visited close to 100 additional New Orleans restaurants — not with the intentions to modify the original list, because the list is organic and ever-changing — but because it’s what I do.
I am only a part-time New Orleanian. We have an apartment in the Marigny and we get down as often as we can (yet not as often as I’d like). Though I have spent the past five decades eating my way through that city and have always felt blessed — as a restaurateur who sleeps, eats and breathes restaurants — to live only 90 minutes away from what is arguably the No. 2 restaurant city in the country. I love New Orleans.
I receive a lot of calls and emails from friends and readers of this column for restaurant recommendations. The most frequently requested cities are Florence, Rome, Barcelona and Milan in Italy, and Chicago, San Francisco, New York,and New Orleans stateside. Instead of compiling four new Top 10 lists for New Orleans, I decided to just compile a random list of my current favorites around town, with no rhyme, reason or theme.
This is NOT a best-of list. This is NOT a list for best-rated food, best-rated service, best-rated atmosphere, or a list proclaiming which restaurants are most popular with the locals. I am not a local. I am a part-timer who has had a 57-year love affair with New Orleans’ music, architecture, culture and food. This is simply an at-this-moment compilation of my favorite places in my favorite food city in the world.
My Favorite Breakfast Spot: La Boulangerie (4600 Magazine St.). I never miss breakfast, and if I am in town, I am usually eating breakfast in this bakery. The croissants are as good as any I have had in France. Seriously, any. The ham-and-cheese croissants are a family favorite, and the English muffins — though not in the pastry case, but excellent toasted with butter and their house-made jam — are also the finest I have ever eaten. I usually take a few portions of quiche home for later.
Other Breakfast Joints I Frequent: Toast. There are three locations, and I have eaten at all of them. But I prefer the Uptown location at 5433 Laurel St. over the Fairgrounds or French Quarter outposts. This place is home to my favorite avocado toast on the planet.
New Orleans Cake Café & Bakery (2440 Chartres St.). This is my neighborhood spot, one block away from our apartment.
My Favorite Brunch Spot: Paladar 511 (511 Marigny St.). We eat at Paladar a lot, not because it is in our building, but because it is an excellent restaurant. It was a well-kept secret for a short while. Business grew steadily for several years, though in the past few years it’s truly blossomed. After Paladar made Brett Anderson’s top-10 list, the reservation books got tight (deservedly so). My go-to at brunch is the Huevos Rancheros (the best in town), but I also order the lemon-blueberry pancakes for the middle of the table for all to share. My go-tos at dinner are the Waygu Hanger Steak and the Lamb Tortellini in Brodo, which is an interesting take on the classic dish from Bologna.
My Favorite Dinner Spot: Brigtsen’s, 723 Dante St. This has been my favorite New Orleans restaurant for more than three decades. If Frank Brigtsen served breakfast, lunch and brunch, then this would be a very short column. Brigtsen opened one year before I opened my first restaurant and I have admired the work he has done in that simple little shotgun house from Day 1. There are other chefs in town with more celebrity and notoriety, but I’ll bet that if you polled them as to which New Orleans chef they admire most, the majority would choose Frank Brigtsen. He is real. He is humble. He is talented and knowledgeable, and you won’t find a nicer guy who has been manning the stove at his own restaurant since the mid 1980s.
You can easily find restaurants in town with more formal settings and more exotic preparations and ingredients, but you won’t find Frank, his wife Marna, and a service staff that is more dedicated than the ones at Brigtsen’s.
My Favorite Steakhouse: Doris Metropolitan, 620 Chartres
My Favorite Po-Boy Shop: Domilise’s, 5240 Annunciation St. I love the fried shrimp and roast beef po-boys there. I like Parkway, too. But I find myself at Domilise’s more often.
My Favorite Sandwich: The Sam (pastrami, Swiss, Russian dressing and cole slaw on seeded rye) at Stein’s Deli, 2207 Magazine St. I have driven from my house in Hattiesburg to Stein’s to eat this sandwich and immediately gotten back in my car and driven back home (more than once). True story.
My Most-Recommended-To-Friends Favorites: Not enough column inches to go into detail, but they are all excellent and I feel that they are each as good as most other restaurants in almost any other American city — Carrolton Market (8132 Hampson St.), La Petit Grocery (4238 Magazine), Coquette (2800 Magazine), Lilette (3637 Magazine), Gautreau’s (1728 Soniat), Bywater American Bistro (2900 Chartres).
My Favorite Pizza: Pizza Delicious
My Favorite Burger: Company Burger. Though if you’re one of the many Port of Call disciples, it’s better to go to Snug Harbor at night and skip the line at Port of Call. Same burger.
My Favorite Thai Restaurant: Suko Thai (the Elysian Fields location)
My Favorite Oyster Bar: Pascal’s Manale for half-shell oysters (it’s the only reason I go there). I go to Casamento’s for fried oysters.
My Off-The-Beaten-Path Favorite: Rosedale.
Andouille cheese grits
1 tablespoon bacon fat or clarified butter
1/2 pound andouille sausage, medium dice
2 teaspoons garlic
4 cups milk
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons Hot Sauce
2 tablespoons Creole Seasoning
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 cup white grits, quick cooking (stone ground or regular grits can be used — adjust cooking time)
1 cup cheddar cheese, grated
• In a large skillet, heat clarified butter until hot. Add andouille and garlic and sauté for 4–5 minutes.
• Remove from heat and drain off excess fat using a fine mesh strainer. Set the andouille and garlic aside.
• In a large saucepan, bring the milk, seasonings, and butter to a boil. Slowly pour in grits while stirring constantly. Reduce heat to low. Continue to stir for 15 minutes. Add the sautéed andouille and garlic mix, and cheese. Serve immediately.
Yield: 8-10 servings