There is no wrong way to spend a gastronomical day in New Orleans’ French Quarter, but if you only have a few hours to spend on this hallowed ground, narrowing down the multitude of options can be nerve-racking for a food-loving first timer.
Here are four classic eateries, plus a little lagniappe in between, that you can reasonably fit in a 7- or 8-hour day. If you’ve got the stamina and stomach room, this tour de eats will satisfy the soul as well as the belly, and give you a feel for why millions make the trek to the Quarter to worship at the church known as NOLA cuisine.
Before you take off on this gluttonous journey, you should do two things: wear comfortable shoes in addition to comfortable clothes. This tour includes some footwork in addition to fork work.
Ready? Get set. Go.
I don’t care if you have been to Café du Monde 1,000 times; no trip to the Quarter is complete without a trio of hot beignets and a cup of café au lait. It just isn’t. You could buy a box of beignet mix to take home, but you’ll never recreate the magic that comes from eating them at the source.
Walk around Jackson Square across the street from Café du Monde and admire the local artists’ wares while you dust off the powdered sugar from your clothes. You may be tempted to stop at Restaurant Stanley on the northeast corner of the square for Breaux Bridge Benedict (with country ham and house made boudin, pictured at top).
But save that sit-down restaurant for another day and make your way over to Johnny’s Po-Boys on St. Louis Street. You won’t be the only person with the same idea.
Even if it’s only 9 a.m., skip the breakfast items and get the shrimp po’boy (unless you can’t have shrimp, in which case you should get the beastly roast beef).
There isn’t a better po’boy inside the Quarter and eating in New Orleans without having a po’boy is like tossing a penny in a fountain without making a wish.
Johnny’s shrimp po’boy starts with Leidenheimer bread, as all po’boys worth their crumb do — it has a particularly light, winsome flake to the thin crust, and an ultra-tender interior. Stuffed with a generous amount of thickly breaded, crisp, fried shrimp and “dressed” with pickles, lettuce, tomato and a light touch of mayo, it’s a fine specimen of the New Orleans’ classic.
After beignets and po’boys, you’re full and you need to walk. The French Quarter covers almost a square mile (.66) and every inch is worth exploring. The west side, bordered by Canal Street, is mostly commercial, and the east side, bordered by Esplanade Avenue, is mostly residential. The architecture throughout is a captivating mix of French, Spanish and Creole.
Some homeowners have put their own artistic spin on their property, like this fence covered in glass flowers. It’s just one of dozens of eye-candy treats waiting for you as you stroll the residential side of the Quarter.
Before you land at the next stop, Central Grocery & Deli on Decatur between Saint Phillip and Dumaine Streets, walk up and down some of the residential streets like Barracks, Governor Nicholls and Ursulines Avenue.
I’m including Central Grocery with some trepidation, based on my most recent visit, but for a food lover, I still think it is a mandatory stop.
Founded in 1906 by a Sicilian immigrant, Central Grocery has retained it’s old-world charm. It’s fun to wander the few but fully stocked rows of imported Italian goods, but the reason most tourists (and locals) come to this long, narrow grocery with a creaky, wooden floor is for the venerable sandwich invented here: the muffuletta.
The large, round Italian bread is topped with toasted sesame seeds is split in half and layered with thinly sliced salami, ham and provolone.
It’s topped with a garlicky, oily, olive and caper chopped salad with plenty of dried oregano.
There is something special about eating this monster of a sandwich (a whole is $14, half is $7) at a counter in the back of the deli, elbow-to-elbow with like-minded foodists that makes it worth the stop, even if the bread is a little dry, as it was on my last visit.
Now you need a little time for the muffuletta to settle, so head over to Kitchen Witch Cookbooks on Toulouse Street between Royal and Chartres Streets.
If you do the aforementioned weaving up and down every street between Dumaine and Tolouse, you’ll burn more calories and see more of the Quarter. Couldn’t hurt. Tolouse is the 3rd street over from Dumaine Street.
I could spend all day in Kitchen Witch. This gem of a store is owned by Philipe LaMancusa and Debbie Lindsey, who are charming and warm and bursting with fascinating stories about the thousands of old and new books in their store.
Last year, I picked up a 1982 edition of Time Life Books American Cooking: Creole & Acadian, and this year, I found a copy of The Picayune’s Creole Cookbook, filled with recipes printed by the Crescent City newspaper from the turn of the century. Every cookbook lover, heck, every food lover should visit this amazing store.
After perusing cookbooks for a while, I imagine you are in need of a little nourishment. After all, beignets, po’boys and a muffuletta can only take you so far.
I found the perfect spot — with the perfect late-afternoon pick-me-up treat — to end the tour.
From Kitchen Witch you’ll have to hike a few blocks back to the residential area, but the reward is the irresistibly sweet Le Croissant d’Or Patisserie.
Sweeter still is a strong cup of coffee and the most sublime almond croissant I’ve ever tasted.
Soft, buttery, flaky and oh-so-almond-y, this simple pastry is more than a just reward for a long day of eating-walking-eating-walking.
It is an old friend even though you’ve never met. It is the consolation prize for aching feet. It is pure, unadulterated joy and the perfect punctuation mark to encapsulate the French Quarter Tour de Eats.
French Quarter Tour de Eats Details:
Cafe Du Monde
800 Decatur Street
547 St. Ann Street
511 St. Louis Street
923 Decatur Street
Kitchen Witch Cookbooks
631 Tolouse Street
Le Croissant d’Or Patisserie
617 Ursulines Avenue