Eighteen years ago this summer I waddled through Audubon park in the steaming heat that comes with July in New Orleans. Heavily pregnant, feet swollen and breathing like a rhinoceros I still loved that park with its moss-draped live oaks. Trying not to trip over exposed roots —I couldn’t see my feet, let alone where they were going—I heaved myself onto a bench and sighed. The towers of Tulane stuck out in the distance across the park’s golf course green; Audubon Zoo behind me. I was this close to the riverside park where I loved to just lie in the grass and stare at the water and passing boats. But unless someone wheeled me there, this was as far as I walked.
Uptown is at the core of the sweet memories of living in New Orleans, from that little Danneel playground just down the street to coffee, pastries and the Times Picayune at Cafe Luna on Nashville; grocery shopping at Langenstein’s; eating crawfish in season at Frankie & Johnnie’s, cycling down to the Columns Hotel for happy hour on the terrace to walking off the weekend’s excess indulgence in Audubon Park. Five years New Orleans packed memories to last a lifetime.
And so, whenever people ask me for recommendations on what to do and where to eat in New Orleans, my mind is drawn back to my ‘neck of the Uptown woods’.
Doors close, doors open
Some of my then-favorites closed, which is a crying shame: Bistro Martinique had the most beautiful patio and southern food with a French flair; Cafe Feret up Octavia from where I lived was a good place for a hearty breakfast in a former gas station. True also: one door closes, another one opens and in fact, Feret Street —the stretch between Jefferson and Napoleon—became a destination street with eateries ranging from Dat Dog to pizza to cocktail bars and music venues. You can easily spend all day hanging around Freret, so much so that this little stretch of a street has its own website to browse: The New Freret.
Po’Boy Picnic: Domilise’s
On a beautiful day, queue up for a po’boy at Domilise’s, family-owned and operated for a 100 years. Pick your fried seafood, or go for the roast beef and gravy. And yes have it ‘fully dressed’: sauces, lettuce, pickles, the works. Have it to-go and make your way to the riverside park adjacent to Audubon Zoo. And to make this picnic New Orleans style complete: bring an Abita Amber (or, my favorite: Purple Haze).
Upmarket in Uptown? Gautreau’s of course!
Housed in a creole cottage on Soniat, surrounded by lush green, Gautreau’s has been our go-to for a night of gastronomic pleasure. Food here is exquisite, menu options are dazzling and the ambiance simply divine. It’s been over fifteen years since we were regulars here, even before Sue Zemanick took the helm in the kitchen and held it for 12 years, but we’ve been back regularly since 2014. Just not since Baruch Rabassa (once Zemanick’s sous-chef) took over the kitchen reigns. Reports from friends who visited since were raving, suggesting Gautreau’s did it again: find the right culinary talent to guide the kitchen of this Uptown landmark restaurant. Must go soon and if you beat me to it: let me know your experience!
Riverbend’s Culinary Corner: Brigtsen’s, Dante’s Kitchen and Mad & Naddie’s
Lauded for its contemporary creole cuisine, Brigtsen’s is a one of these restaurants where diners are seated in different dining rooms, each one exuding Victorian class. Chef and co-owner Frank Brigtsen brings his New Orleans heritage to the plate in a creative approach to the region’s mainstays like blackened fish, gumbo or bbq shrimp.
Literally across the street, Dante’s Kitchen brings a more casual, “farm to table” approach to Louisiana food. Just as an anecdote, Dante’s Kitchen was the last restaurant we visited before moving away from New Orleans in 2002, and the first we tried again when we returned for the first time in 2014. Dante’s Kitchen brings warm flavors that reflects with the overall warm atmosphere of this cozy cottage restaurant and fun patio.
A little further on River Road, Mat & Naddie’s was our most frequent go-to when we lived in New Orleans. The kitchen just loved to play around with fresh ingredients and we were never disappointed. Housed in a 19th century pensioner’s cottage, the ambiance here adds to the refreshing approach to creole food: seasonal, local cuisine with a personal signature and always several tantalizing vegetarian options. We visited again in 2016, in town for Jazz Fest, and once again fell in love with the ambiance—and the food.
Riverbend is also home to a weekly Tuesday farmers market.
Nightcap and Music: Le Bon Temps Roule
Back then, before 2000, our favorite local watering hole was Le Bon Temps Roule. No matter were we had dinner or went out first, we somehow always ended up here. On the corner of Magazine and Bordeaux, there was always live music to dance to, cocktails were strong, beers poured generously, and bar food available, just in case you were peckish and fancied some chili fries. It was a great, local neighborhood hangout then, and judging by their website: it still is! For me, though, without my then-crowd, the friends I danced and pooled and ate fries with, I now just drive by with a sense of nostalgia.
Please note: Things change—menus, chefs, owners… with the exception of Feret Street all of the establishments described here have been in business for at least 20 years. And while I left New Orleans in 2002, I’ve been back every year since 2014, grabbing every chance to return to my own ‘hotspots’ in Uptown, New Orleans. This list is much longer than presented here: feel free to leave a comment with questions (or suggestions!).