Best of the Big Easy Writers' Picks - 2014

00:00 May 25, 2014
By: Staff
[Where Y'At Staff/Provided Photo]
Bayou Hot Wings' Beast Challenge

Best Saint: Pierre Thomas

The obvious choice is Brees. But have you noticed Drew's arm strength waned in 2013? That makes the screen pass a more important part of the Saints' offense than ever.

This is why Pierre is invaluable. No one runs the screen like him. No. One. Despite not being blessed with exceptional speed or strength, Pierre always knows when to zig and zag. While more gifted athletes like Reggie Bush would sometimes get lost in the backfield, Pierre almost always seems to get something positive out of every play. If it looks like it will be a 3 yard loss, he'll turn it into a 2 yard gain. If it looks like it will be a 5 yard gain, he'll turn it into a first down.

Are you still not convinced? Watch the games from the 2009 postseason. We'll miss him when he's gone. -Fritz Esker

Best Bookstore:Octavia Books

513 Octavia St.,

While Amazon is great for buying obscure books or a book you already want, bookstores allow you to wander, browse, and be surprised by what you find.

Of New Orleans' few remaining bookstores, the best is Octavia Books Uptown. It has the bright, spacious, and airy feel of a good chain bookstore, but it's locally owned. You can get the newest releases and if you make a request for a more obscure book, the employees will likely know what you're talking about and order it for you.

On top of the generally appealing atmosphere and good selection, Octavia Books is also great for its special events. In the past, I've seen The Wire writer George Pelecanos talk at Octavia and attended an event the store hosted featuring horror legend Stephen King.

Even if you don't live Uptown, it's still well worth your time to pay Octavia a visit. -Fritz Esker

Best Movie Theater

The Prytania, 5339 Prytania St.,

Approaching its 100th birthday (next year), The Prytania is the last of its kind: a single-screen, neighborhood movie theater. While the cavernous, soulless Palaces make even the mall multiplexes of the '80s seem quaint and quirky, The Prytania embodies old-school moviegoing. Seeing a movie there is like taking a trip back in time.

Operated by local treasure Rene Brunet (who's only a little younger than the theater), The Prytania's intimate lobby features pictures of theaters that didn't survive the modern era. It also has that rarest of 21st century amenities, a balcony (recommended if you want space to yourself because other people whispering or checking their phones annoys you). If you're waiting for the film to start, you aren't assaulted with an endless loop of commercials. Programming ranges from blockbusters to cult to classic.

Even when I don't like the movie I saw, I'm always happy I went. -Fritz Esker

Best Place To Pretend You're On A Patio In The Caribbean
Cane & Table, 1113 Decatur St,

"Cane & Table is a restaurant." Employees and regulars at Nick Detrich's French Quarter establishment repeat this mantra regularly. It's a restaurant that has outstanding "proto-tiki" cocktails. The Caribbean-inspired food menu is wonderful, but the rum-heavy bar seems to get most of the attention.

Perhaps you'll see a ceramic tiki cup or a drink served in a pineapple or coconut. Paper umbrellas optional. Drink names are clever, often amusing: Raisin Cane, Red Wedding, and, my personal favorite, The Marinator. Don't let the playfulness fool you. The drinks are refreshing but strong. Limepocalypse hasn't stopped their usage of fresh juice. Daiquiris and Mai Tais are the traditional recipes, not the sugary, watery versions found on cruises or most beaches

Order the curried pork skins. And the cangrejitos - sublimated crab rangoons with LA blue crab meat and creole cream cheese. Sit on the patio. Bring sunscreen. You'll thank me later. -Andrew Marin

Best Place To Get Drunk Accidentally
Lucky Rooster, 515 Baronne St.,

Lucky Rooster is a CBD gem for lunch, nontraditional takeout, or even snacks. But sit at the bar, and you may be there for a while. In a good way. Although this restaurant/bar is in the same family as Juan's and Slice, their drink list is far more impressive than margaritas and vaguely Italian wine: sherry, saké, Asian beers.

Busiest at lunch, Rooster also offers happy hour, dinner, and on weekends a late night menu (kitchen closes at midnight, but bar stays open until 2 a.m.). I've gone for Friday lunch and a quick drink after work. Either option can easily turn into a joyful, hours-long spectacle.

Try a beer cocktail or a mixed drink with house-made soda. Be adventurous and attempt the "secret" 36 Chambers Menu - every drink is named after a Wu-Tang Clan song. Submit yourself to a layback of Bäska Snaps. (If you don't know, just order one.) -Andrew Marin

Best Place To Keep Up With National Cocktail Trends
Cure: 4915 Freret St.

Home to 24-hour bars and go-cups, NOLA doesn't tend to care what the rest of the country is doing drink-wise. But if you want modern cocktails, hit Cure, the bar that began the revitalization of Freret Street. Cure achieved semifinalist status for a third consecutive year for James Beard's Outstanding Bar Program award. No flair nor flaming drinks here. Cure's cocktails focus on balance and technique.

If you want to drink all things 2014, here's where. White port cocktail? Bird of Paradise. Mezcal cocktail? Holy Smoke. Cognac cocktail? Tin Wedding. Drink made with Japanese whiskey? Yep. Retro cocktail making a comeback elsewhere but never lost popularity locally? Sure. Retro cocktail reinvented? Of course.

Seasonally changing drink menu keeps the bar up to date. Had a cocktail here before that's no longer on the menu? If you remember the name, ask a bartender. They (or their notes) will know the recipe. -Andrew Marin

Best Breakfast/Brunch

Le Croissant d'Or, 617 Ursulines Ave.

I hate standing in line just to get into a restaurant and then waiting another half an hour to get my food when it comes to breakfast, the most important meal of the day, especially if I'm not feeling particularly well after my Saturday night/early Sunday morning. Le Croissant d'Or is truly golden in my book. Amazingly, there is a very short wait which goes by faster when I check out their fantastically custom-decorated cakes. You can choose from a variety of freshly baked sweet or savory pastries and maybe get some lunch items with it like soups, salads, or sandwiches. Their charm also comes from their small, picturesque courtyard that is shady and cozy. Le Croissant d'Or's prices cannot be beat; you can build a perfect brunch for your appetite and budget from their selection. Make sure to get there early to be able to enjoy a pleasantly long brunch. -Emily Hingle

Best New Bar In The Metro

Bottomline Beach Club, 3408 28th St., Metairie

Have you ever seen a fish bowl toilet tank? Bottomline Beach Club has one for each toilet to entertain you while you're taking a break from the real beach volleyball, the live bands, pool table, jukebox with club-wide music-sensitive lighting system, the virtual fish tanks and world beach windows, or the occasional all-you-can-eat crawfish boils. In the middle of the urban jungle of Vets, you can lounge on the comfortably wide deck overlooking the tropical flora and two large sand volleyball courts while sipping a custom-made daiquiri. The Bottomline Beach Club has also started attracting the attention of food trucks like Food Drunk. You can also bring along the kids and furry kids to enjoy the club with you! If you can't make it out to the white sandy beaches of Florida, you can experience a little slice of beach life in Metairie right off of I10. -Emily Hingle

Best Place For Soft Serve And Po-Boys

Melbas, 1525 Elysian Fields Ave,

Located on Elysian Fields, Melbas is just around the corner from the Quarter and serves a damn good po-boy. The year old establishment was named after Melba's Ice Cream Parlor and features a cone logo. It started as soft serve-only and now includes breakfast plus items like shrimp pasta, fried chicken, and gumbo. The best is their po-boys which bring in the lunch time crowds (spurning a second location on St. Claude). The official po-boy of the New Orleans Voodoo, these over-stuffed sandwiches on quality NOLA French bread are bomb. I like roast beef with a $1 Miller Light on Wednesday. A close second is the shrimp with a guaranteed 30 shrimp on every sandwich. Sit on the patio and enjoy the good vibes of Motown music with post-sandwich soft serve or treat yourself to some Video Poker. I like to go home with a test tube shot, but that's just me. -Lauren Adam

Best Film/TV Show Based In New Orleans:Sonny

A complex category deserves a simple answer: The best film/TV show based in New Orleans is Nick Cage's debut as a director, Sonny. The 2002 movie stars James Franco as a gigolo-turned solider-turned gigolo, who seduces older women per his madam mother. Tied for second is The Princess and the Frog and All Dogs go to Heaven and third is the 1982's Cat People with an original theme song by David Bowie ("Cat People (Putting Out Fire)"), also featured in Inglorious Bastards). Runners up include Interview with a Vampire (Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise as homosexual vampires? Yes, please), Skeleton Key (Hoodoo with Kate Hudson) and quickly climbing the charts, is "True Detective." Snag an HBO Go password because this crime drama is one of the best shows to air this year. Next, send a friend to pick-up a sixer of Lone Stars, make sure the AC is turnt-up, and chill with these NOLA classics. -Lauren Adam

Best Place To Workout And Drink: Happy's Running Club

Happys Irish Pub, 1009 Poydras St.,

Can't decide weather to go to the gym or hit up happy hour on hump day? Well, at Happy's Irish Pub you can have your brew and drink it too. Happy's Running Club meets every Wednesday at 6:15 p.m. for a 5k social run through the French Quarter and CBD. Afterwards, runners enjoy 2-for-1 beers and other specials back at the bar. During holidays, the group sometimes throws parties and costume contests. As an added bonus, during the spring you can take your beer to go and walk to Wednesday's at the Square following your run. The group is open to runners of all levels, from beginners and social runners to voracious mile-loggers like me looking to turn up and try to keep pace with the pack leaders.

Happy's Running Club is hosted by Varsity Sports, which also organizes social runs on Monday and Thursday evenings, and Saturday mornings. -Greg Roques

Most Merciless Eating Challenge:The Beast Challenge

Bayou Hot Wings, 6221 S. Claiborne Ave.,

Years ago, Where Y'at did a story on extreme eating challenges in New Orleans - think Man Vs. Food, NOLA edition. As one of our "research volunteers" I endured several tortuous trials, but none more wretched than Bayou Hot Wing's Beast Challenge.

The contest (if I don't convince you to spare yourself) is to devour 10 suicide-welcoming hot wings in five minutes. You really won't feel the burn until about wing nine; after that, you'll suffer the scalding blaze of hell fire for hours to come. Post-victory, I lifted my shirt and to my horror saw a violent red glow - searing through digestive organs, flesh and bone - charting a path from my jaw down to my stomach. I'll spare you the grueling grotesqueness that followed... just know that it was unpleasant.

In the end, I won a t-shirt for my effort - totally worth it! If you're willing to hate life for a hot minute for some bragging rights, don't say I didn't warn you. -Greg Roques

Best Local Flavors:New Orleans Ice Cream Co.

Locally owned and manufactured in New Orleans, you do not want to miss a scoop of this. There are a wide variety of choices that you can choose from, each one expressing a different part of city's history. New Orleans Ice Cream Company has favors like Chocolate City, Mardi Gras Pie, and Coffee and Chicory. They even have a classic that is dear to every New Orleanian's heart, Hubig's Apple Pie. As a kid you remember standing on our toes to grab a hot pie and begging your parents to buy you it, and you remember the dreadful morning when it burned to the ground. With smooth vanilla bean ice cream swirled with little apple pie bites you will defiantly think you are holding the real deal. So go grab a pint and indulge yourself in a swirl of New Orleans flavors. -Amy Pracheil

Best Place To Make Out/Make Up/Have The "More Than Friends" Discussion/Go On A First Date/Go On A Third Date/Profess Your Undying Love/Propose…

Tiki Tolteca: 301 North Peters St.,

Whatever occasion necessitates a romantic, dimly-lit room with lots of atmosphere, Tiki Tolteca is your spot. Located above Felipe's on North Peters Street, the place exudes illicit rendezvous. The décor is mostly tiki (grass skirts, Easter Island statues…) with little touches of the wild west. Get cozy with your date on couches covered with cow-fur pillows. It's like French Polynesia meets Wyoming.

The bartenders mix craft cocktails with care and lots of rum, so the drinks are potent, tropical, and sure to help rid you of those date-night jitters. Try an old-fashioned Hurricane, made with real passionfruit rather than a syrupy mix. It's rarely busy there, a bonus if you want some alone time and more passion than just in your drink. The view overlooking the river is a perfect spot to watch the fireworks on big holidays, though in a place like this with the right company, you're sure to make some fireworks of your own. -Kathy Bradshaw

Best Place For A Low-Cal Cocktail: Hobnobber's

139 Carondelet St.

Skinny Girl cocktails are just so 2013. But finding a drink that's tasty and strong without packing on the pounds isn't easy. All those sugary mixers can really rack up the calories, and you need to save a few of those for that late-night drunken Krystal Burger craving.

Hobnobber's in the CBD has the answer. Come in for a big cup of their "Grand Isle Juice"—a diet-friendly blend of Crystal Lite and Everclear. You can't get much lighter than that, so you can save your guilt for your drunken misbehaving. It's a simple but ingenious recipe, which tastes great—just like the spiked lemonade your mama used to make.

Hobnobber's is a neighborly joint, where the drinks are stiff and cheap and the staff is friendly. During the day, food is served in the restaurant in the back. Splurge on the fried catfish… you can afford the calories, since you didn't sip your dinner. - Kathy Bradshaw

Best Place To Treat Your Nose

The Original French Market Restaurant and Bar: 1001 Decatur St.,; & Southern Candymakers: 334 Decatur St.,

Not like that. If you want eight balls in the men's restroom, that's an entirely different place. But to please the nose the old-fashioned way, without worrying about albino bats in the cave, here are two suggestions.

First, outside the French Market Restaurant, take a moment to stop and smell the crawfish. Mouth-watering smells emanate from a giant boiling pot in a street-side window. The seafood potpourri wafting through the breeze is air freshener for the hungry.

The other spot for olfactory delights is Southern Candymakers, where smells of butter, chocolate, and pecans put Grandma's kitchen to shame. With goodies like pralines, fudge, caramels and chocolate-covered almost everything, you'll likely find something that tastes as good as it smells.

If your nose is overwhelmed by all the wonderful scents, wander over to Bourbon Street for a few whiffs from the opposite end of the smell spectrum. The old schnazz shouldn't have too much of a good thing. -Kathy Bradshaw

Best Local Organization:New Orleans Catholic Churches

During Carnival parades you can buy a drink on the steps of Catholic churches; during Lent they hold Friday night fund raising fish fries and sell beer (as well as other liquids)and wine to wash down those hush puppies, fries, catfish, and coleslaw.

Nowhere else have I witnessed the Saint Joseph's Altars or even known about them until I was transplanted here. I mean, who thinks to celebrate this saint's day with an altar, lavish and loaded with food, food and more food! This happens at churches as well as at people's homes! On that celebrated day ……they feed any and everyone who comes by.

Having spent my formative years indoctrinated in the traditions and rituals of the Catholic church up North, I was pleasantly surprised at how that church has so tailored itself to the New Orleans mind set and lifestyle; combining (so well) religion, adult beverages and our New Orleans passion for food. -Phil LaMancusa

The Best Fried Shrimp Po-Boy:The Orange Store

Rampart Food Store, 1700 N. Rampart St.

It's under the radar at a small convenience store run by a Vietnamese family, and I'm not going out on a limb when I say this.

First of all, they use Banh Mi bread (about twelve inches in length) that they heat up in the oven! Then, there's the shrimp which are fresh and big; they put at least ten on the po-boy. Okay, you have oven warmed beautiful bread; you have your wonderfully battered shrimp, then what? Well, they put mayonnaise on both sides of the bread and then they lay down a carpet of shredded lettuce, a layer of thinly sliced tomatoes, pickles and they'll ask you (if you don't tell them) if you want hot sauce. BAM! Another plus is the bank of adult beverage coolers. The only drawback is that it's a takeaway joint, no eating in. -Phil LaMancusa

Best Local Boozer's Book:French Quarter Drinking Companion

On the final Sunday of this year's Tennessee Williams/ New Orleans Literary Festival, I saw in my program a panel entitled "Spirited Tipplers in New Orleans," naturally for me, the sound of that subject resonates with my inner imbiber; on the panel there were three: Allison Alsup, Elizabeth Pearce and Richard Read. How could I resist, me who has spent the better part of his misspent youth preparing for a misspent adulthood? It was as lively an audience and panel as I have ever been to.

The format of the book is brilliant. They give you names, addresses, phone numbers, hours, average price range and advise to as to what you'll be wearing, hearing, swilling, what kind of tattoos you'll see, best features and who your drinking companions will be. And then, there's an entertaining little story about each place. A must read, a book that's useful, informative, intelligent and witty. I LOVE these guys! -Phil LaMancusa

Best Restaurant To Let You Play "Variations On A Name"

MoPho, 514 City Park Ave.,

Chef/owner Micheal Gulotta intended the various puns involved when naming his new restaurant, combining the jest at folks' mispronunciation of the popular Vietnamese soup "pho" with the colorful vulgarism we all know and love. Diners could likely while away their wait time on various usages from claiming they all need "mopho" or how "mopho-ing" delicious the Whole Fried Gulf Fish is that day. I'm sure some fans have already expressed, or at least heard, a patron complaining that they towed his "mopho-ing" car. Time to order more Crispy Chicken Wings while you call a cab. -Kim Ranjbar

Best Spot To Get Dessert For A Buck

Superior Seafood & Oyster Bar, 4388 St. Charles Ave.,

Located on the corner of Napoleon and St. Charles, Superior Seafood has quickly become a go-to lunch spot for locals working Uptown. Their popularity may be due to their clean, chilled, freshly-shucked oysters or creative cocktails like their Caribbean 75 made with tangerines, but for lunch, you can't beat a $1 dessert. Diners ordering entrees can choose between a creamy bread pudding or a perfect crème brulee for only one dollar more. - Kim Ranjbar

Best Place For Slurping Shakes Through Super-Sized Straws

truburger, 8115 Oak St.,

Situated near the corner of Oak and Carrollton, truburger is a tasty spot to enjoy burgers and fries, but their silky shakes are something to write home about. Along with their usual chocolate, vanilla or strawberry shakes and malts, Truburger likes to mix it up and offer flavors like Thin Mint, Nutella, Coconut, Peanut Butter & Banana, Banana Pudding, Mocha and even King Cake all served with a gaping, huge straw … the better to slurp it with my pretty! -Kim Ranjbar

Best Place To Blend Pudding With Spirits

The Upper Quarter, 1000 Bienville St.

Two blocks from Canal Street and a block off Rampart lays a petite bar cleverly named The Upper Quarter. While this bar is conveniently located in the "Upper Quarter," it certainly isn't your average French Quarter saloon.

With alcohol being the staple of all bars, and pudding being the dessert of America, The Upper Quarter ingeniously fashioned the two together creating their famous Pudding Shot. This shot, obviously containing pudding, is a delicious twist to the ever so famous Jell-O Shots that are served in various locations around the French Quarter. The tasty treat is enough to keep patrons frequenting the bar, but be careful, this drink comes with a punch or two. Too many of these may cause symptoms like stumbling and blurred speech.

Be sure to check it out during Saint's games where the serve free Bar-B-Que, the famous Pudding Shots, and most importantly a good time. -Kimmie Tubre

Best Place To BYOW (Wine) And Be Fancy:Domenica

123 Baronne St. & 4933 Magazine St.,

There's no better feeling than the option of bringing your own liquor. When you blend that with one of Chef Besh's amazing restaurants, well you sort of enter euphoria. Yes, Domenica is quite the euphoric treat, combining gourmet pizza with your favorite wine of choice. Whether you're into expensive vino or the frugal brands, Domenica allows them all. Best of all, there isn't a corkage fee.

Now with two locations, Domenica has become one of the more popular places to dine. Their happy hour is exceptional including half off pizzas, house wines, and well drinks.

So, when it's time to "wine" down from a long day at the office, grab a bottle of your best wine and sit down at Domenica for a delight like none other. -Kimmie Tubre

Best Commercial Recycling:Phoenix Recycling

Our municipal recycling has improved but it is still far off the mark. No glass or commercial recycling is offered. And it has taken eight years since Katrina for the City to send pickups into the Quarter for residents and limited at that. However, for over twenty years Phoenix has been an affordable alternative service. So, I suggest that businesses, small and large, petition the City to offer commercial and glass recycling but until then contact and contract Phoenix for pick up. Their rates are based on volume and frequency and start at $32.50 a month. They offer up to six days per week (or less) for commercial pickup of paper, plastic, aluminum, cardboard, and tin. Glass pickups are available as often as five days a week. Everything except glass is single stream which means the items can co-mingle—no time consuming separation. Phoenix provides containers for both glass and all the other recyclables.

If you are a business with a concern for making New Orleans a cleaner, more progressive community then contact Phoenix Recycling through Chris at 504-266-1697, [email protected].

-Debbie Lindsay

Still Home Of The Best One-Dollar Daiquiri

Café Maspero, 601 Decatur St.,

When word got out that Café Maspero, the French Quarter restaurant famous for eating and drinking well on the cheap, was going to change ownership the question on everyone's lips was: What about the dollar daiquiris?!!

For thirty-three years Café Maspero at the corner of Decatur and Toulouse has been serving up $1 frozen libations with a choice of flavors, strawberry, strawberry or the famous strawberry. All served with a complimentary straw and smile. And this time honored tradition of spiked sweetness will continue!

So walk in, order that famous little libation as if you own the world, tip well, and get ready to walk the streets with your own personal cooling system. Be the envy of all those folks who just spent a small fortune on some crazy drink named after a weapon of mass destruction or natural disaster. And while sipping make a toast to Mr. Charlie for setting this tradition and wish him a happy retirement. -Debbie Lindsay

Best $5 Pizza-To-Go:Rouses on Carrollton

400 N. Carrollton Ave.,

Want an artisan crafted pizza made to order with three toppings of choice and a generous amount of cheese for dinner, tailgating, a pool party, or girls' night with a bottle(s) of wine? Want it for five bucks? Then, next time you go grocery shopping, visit Rouses on Carrollton and head straight to the deli and place your order (no phone orders). Generally fifteen minutes is the average time it takes to prep, cook, slice and box that piping hot meal for two. Just yourself? Even better, because now you have two to three meals. The trick is to reheat just right. Preheat oven to 425, use a pizza pan (preferable) or a cookie sheet, cover with a pan, large lid or foil (not touching, make it a tent) and pop in oven for no more than 5 minutes, maybe less. Crust should turn out crisp and toppings hot and moist — as good as new!

Now go make some groceries (and your dinner to go). -Debbie Lindsay

Best New Orleans Snowballs You've Probably Never Heard Of

Rodney's: 9231 Lake Forest Blvd.

The New Orleans version of the sweet shop is really unique, and Rodney's represents the true authentic. You can get all sorts of junk for prices aimed almost exclusively at kids. So for a few bucks you can walk away feeling pretty damn guilty if you're not careful. And they get it right. The flavors are right on, their menu is massive, and their portions are large. Everything from snowballs and sundaes to nachos, hot dogs and tamales; sweet cream and condensed milk they got it all. Don't go looking for a balanced meal, but expect the little kid inside of you or next to you to be very happy when they get to that gummy bear at the bottom of every cup. -Craig Magraff, Jr.

Best Place To Escape After Sundown:Lake Ponchartrain

Aside from Ponchartrain Beach, which closed in the 1983, there really haven't been any major public developments on the lake that's really an estuary. It's still pretty nice out there, but you really have the natural beauty of the lake than the city to thank for that. It behooves me as to why we don't have a boardwalk and the Lakefront literally goes black at night. In our heavily illuminated world it's rare you ever have the chance to stand outside and really see the stars in a major city. That is possible on the lakefront, but it's also very unsettling, because while you can really take in the sky, on a night with no moon you can also barely see your hand in front of your face. The amount of darkness out there can make anybody nervous. So while it's beautiful and romantic to see the red sky over the water and the moon glinting in the waves, don't be surprised if only the most daring stick around with you as the sun goes to sleep and the night begins to rule. -Craig Magraff, Jr.

Best Dynamic Duo in an Underground Art Setting:Brandan Odums and Patrick Melon

Brandan Odums has become a bit of a cult hero/phenomenon in New Orleans after his storied interactions with the dilapidated walls of the Old Florida Projects. The art he created with his spray cans, as well as the art donated to the walls by other street artists operating in city, became known as Project Be. What grew from this was a very interesting drama of artists versus authority amidst the backdrop of urban decay which photographer and self-described, "modern day scribe" Patrick Melon captured convincingly well in his documentary, Strong Light, which premiered at the Tulane University Black Arts Festival in early 2014. Project Be was shut down in last August by the Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO), who boarded up the location, and Odums and Melon have since gone their separate ways. But Melon's film continues to stand as a testament to how effortlessly youth and expression can create something beautiful out of nothing. -Craig Magraff, Jr.

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