2016 Best of the Big Easy Writers' Picks
Jul 05 2016

2016 Best of the Big Easy Writers' Picks

By: Staff

DINING

Best Neighborhood Spot That'll Stuff You Silly on Homemade Eats:
Joey K's Restaurant & Bar
3001 Magazine St.
joeyksrestaurant.com

Whether you're craving a fried shrimp po-boy or a frosty mug of Abita, Joey K's is a Garden District gem that'll have you going back time and time again. Located on the corner of Magazine and 7th Streets, this casual eatery offers daily specials “just like mom used to make”, such as stewed chicken, meatloaf, Creole jambalaya, liver and onions, stuffed bell peppers and chicken fried steak. My personal recommendation? The Eggplant Napoleon and a hefty helping of their daily fruit cobbler. –Kim Ranjbar

Best Shop to Explore Unusual (but Fabulous) Ice Cream Flavors:
Creole Creamery
4924 Prytania St.

creolecreamery.com

At this incredible shop on Prytania Street, Chef Bryan Gilmore creates the most diverse and unusual ice cream flavors that I have ever witnessed. Sure, it's easy to lap up a scoop of his salted caramel or cookie monster ice cream, but are you brave enough to dare a cone of Earl Grey? Or how about some banana cane malt? Would you load up a sundae filled with white chocolate truffled popcorn ice cream? Or top your split with pine needle-infused ice cream with candied pecans and black mission figs? –Kim Ranjbar

Best Grits:
Brennan’s
417 Royal St.
brennansneworleans.com

Nothing says good ol’ Southern cooking like a plate full of grits. And though my own Southern cooking abilities pretty much extend to tearing open an individual envelope of the Quaker variety and microwaving them on high for one minute, that doesn’t mean I don’t know good grits when I taste them. I’ve rarely met a grit I don’t like and I’ll take them any way I can get them: with shrimp, with cheese, with sauce. Fried, smothered. Savory, even sweet…in a casserole, in a bowl, on a plate, in a pan. I do not like green eggs and ham. But let’s face it, some grits are better than others. And the best grits I’ve had the pleasure of spooning up are the cheddar cheese grits from Brennan’s. I am so addicted to them, I could eat them on a daily basis. In fact, I try to do just that. I like them so much that the guys in the kitchen at Brennan’s have taken to calling me Ms. Grits. A title I wear with pride. –Kathy Bradshaw

Best of the Big Easy Writers' Picks

Best New Neighborhood Bar and Eatery:
Pirogues
2565 Bayou Rd.
piroguesnola.com

My favorite new neighborhood-friendly place to go after work is. Now, let it be known that I never met a bar or a beer I didn’t like (and with due respect to Liuzza’s By The Track—they’re like my adopted family). But I gotta say, I was thrilled to walk into this corner bar and find a friend in Emily the bartender and know that I would never go hungry thanks to chef/owner Albert Silvera. I work around the corner and I love knowing that after a rough day, Boyfriend and I can walk over and feel the love—and happy hour! Albert offers up a small but delightful menu, ranging from roasted pork tacos to vegetarian chili. The crawfish sausage po-boys and empanadas are yummy, and I always save room for dessert or an after-dinner libation. View more at piroguesnola.com
–Debbie Lindsey

Best Ethnic Fast Food in NOLA:
Kebab
2315 St. Claude Ave.
kebabnola.com

It’s no secret that the Marigny/St. Claude/St. Roch area is blossoming into a rich and vibrant scene, with an array of unique music, retail, and food. While the St. Roch Market gets a lot of attention, a block and a half away sits a demure structure with the words “Kebab” tattooed across its weathered stucco. Billed as “Western European fast food”, this eatery tucked into the bottom half of a residence is becoming a favorite for not just locals, but area food critics as well. It’s not difficult to see why once you’ve tasted their amazing sandwiches with fresh-baked bread, locally-sourced ingredients, and everything else made from scratch, including the sauces! Great food at great prices. If that wasn’t enough, the venue boasts the largest public vintage pinball arcade in the city, and has walls adorned with an eclectic and fascinating gallery of local artists’ work that rotates monthly. –Mike Perry

Best $5 Milk Shake:
Cookies ‘n Cream Milk Shake from Company Burger
4600 Freret St.
thecompanyburger.com

One of my favorite scenes in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction is when Vincent Vega (John Travolta) takes his boss’ wife to dinner. The stoic Vega remained calm as a cucumber earlier in the day (though it’s later in the film’s non-linear storytelling) after blowing a man’s head off and then cleaning his brains off the back seat of a car. However, when Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman) orders a $5 milkshake, it’s just more than a fiscally responsible hitman can stomach.

Even more explicit than this pecuniary conniption, though, is his astonished outburst after trying it: “That’s a pretty f***king good milk shake!”

That line pretty much sums up my feelings for Company Burger’s Cookies and Cream Milk Shake. Sure, all of their shakes are stellar (Mint is a runner-up), but this one calls my name at least once a week. The company burger and tots are pretty essential as well. –Greg Roques

Best Pie Hole:
Midway Pizza

4725 Freret St.
midwaypizzanola.com

New Orleans has really stepped up its pizza game these past couple of years. With so many amazing pie holes popping up across the Crescent City, saying one is better than another doesn’t necessarily make the lesser of the two an unsatisfactory option. It’s like saying an Olympic bronze medalist isn’t as good as a silver finalist– both are godlike compared to the 99.99% of the world that recoils at the thought of breaking a sweat.

For me, though, Midway sits atop New Orleans’ cheese-covered Iron Throne. They prepare the thickest deep-dish pizza served with the freshest, most flavorful toppings of any place in the Crescent City. I typically drag mine through the garden, ordering the margarita with caramelized onions and extra veggies. Speaking of veggies, if you are looking for a side, the house salad with homemade croutons is without competition – it easily serves two or three, and is also my favorite in town. –Greg Roques

Best Place to Catch Some Rays (And Some ZZZ’s):
The Country Club
634 Louisa St.
thecountryclubneworleans.com

Okay, so sporting your birthday suit poolside is no longer on the menu at The Country Club, but that doesn’t mean this hotspot isn’t still the best place in NOLA to soak up some sun. This venue has everything you could ask for to beat the summer heat—a pool, a normal bar, a cabana bar, a lounge, hot tub, sauna, AND a restaurant. It’s like your typical uppity suburban country club, except—oh wait—it’s actually cool. Stop by for Happy Hour every Monday thru Wednesday for $3 drinks and small plates, with awesome tunes provided by Aaron Lopez-Barrantes. And on Saturdays, you can start the day with the Club’s Build Your Own Bloody Mary Bar and Drag Brunch! Sun, fun, booze and drag sounds like the perfect summer combination to us. –Julia Engel

 

SHOPPING

Best Place to Heat Things Up:
Pepper Palace
835 Decatur St.
pepperpalace.com

Just a few steps from Café du Monde and Central Grocery on Decatur Street, Pepper Palace is an expansive storefront carrying just about any spicy delectable you can think of. With walls stocked ceiling-high with the best hot sauces, salsas, seasonings, condiments, barbeque blends, and pickled delights imported from all over the South, one could spend an entire afternoon trying all the free unlimited samples. The Palace even stocks seasonal hot sauce blends. But, be wary: if a staff member tries to offer you “The Hottest Hot Sauce in the World,” we recommend you steer clear. No, this is not a hoax, nor is it an exaggeration. Unless you have the spice tolerance of a tiger raised on Indian curry, we can tell you from personal experience that spice-induced crying will most likely ensue. –Julia Engel

Best Way to Look Like a Million Bucks for Under $20:
Red White and Blue Thrift
605 Lapalco Blvd., Gretna
redwhiteandbluethriftstore.com/LapalcoBlvd_NewOrleans

In NOLA, like most metro areas, there’s no shortage of second hand stores. While most people are familiar with the giants like Goodwill and Salvation Army, as those chains become more mainstream, so do their prices and pretense. Goodwill stores are now popping up in high-rent areas with carefully-selected arrays of stuff at premium prices. The antidote to this is a small chain with two locations in the metro area: Red White and Blue. These “cash only” outlets move tremendous amounts of products weekly, everything from clothes, to toys, to electronics and furniture. If you’re looking for deals, they’re worth checking out. There’s a good chance what’s for sale in your local upscale consignment shop might have come from Red White and Blue. Plus, you can never have enough ceramic angels, can you? –Mike Perry

 

ENTERTAINMENT

Best Place to Picnic and People Watch:
Audubon Park

6500 Magazine St.
audubonnatureinstitute.org/golf-parks/audubon-park

There is no better atmosphere to set up camp and people watch than the beautiful Audubon Park. Grab a sno-ball from the truck near the park entrance, or pack a picnic lunch and settle in on a bench, gazebo, or lay a blanket down on the grass to observe the passersby. Audubon provides the perfect mix of tourists, locals, and college kids to entertain you for hours. You're sure to see some adorable children feeding the ducks, both athletic and uncoordinated teams attempting to play competitive games of frisbee or volleyball, people circling the track on strange three-wheeled bikes or whizzing by on roller blades, groups of students gathering around textbooks or kegs and countless dogs with hopefully friendly owners willing to stop to let you pet and play. Even on a slow day, the sprawling greens and old oak trees provide the perfect setting to soak up some sun or relax in the shade and enjoy your surroundings. The plethora of people to watch is just an added bonus. –Loren Cecil

Still the Best Bayou Kayak Tour:
Kayak-iti-Yat Tours
3494 Esplanade Ave.
kayakitiyat.com

There is something so special about being in the city and still being up close and personal with nature. Bayou St. John is home to blue herons, pelicans, ducks, gators (yes, alligators), nutria, turtles, fish, and so many other finned, winged, and web-footed critters. Cypress trees stand before a skyline of the city. And there is no better way to view this mix of raw nature and historic architecture than from the middle of our historic waterway. Sara and Sonny of Kayak-iti-Yat Tours offer knowledge, passion, and a damn good time. They have several types of bayou kayaking tours on Bayou St. John and also provide kayaking on Bayou Bienvenue for the more athletic nature enthusiast. Please visit kayakitiyat.com for details, photos and compelling reasons to indulge in Mother Nature. Contact [email protected]  –Debbie Lindsey 

Best Local Band:
Big Sam’s Funky Nation
bigsamsfunkynation.com

When it comes to winding up a crowd and kicking them into overdrive with both originals and super-funky renditions of popular songs, you can’t beat Big Sam’s Funky Nation. The band’s founder, Sam Williams, is a graduate of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, but has forged his own unique sound with a group of stellar musicians who play incredibly tight and magnificently funky. Wherever BSFN is playing, there’s a party going on that will satisfy diehard music enthusiasts as well as those looking for a festive experience. Whether it’s funk, rock, jazz, blues, pop or something in between, the band takes it to the next level. Be sure to check out their current album, Evolution. –Mike Perry

Best Place to Run into Weirdos:
Bywater/Faubourg Marigny

The true New Orleans Weirdo is getting a little harder to find these days with such an influx of your “average Americans” hoping to soak up some of our incredibly different culture. There just aren’t as many anomalies and freaks to go around, and they are increasingly unable to afford rents in this once super cheap city. The elusive weirdo can pop up anywhere in town, but I find that the Marigny/Bywater has a higher frequency of freaks. They are slowly getting priced out, though, with the increasing gentrification, but we have some stalwarts still holding down the fort. To enjoy their company, approach nicely, listen well to their stories, and ask questions. Don’t hate, appreciate New Orleans weirdos. –Emily Hingle

 

SPORTS AND FITNESS

Best Place to Drink and Run:
Happy’s Running Club
Happy’s Irish Pub, 1009 Poydras St.
happysrunningclub.com

How many times have you skipped the gym to grab a beer? Or vice versa… for those few, diehard athletes out there, have you ever bailed on Happy Hour drinks with the gang because you simply had to get that run in?  Well, now with Happy’s Running Club you don’t have to choose between running and drinking beer. You can have both. Runners meet at Happy’s Irish Pub around 6 p.m. every Wednesday, so it’s the perfect after-work activity. At 6:15 sharp, they step off for a 5k run thru the nearby streets, a different route every week.  Run down Bourbon Street, where you’re sure to be high-fived by a Huge Ass Beer-wielding drunk, or along the river, where the beautiful scenery of the mighty Mississippi is a welcome distraction from the pain of running. Back at the bar, beer and wine are 2-for-1 all night long, and nothing helps get you through 3.1 miles like the prospect of a giant, ice cold beer waiting for you. Besides, you just ran a 5k.  You earned it. Runs are free, or you can pay membership dues for extra perks. It’s social, it’s healthy, it’s got booze. What more do you need? –Kathy Bradshaw

Best of the Big Easy Writers' Picks

Best Place to Shred in Place:
City Surf NOLA

5924 Magazine St.
CitySurfFitness.com

New Orleans has seen a huge growth in boutique circuit training gyms over the past few years, all promising to deliver the latest craze: functional fitness. As a recreational athlete who trains to compete, my question is, “Functional for what?” I mean, are their specific routines developed to accelerate taking out the trash?

One studio does deliver on this promise, offering something wholly unique, fun, and “functional”: City Surf NOLA. All workouts are completed using a stationary surfboard; that’s right, a surfboard secured atop three medicine balls. Several different classes are available, including strength, cardio, yoga, barre and surf-specific exercises.

City Surf NOLA’s workout will not only enhance your strength and stamina, but also enhance your balance in the process. Exercises you can power through on stable ground become impossible the first few times you try them on a wobbly board. Plus, you’ll become “functionally” able to hang ten while working on your beach bod. –Greg Roques

BARS AND NIGHTLIFE

Best Place to Get Wasted for Less Than 10 Bucks:
Déjà Vu
400 Dauphine St.
dejavunola.com

Everyone loves a good Happy Hour, and there are plenty of them around: 2-for-1, 3-for-1, Champagne Happy Hour, $5 martinis…But where else can you get 10 beers for $10, or five Jameson shots, or three cocktails? At Déjà Vu, Happy Hour is from 4 til 6 p.m., Monday thru Friday, and all drinks are half off. That means PBR’s are just $1 each, shots of Jame-o are two bucks a pop, and even top shelf liquor shouldn’t run you more than $4 a drink. If you’re looking for fancy craft cocktails or a posh atmosphere, this is definitely not the place for you. But if you want cheap drinks, friendly staff and a locals’ vibe even in the Quarter, Déjà Vu is your new favorite bar. You can buy three rounds for yourself and five of your closest friends and only drop a twenty. Open 24 hours a day, they have a full menu served around the clock. Try their fried green beans, fried pickles or fried alligator “gator balz” for the perfect bar snacks. –Kathy Bradshaw

Best of the Big Easy Writers' Picks

Best-Smelling Bar:
Black Label Icehouse
3000 Dryades St.
blacklabelbbq.com

Since sitting around a few bonfires this winter, I’ve become rather obsessed with the rich, robust scent of smoked woods. At Wizard World Comic Con, I purchased smoked tea that I ingest regularly. I’m even planning on buying a handheld food smoker to make amazing foods and drinks and maybe a weird perfume for myself. Black Label Icehouse is a newer bar/BBQ venue in Central City that always has a delicious smoky scent, because they make newsworthy barbeque most days of the week, and the scent has seeped into the wood-paneled walls where it stays. Black Label Icehouse also hosts concerts, movie nights with dinner pop-ups, bar game leagues and much more. And once you’ve had your fun and leave for the evening, you’re going to take that incredible smell home with you. –Emily Hingle

Best Place to Cry in Public:
Under the Mini Tree in the AllWays Lounge Parking Lot Right off Saint Claude Avenue, Near Elysian Fields
2240 St. Claude Ave.
theallwayslounge.net

For so many reasons. First of all, it’s outside. Nothing like having a big sky to look at when you’re remembering all the people who have wronged you or why everything is so horrible. Second, you’re very near to a lot of food and alcohol. So depending on what coping mechanisms you use, it’s all right there. Third, depending on the time of day, you could be risking being mugged, which would honestly be some great perspective. Who cares that your boyfriend didn’t text you back, or whatever, if you get mugged? Fourth, there’s some (but not too much) foot traffic by this spot, so there’s the possibility of being comforted by a stranger, but no pressure. Fifth, a lot of stray cats in this area, which could easily be a welcome distraction or a new friend. Sixth, so much good graffiti! Feel free to read about the trials and tribulations of others (Is Sharon really a bitch?) and add your own chapter to the public anthology. –Julie Mitchell

OTHER

Best Photo Essay of the Double-Edged Sword that Cuts Through our City:
New Orleans: Life and Death in the Big Easy by Cheryl Gerber

I watch folks when they open this book and delight in the joy and dropping of jaws as they take in the vibrant color and energy of Gerber’s photographs. The juxtaposition of images she has compiled over 20 or so years tells the story of this town’s pain and pleasures, dysfunctions and delights. The images alone tell a compelling story of our culture and those who live it. It concentrates on the people rather than the land or architecture—because ultimately it is the human element that makes a place unique.

Recently I tore myself away from the photos and read the book’s essay by Chris Rose, the foreword by Lolis Eric Elie and Gerber’s commentary, and was blown away. The words certainly did stand up to the photography. –Debbie Lindsey

Best Place to Receive a Care Package from Mom:
Royal Mail LLC
828 Royal St.
royalmailnola.com

In an Amazon.com world, we all need a reliable place to receive a package.  Living in the Quarter, I’ve had packages lost, stolen, rerouted, returned, dropped over my front gate (Fragile? What’s that?), or, my favorite: retrieved by a workman next door and left on my neighbor’s balcony. I used to have boxes delivered to work, but not all employers are so receptive to that. Then I discovered Royal Mail. Conveniently located on Royal Street just off St. Ann, they have all the mail services you could need, including P.O. boxes, shipping, stamps… But best of all, for a fee of only $2 per package, they will receive, sign for and hold any deliveries in your name until you come to pick them up. Father and son team Mike and Mike will even call you to let you know when something has arrived. So if you want to be sure to get those bagels from NYC or hand-knitted socks Mom sent, Royal Mail’s the only way to go. –Kathy Bradshaw

 

 

 

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2017 Best of the Big Easy Writers' Picks