In the post-Katrina transformation of New Orleans, those that stick to tried-and-true Bourbon Street and venerable Cafe du Monde are missing out on exciting developments in the Marigny neighborhood and other new additions to the culinary fabric of the city. In my recent stop in NOLA I sampled (read: stuffed myself with as much food, coffee, and alcohol as my body could contain) from three newer spots in the city.
First was a stop in the Marigny and Bywater neighborhoods, New Orleans's burgeoning hipster district, where recent transplants to the run-down area have brought an East Austin vibe. Adjacent to the 9th Ward, the Marigny/Bywater maintains a rough edge while also being packed with beautiful multicolored Victorian homes one immediately associates with New Orleans, but lacks the throngs of corn-fed tourists of the French Quarter.
Elizabeth's Restaurant was recommended as a great spot for hangover breakfast; poisoned by potent substances or not, the place is a knockout for modern Creole and Southern cuisine.
Poached eggs on fried green tomatoes with Hollandaise sauce went great with a side of praline bacon (pronounced "prah-leen" on this side of the Sabine).
Sweet, savory, and unapologetically gluttonous.
Next up, a trip to Pêche Seafood Grill, the new seafood restaurant by Donald Link. Famous for his modern take on the Cajun people's relationship with pork at Cochon, Donald Link is one of the fresh faces leading the new American food movement in Louisiana. Located in the Warehouse District, the decor inside the restaurant is on point, using paint-flaked beams throughout to give it a coastal swampy feel without seeming contrived.
The menu is an upscale take on Louisiana classics, with the addition of traditionally Asian and Mediterranean ingredients such as ginger, noodles, and eggplant that have already become standard in Houston-style Creole cooking. The garlic chili shrimp were perfectly spiced and popped plump and tender out of their shells. Served heads-on, eating this appetizer at the bar felt like going to town at a crawfish boil.
Finally, there's coffee; the realm in which New Orleans, for better or for worse, has been late to grab on to national trends. Known more for its dark roast, cafe au lait, and chicory, quality espresso drinks have been hard to come by in the Crescent City. Tipped off by an article on the 58 best coffee shops in the US, and under the impression that they roasted their own beans, I headed to Spitfire Coffee in the French Quarter.
The space is sleek, petite, and with hardly room for three seats, more reminiscent of an Italian-style coffee shop than anywhere I've seen in the US. It turns out that only some of their beans come from the area—a roaster in suburban Metaire, to be exact—but the bulk come from from Panther Coffee in Miami.
The knowledgeable barista made me a pour-over using a Clever filter and let me try various drinks, as well as one of the few shots of espresso without sugar that I've actually enjoyed.
While I would like to see more artisanal approaches to New Orleans traditions—locally roasted chicory, maybe?—this place is on the right track. Along with its location in a typical narrow French Quarter street right behind Jackson Square, Spitfire Coffee is perhaps the best representation of Re-Newed Orleans.