Photo: rdpeyton, Flickr
I need a salad like you wouldn't believe. Or some nice sliced fruit. And perhaps a lengthy Master Cleanse regimen. Such are the repercussions of spending 10 days in New Orleans, a city that's apparently never met a vegetable it didn't deep-fry or flavor with fatty swine.
While the Big Easy is slowly, steadily recovering, there's one sector that's stronger than before the storm: the restaurant industry, with more than 1,000 eateries open today -- the most at any time in the city's history. So with an iron stomach and a fistful of Tums, I dove into New Orleans' eats and drinks. In no particular order, here are my 10 favorite watering holes and restaurants.
1. Ms. Mae's
2. Merlin's Place
A thigh-pumping bike ride -- and critic Brett Anderson's suggestion -- led me to Merlin's Place, announced by a 3-D black bovine. Cow is a must-eat at Merlin's, namely the house-cooked roast beef: It's sliced thin and layered on a toasted length of bread, then dressed with shredded lettuce, pickles, tomatoes. It's juicy, crunchy genius. The beefy, well-spiced tamales are tops, too.
Find the rest of the top ten list after the jump.
The best cocktails in New Orleans are poured at a converted firehouse far uptown. Civilized, stylish and slightly quirky (check the bug posters), Cure traffics in meticulously prepared elixirs concocted with fresh ingredients and house-made tinctures and bitters. My favorite? The bracing Zingi, incorporating apple brandy, ginger, lemon, green cardamom and a curl of orange peel.
Hidden inside the Hilton St. Charles hotel, chef John Besh's bright, lively brasserie has a secret: Every weekday, from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., oysters cost a quarter and drinks less than $10 are half-price. Lüke was my afternoon hideaway. I'd suck down a dozen oysters, then slurp several pints of their crisp and fresh locally-brewed German beers. Total bill: less than $10.
5. The Joint
Deep in the artsy Bywater, not far from the mighty Mississippi, sits this stupendous BBQ joint. Arrive early, lest the funky, colorful restaurant runs out of its gnaw-worthy ribs, tender pulled pork, lusciously fatty brisket and long-smoked chicken. Get a side of creamy mac and cheese, too. Oh, and yes: You'll want a slice of Key lime pie.
6. Elizabeth's Restaurant
Homey, family-friendly Elizabeth's specializes in rib-sticking Southern fare that'll curtail your life expectancy. Fried chicken livers are paired with a zippy pepper jelly; burgers are crowned with blue cheese and sweet-crunchy praline bacon; and French toast is stuffed with strawberries and cream cheese. You may die early, but you'll die happy.
Much to my stomach's chagrin and pleasure, this elbow-worn neighborhood bar sat two blocks from my home -- which meant I could stumble in, grab an icy Abita beer, then order a sloppy, marvelously messy po' boy laden with gravy-drenched bits of roast beef. It's a six-napkin sandwich, made doubly decadent with a side of gravy-slathered fries.
8. The Bulldog
Craving a quality microbrew (and finding the estimable Avenue Pub shuttered for renovations), I instead hit this pooch-themed tavern to try some of the 50-odd beers on draft, including offerings from local outfit NOLA Brewing. While its Blonde is a little blah and light, the Brown was smooth and caramel-kissed and the Hopitoulas IPA sated my craving for bitter, West Coast–style beer -- a rarity in New Orleans.
9. Willie Mae's Scotch House
Anointed an American classic by the James Beard Foundation, this lunch-only spot has attracted swells of tourists to sample its fried chicken. No matter how long the line -- and there will be a line -- this bird is worth the wait. It's cooked deeply brown with a crust as brittle and crunchy as Rice Krispies, though the flesh remains tender and moist. I ripped every shred of fowl from the bone like a feral beast.
10. Verti Marte
When I had two beers too many, I'd hit this cramped 24-hour deli for a lovably sloppy po' boy to set me straight. The "mushroom mountain" is a winner, and the French fry–packed version is curiously satisfying. But I most loved All That Jazz. Grilled ham, turkey and shrimp are topped with Swiss and American cheeses, then swabbed with creamy, zippy "wow" sauce. A hangover doesn't stand a chance.
And then there's Cochon. And Domilise's Po' Boys. And Surrey's. And countless more spots where I dined and drank. What are you favorite New Orleans eats? Tell us in the comments.