The following is the final installment in the four-part summer-column series covering my top-10 dining experiences for breakfast, lunch, dinner and brunch in New Orleans.
There are a few items to note: This list purely subjective. Everyone has varying tastes and preferences. This is not a ranking of overall quality from a critical/review standpoint. This is my personal list. These are my personal favorites. Everyone has personal connections to restaurants. These happen to be mine.
According to the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau, there are more than 1,400 restaurants operating in New Orleans today. That’s an impressive number for a city with a population of only 390,000. There are obviously hundreds of restaurants I have yet to visit, though there are dozens of others in each category that I have dined in, that didn’t make the list.
The primary guideline I followed while making this top-10 list was that I had to have visited the restaurant at least once in the past five months. Most restaurants that are listed involved three or more visits.
I keep a lot of food notes in my phone. Restaurants continually move up and down in the order of my personal rankings. Those listings are always a snapshot in time. There are no “musts” that are required to be on the RSJ brunch list. Ultimately, a top-10 brunch restaurant must be one that I would gladly visit again and again, and one which would be highly recommended to friends who might be visiting New Orleans.
A quick review the previous lists:
10. Gracious Bakery and Café 9. New Orleans Cake Café and Bakery 8. Elizabeth’s 7. Horn’s 6. The Ruby Slipper Café 5. Biscuits and Buns on Banks 4. Surrey’s Juice Bar 3. Willa Jean 2. La Boulangerie 1. Toast
10. Verti Marte 9. El Gato Negro 8. Cameillia Grill 7. Bon Ton 6. The Company Burger 5. Juan’s Flying Burrito 4. Central City BBQ 3. Casamento’s 2. Tartine 1. Stein’s Market and Deli
10. Ming’s Chinese 9. Pizza Delicious 8. Dickie Brennan’s Steakhouse 7. Coquette 6. Italian Barrel 5. Lilette 4. La Petite Grocery 3. The Franklin 2. August 1. Brightsen’s
Half of the breakfast list would probably be on my brunch list, too. But for the sake of this column, I won’t repeat any restaurant.
Narrowing a list to 10 is tougher than one might think. Again, this is NOT a list based on critical analysis and professional evaluation standards. It’s personal. I look at the list this way: If I only had 10 brunches left to eat in New Orleans, where would I go?
cavanola.com | 3607 Magazine St, New Orleans, LA 70115
My family and I spent our Mother’s Day brunch, here. Along with August, the dining room at Cavan is one of my wife’s favorites. Rooms have certain “feels” to me. Balthazar on Spring Street in SoHo “feels” like New York to me. The dining room at Cavan feels like Uptown New Orleans. Brunch was solid.
pecherestaurant.com | 800 Magazine St, New Orleans, LA 70130
Any and all discussions at Donald Link’s Peche should begin and end with the whole fish. Just order it. The smoked tuna dip and shrimp toast apps are solid, but the whole roasted fish is probably the best fish dish in town (possibly in the entire state).
lukeneworleans.com | 333 St Charles Ave, New Orleans, LA 70130
John Besh introduced me to Allan Benton 15 years ago. I’ve been a fan and friend of both ever since. Benton’s bacon makes several appearances on the menu. You won’t go wrong with any dish that uses Benton’s or incorporates cochon de lait at Luke.
7. Dante’s Kitchen
danteskitchen.com | 736 Dante St, New Orleans, LA 70118
This Riverbend stalwart is probably the most underrated brunch spot on the list. You are going to have a tough choice trying to decide between the 18-hour slow-cooked pork steak with duck fat hash browns and a fried egg or the pork shoulder debris with poached eggs. Or you can just do like I do and order both, and maybe a crabmeat and brie omelet for the middle of the table for everyone to share.
dtbnola.com | 8201 Oak St #1, New Orleans, LA 70118
DTB is one of New Orleans’ hot new restaurants in 2017. I love the room. This place is red hot right now. The beef debris and grits and the Oak Street breakfast are solid options.
5. Mr. B’s
mrbsbistro.com | 201 Royal St, New Orleans, LA 70130
I started eating brunch at Mr. B’s almost 40 years ago when my mother took me down to see Yul Brenner in a touring performance of The King and I. During the 1980s and 1990s, my wife and I had season tickets to the Saenger, and Mr. B’s was our go-to pre-theatre brunch spot. I also use Mr. B’s as a solid brunch endorsement for out-of-towners who ask me for a French Quarter brunch recommendation. I have never had a disappointing brunch in all of the years I have eaten at this Royal Street staple. I love the bbq shrimp and don’t think I have ever passed up the Eggs Benedict at Mr. B’s. The jazz trio is always solid and the parking is among the best/easiest in the Quarter
4. The Country Club
thecountryclubneworleans.com | 634 Louisa St, New Orleans, LA 70117
This Bywater restaurant is one of the hottest brunch tickets in town. You’ll need to book a few weeks out for the Sunday brunch, and my wife and her friends had to book over two months out for the weekly Saturday drag brunch. The Country Club is not a member’s only country club in the traditional sense, but there is a pool, a poolside bar, and an outdoor kitchen that requires a one-day rate or an annual membership. It’s one of the most unique and original restaurant concepts in New Orleans and if it rains its happy hour all day long.
brennansneworleans.com | 417 Royal St, New Orleans, LA 70130
This is where brunch was born. After a recent $20 million renovation which included a complete gutting of the kitchen and the removal of the awkward restroom in the entrance hall/carriageway by the front door, the Grande Dame of New Orleans’ brunch restaurants is back, and better than ever, in that famous circa 1795 building. We spent Father’s Day brunch here and it was my first time back since the renovation.
All of the classic egg dishes that were invented here are still on the menu. I have almost always ordered the Eggs Hussarde, which is basically a Benedict with the addition of marchand de vin sauce (a red wine reduction with mushrooms and demi-glace).
My kids have eaten Bananas Foster often, yet they had never seen it prepared tableside. They are hooked now. We stopped eating at Brennan’s years ago. After experiencing the recent changes, we will be back.
2. Paladar 511
paladar511.com | 511 Marigny St, New Orleans, LA 70117
I love that this restaurant is located in our building. But even if it wasn’t, we would eat brunch here, often. For a casual brunch, this would be my top choice. The Huevos Rancheros are spot on, the fried egg sandwich is served on an excellent house-baked English muffin, the Eggs Benedict is— by far my favorite in town— made using corn, crabmeat, jalapeno, and cornbread (trust me, it works). No one should eat brunch in this place without ordering lemon-ricotta pancakes topped with a blueberry compote for the center of the table (you might need two orders), as they are the lightest pancakes I have ever eaten.
1. Commander’s Palace
commanderspalace.com | 1403 Washington Ave, New Orleans, LA 70130
My perfect New Orleans Sunday morning begins at 10 a.m. with a classic movie at The Prytania Theatre (Louisiana’s oldest—and only—single screen movie house, and the one made famous in Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer), followed by brunch at Commander’s Palace.
If someone asked me to pick the “most New Orleans restaurant” in all of New Orleans, Commander’s would win that designation in my book, hands down. Many might say Galitoire’s and that is fine. When you make your list, you can put Galitoire’s at the top. For my money, Commander’s is the easy choice.
To begin, they offer a soup sampling with their turtle soup, gumbo, and whatever the soup of the day might be. There is also a shrimp appetizer on the brunch menu, that has been on the dinner menu for years. It incorporates shrimp with tasso and a pepper jelly hot sauce that— the first time I ate it years ago— caused me to order another one right away. Halfway through the second order, I cancelled my entrée order so that I might order another shrimp/tasso appetizer. My staff calls this “The St. John Manuever.” This restaurant, and specifically that appetizer, was the first place I can remember doing that.
The Commander’s Palace Cookbook had just been released when I opened my first restaurant in 1987, and I learned a lot (and stole a little) in those early days. A fish dish that I learned, and served, from that book was a pecan-crusted redfish (which seemed to be their take on the classic trout amandine). There is a distant cousin of that dish on the menu, still. Every visit to Commander’s should end with the bread pudding soufflé.
The Prytania has upcoming showings of Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train, and Witness for the Prosecution. It looks like two great opportunities to have one of those classic New Orleans Sunday mornings.