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How to Win a Wine and Food Championship at the Super Bowl

New Orleans offers myriad food and drink options for anyone coming to the big game; here's my cheat sheet
Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Jan 24, 2013 11:00am ET

By Mitch Frank

New Orleans is a little insane right now. Maybe that sounds silly describing a city where it's not odd to witness a brass band marching past your front porch, with your neighbors dancing behind it. But New Orleans is a little more insane than usual right now. This year, wedged tightly in the middle of the Carnival parades that start Friday, the NFL has brought the Super Bowl to town.

Are you coming for the game? Good. (If not, pay attention, because you should visit soon.) It's not hyperbole to say that New Orleans is one of the greatest cities on the planet in which to celebrate. If you enjoy good food, wine, beer, cocktails and music, it is hard to go wrong.

But it is possible. Arriving here in Carnival season is like being a kid in a candy store—except you're over 21 and the candy is all rich food and strong drink. A friend who came to visit a few years back somehow disappeared between his taxi and the door of his French Quarter hotel. When we finally found him, he said the last thing he remembered was seeing a sign that read "32-ounce beers—$4 each!"

So here are some tips for making the best of a trip down here. This isn't a comprehensive list of the best places to eat and drink. It's a handy cheat sheet for anyone coming to watch the 49ers and the Ravens, or just coming to enjoy our insanity.

Eat Grand

Any list could start with New Orleans' two restaurants with Grand Award-winning wine lists. Both Emeril's New Orleans and Commander's Palace know how to take classic New Orleans food, add innovation and fun and pair it with an incredible selection of wines.

The team behind Commander's has a new restaurant in the French Quarter. SoBou offers gourmet food disguised as casual fare, a great cocktail list and a large selection of wines by the glass. The most ambitious new spot in town is Restaurant R'Evolution. Not only are chefs John Folse and Rick Tramonto cooking fascinating food, but wine director Molly Wismeier has built an impressive wine list.

If your main concern is not being late for the game, there are options near the Superdome. Chef John Besh is best known for his flagship Restaurant August, but his newest spot is Borgne, in the Hyatt next to the dome. Executive chef Brian Landry offers a great menu of seafood dishes inspired by Louisiana settlers from Spain's Canary Islands and a well-devised list of wines to pair with them. Down the block, Little Gem Saloon was a pioneering jazz club a century ago. It reopened this month with a menu of Creole classics. General manager Chris Ycaza knows wine—he impressively upgraded the cellar at Galatoire's.

Eat Local

Like any great city, New Orleans is a collection of neighborhoods. So don't just stay in the French Quarter and the CBD (Central Business District). Wander into the Warehouse District and check out Cochon, Cajun food for the 21st century. Hop on the St. Charles Avenue streetcar (the green one) and take a ride Uptown. Between the mansions and leafy streets are numerous bistros in old shotgun houses or corner groceries. Two of my favorites are Lilette and Boucherie.

Take a red Canal Street streetcar to Mid-City to visit Parkway Bakery & Tavern for an education in po-boy greatness. Order the roast beef or fried shrimp, or if you can't decide, the "Surf and Turf." And always ask for your po-boy "dressed."

Hop in a cab to check out Bywater, which has attracted a flock of twentysomethings in recent years. Maurepas offers farm-to-table cooking at good prices.

Drink Quality

Anyone can come to New Orleans and drink to excess. Real pros know how to drink well. Your first stop might be your hotel bar. The Sazerac Bar at the Roosevelt, beautifully restored a few years back, is a temple to Art Deco style. And it's named for the official city cocktail of New Orleans. (What? Your city doesn't have an official cocktail? How sad.) The Monteleone is home to the Carousel Bar, where you get to slowly revolve and watch the Quarter go by. The Grill Room at Windsor Court recently hired mixologist Christine Jeanine Nielsen, who has put together an inventive drinks list to go with an already fantastic wine list.

While cocktails never went out of fashion here, Cure led the way on modern mixology trends in the city and is worth a cab ride Uptown. Its younger sister, Bellocq, is closer downtown and focuses on cobblers—drinks built around aromatized or fortified wines.

When you need a classic, the French 75 Bar at Arnaud's restaurant is managed by one of the smartest men in town, bartender Chris Hannah. Antoine's Hermes Bar is a great way to see the historic restaurant. For wine, Patrick's Bar Vin is a good bet.

My list has only scratched the surface, and the No. 1 hobby in New Orleans is debating where to eat next. So if you've been before or you're a local, let me know what your cheat sheet would include.

Mitch Frank
New Orleans, LA —  January 24, 2013 12:08pm ET
I am a recent transplant to New Orleans, so I want to thank my local friends for their input. Thanks all, especially John Mitchell, Ann Tuennerman, Michael Botnick and Rene Louapre.
Scott Mitchell
Toronton, Ontario, Canada —  January 24, 2013 1:45pm ET
Elizabeth's in Bywater for breakfast. Hands down the best breakfast I've ever had (mmmm praline bacon). Also might do one of the old school classics like Clancy's or Upperline for dinner.
Christopher Hills
Seattle, WA —  January 24, 2013 1:46pm ET
After my wife and I spent 4 days in New Orleans in early October, I can agree with some of your thoughts (Bellocq was excellent and Cochon very good), but R'Evolution was a mess. Went there based on an earlier post here and was disappointed with the service (pretentious and cloyingly omnipresent to a fault) and the food (the driest, toughest piece of veal (seems like an oxymoron, doesn't it) I've ever had). When I commented on my inability to eat very much of the overly dry meat, our server replied with "that's why I recommended you get the other (even more expensive) veal preparation!" Then he walked away. Really. You have something on this overpriced menu that you know isn't any good and the best you can do is try to upsell me to something that is edible? Wow.
The visit to NOLA, however, was redeemed the next day when we went to La Petit Grocery for brunch. Absolutely the best single meal we had in New Orleans. Drinks - excellent, service - excellent, crab beignets and poached eggs with house-made pastrami - the best. La Petit Grocery should be high on anyone's list of restaurants to visit in New Orleans. Go there.
Dallas —  January 24, 2013 11:02pm ET
I had the opportunity to spend a little time in New Orleans this past week. I highly recommend Club Tonique for a little cocktail deliciousness.
Mark Horowitz
New York, NY —  January 25, 2013 10:26am ET
We just returned from NOLA, where we had a spectacular time. Check out Frenchman St. for live music. Particularly enjoyable was the Three Muses, where a menu of tapas-style food was a perfect accompaniment to live jazz, the Spotted Cat, where we enjoyed traditional jazz and Snug Harbor, where you should try to catch a performance by Delfeayo Marsalis' Uptown Jazz Orchestra.

Other venues for live music include Rock'n'Bowl and the Maple Leaf Bar, where the Rebirth Brass Band has a regular weekly gig. We also enjoyed a visit to Preservation Hall for the timeless Preservation Hall Jazz Band and to Tropical Island for Cajun and Zydeco music (otherwise, stay away from Bourbon St.).

Our experience at Restaurant R'evolution was nearly flawless. Molly Wismeier was cheefully helpful and her wine list is presented on an iPad. Try to request a table at the counter overlooking the kitchen for a unique vantage point. And order the shrimp and grits, a modern take on a NOLA classic.

In the Garden District, consider skipping Commander's Palace in favor of the new-ish bistro Coquette.
Don't miss a walk through the Lafayette Cemetery, as well as a walk to view the spectacular homes in the Garden District.

Breakfast was outstanding at Le Croissant d'Or in the Quarter, with fresh croissants of every variety hot out of the oven.
Mark Horowitz
New York, NY —  January 25, 2013 10:40am ET
Two more comments: The Charles Street streetcar line is currently not running, with the streetcars temporarily replaced by buses while construction and renovation take place.

Also, Maurepas does not take reservations and is often packed. While locals praise it, if your visit is limited to a few days, it may not pay waiting several hours for a table.
Mitch Frank
New Orleans, LA —  January 25, 2013 12:19pm ET
Hey All,

Thanks for all the great input. Glad to see so many NOLA-fans.

Mark, the RTA has announced that construction on the St. Charles streetcar is suspended Jan. 20 - Feb. 13 to allow Mardi Gras and Super Bowl guests to enjoy the full line. (There is also a new line running from Canal past Poydras on Loyola Ave., allowing folks to get from Canal Street to the Superdome in style.)

Your music suggestions are spot on. I also recommend checking who is playing at Tipitina's. The weekend before Mardi Gras, both Trombone Shorty and Galactic will have shows.

Veritas - Tonique is a great spot for a cocktail.

Christopher, R'Evolution is an ambitious place and there were missteps the first time I dined there. The food and service were much improved last time I went. It is formal and upscale, however, if you prefer more casual. La Petite Grocery is a great place - Chef Justin cooks great food and his wife Mia has assembled a smart wine list.

Scott - Clancy's is a great place - spectacular wine too.

Several folks have good breakfast suggestions. I also like Stanley on Jackson Square, though it can get busy. And Cafe du Monde, though touristy, is a must. If the line for a table is intimidating, head to the takeout window and take your coffee and beignets over to the river to eat.


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