I love New Orleans — the music, the walkable French Quarter, wild Bourbon Street, genuine people, grand historic homes, fabulous food. A few weeks ago, I returned to NOLA after far too long and rediscovered that it is the best place to start the day, whether I’m hungover or “hangry.”
Open since 1862, Café du Monde has stayed successful with a menu of coffee and beignets (puffy fried dough sprinkled with powdered sugar). The café is open 24/7 and is a good warm up before continuing on for eggs and more elsewhere. Wear white or a colorful print because you will be covered in sugar, no matter how carefully you handle your beignets.
After beignets, head across the street to Central Grocery, an old-timely deli selling Italian cooking staples and muffulettas. Similar to sourdough, the “bun” of a muffuletta is Sicilian bread, also called muffuletta. In the middle is olive salad and layer after layer of meats and cheeses. Grab a stool at the back of the store or take yours to go for a picnic in Jackson Square. You’ll never crave a boring subway sandwich again.
A few steps from Café du Monde and Central Grocery Company is the Farmers Market Pavilion, open daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Local vendors sell housewares, artwork and packaged foods, so you can support small businesses and take home a reminder of your visit. I picked up tasty sweet ’n spicy blueberry habanero pepper jelly to spread over cream cheese and serve with crackers.
Lining the back wall are nine full-service eateries. The World Famous N’Awlins Café and Spice Emporium prepares Louisiana classics like gumbo, jambalaya and dirty rice. J’s Seafood Dock boils, grills and shucks all sorts of fresh shellfish. I never leave the market without soft, gooey cookies from Loretta’s Pralines.
On sunny days, the patio of Court of Two Sisters is the perfect spot to enjoy a leisurely meal and live music. Load up a few plates from the buffet and chow down under an awning of ancient wisteria vines. Highlights include the turtle soup, made-to-order omelets, duck l’orange, shrimp etouffee and Bananas Foster, a New Orleans original dessert created in the 1950s at the nearby Brennan’s restaurant.
Stanley was recommended by cousins who make it to New Orleans more often than I do. Reservations are not accepted, so our huge group had to wait more than an hour. We passed the time with drinks in Jackson Square and received a text when the table was ready.
Once we were seated, we had drinks in less than five minutes and our orders in 15. I would have waited all day for my Breakfast Seafood Platter of crispy-coated, deep-fried soft-shell crab, jumbo shrimp and oysters on top of traditional eggs Benedict. My family is from the coast of Mississippi, so I’ve had a lot of fried seafood in my lifetime … the oysters were among the best seasoned and cooked I’ve eaten.
What makes Stanley even better? Brunch is available 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. seven days a week.
The easy-to-find Palace Café has a prominent corner on Canal Street and a Hollywood-sized sign crowning the four-story building. I’ve been there for dinner, but the weekend brunch (10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.), weekday breakfast (8-11 a.m.) and lunch (11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.) menus have many of the same decadent dishes.
Crabmeat Cheesecake is a Palace Café original, a savory concoction of crab and cream cheese baked in a pecan crust and topped with sautéed mushrooms, brown butter and more crab. It is so rich that one is enough for a table of four. The showstopper is Shrimp Tchefuncte, large Gulf shrimp, mushrooms, green onion and meunière on buttery, flavorful rice.
Sunday brunch at Mr. B’s is pricey, and you need to be careful about what you order. From the appetizers, I had six fried oysters with a bacon-horseradish hollandaise sauce ($12.50) that rocked my world. I would have licked my plate, but the tux-wearing waiter would probably have thrown me out. My husband’s crab cake ($16) was almost 100 percent crab and seasoning, just enough breading for texture … amazing.
After this high, I was disappointed in the 22-dollar French toast. It was two pieces of French bread so dry that I needed maple syrup. When I asked, I was told that the bistro didn’t have any.
Lesson learned: Go with appetizers. There are so many to choose from, all delicious, generous portions and reasonably priced. If you’re going to splurge on an entrée, stick to a signature seafood dish, like shrimp and grits or the grilled catch of the day.
It has been several years since my brunch at Commander’s Palace, but I frequently make eggs Chaisson, a variation on eggs Benedict created by the executive chef of the sister restaurant by the same name in Las Vegas. Instead of ham and hollandaise, English muffins and poached eggs are smothered in a spicy cream sauce with Cajun seasoning and Gulf shrimp. Brunch at my house is now legendary (maybe not — but Commander’s Palace is).
More than 120 years ago, this fine dining establishment opened in a Victorian house, shaded by moss-covered live oaks in the Garden District. The three-course culinary event starts at $36 with your choice of starter, main and dessert. Offerings change frequently, blending Creole and traditional French, plus a dash of southern soul and Tex-Mex.
A strict dress code applies, and reservations are essential for brunch, which is accompanied by jazz from 11 a.m. till 1 p.m. Saturday, 1:30 p.m. Sunday. Request a table in the sunroom, a second-story dining area with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the courtyard.