January 22, 2018

Fair Grounds, New Orleans, & the Horse Racing Foodie

Fair Grounds' 146th Thoroughbred season kicks off on Saturday, November 18.

by MICHAEL BEYCHOK

There has been some chatter lately on the social media channels from friends about where to eat and drink in New Orleans, so—as one does on Twitter.com—I’m inserting my opinion into the discussion.

Truthfully, I’m doing this as a fun exercise in choices and selections. To pick and choose places to eat and drink when there are so many good choices and time is limited to 48 hours is like trying to pick a winner in the LeComte this weekend. There are big favorites but some longshots can deliver the goods as well.

For FREE Brisnet.com Ultimate Past Performances for the Lecomte, CLICK HERE; for FREE Premium PPs for all Fair Grounds races, CLICK HERE.

Assuming arrival into New Orleans in time for lunch on Friday and departure in the afternoon on Sunday here is my itinerary without representing the best of anything—just places I would go if given 48 hours. Who knows I may show up at some of these spots this weekend so be on time please.

Lunch Friday is a po-boy but not just any po boy but the kind of po boy New Orleans is famous for: Roast Beef.

Guy’s Po Boys on Magazine is my current go to spot. Look, I know people will argue there are better po boys out there—R&O, Casimentos, Domileses, Parkway etc., but at Guy’s there is actually a guy behind the counter cutting your roast beef, preparing it, placing it on the bread, and making it the best. Literally, the owner is the only one who makes the po boys – ever! That’s why it is your first stop for po-boys. As an added bonus the shrimp is just as good as the roast beef.

Next stop as you are heading to the Fair Grounds is Liuzza’s By the Track. I know you are full because you probably ordered the large po boy thinking you could finish it off. I mean how big can a sandwich be you thought? Turns out it was too big to finish which is why I recommend the half. You go to Liuzza’s to get a fish bowl beer and—if you are a real foodie—you split a BBQ Shrimp Po Boy with your crew. You can also order the fried eggplant, which is good, but the reason you order the fried eggplant is because the red gravy that comes with it, marinara if you will, is very good. Say hello to the owner Mr. Jimmy behind the bar, and you will likely run into a horse trainer or two around lunch time – the morning line favorite is Dallas Stewart at 2-to-1.

OK, you’ve arrived at Fair Grounds. The Gentilly Oval that first opened in 1852. You are full but your race is just starting, and you still have about 46 hours. I.e. don’t be like Spanish Chestnut in the Kentucky Derby; be like War Emblem!

Anyway, once at the track, go straight to the Star Guitar Bar, say hello to Michelle, and she will make you a very good Bloody Mary.

Now, I’m kind of a Bloody Mary snob. Liuzza’s gets a solid B, but this is a B+. If you like your bloodies run through the garden she will fix you up. My order is the same every time “no garden, extra lime and extra Lea and Perrin.” Best deal at the track for the price.

Enjoy the races and think about dinner! Your first dinner in Nola should scream to you, “Hey! You are in New Orleans.” Hence, I won’t recommend a steak place or even one of the great new New Orleans places that have popped up recently. You are going old school, and you are going to Irene’s Cuisine.

You are going to Irene’s because it is small, in the French Quarter, and it is likely to be gone in a few months due to some lease issues.

But, before you go to Irene’s you are going to pre-game at the Napoleon House for either a Sazerac or a Pimm’s Cup depending on your liquor preference. Sazeracs are made with Rye whiskey for the darker liquor lovers and a Pimm’s Cup for the gin drinkers. They are both excellent and all you need is one to get ya going.

OK, now we’re ready for Irene’s where you can order anything on the menu because it’s all good, but if soft shell crabs are in season and available don’t think twice just do it. The Italian dishes are good; the fish is good; the bread pudding is excellent. I’ve never had anything bad there so it’s a no brainer.

Now, you might have to wait and there might be a line but don’t fret it is worth it. Just take a seat in the old car garage and get a cocktail or a glass of wine.

Dinner is done and you have had dessert so you have to hit another joint for a nightcap. If you are in the mood for a somewhat crowded, a bit touristy place head down the street to Pat O’Brien’s. If it is before midnight you can have a Hurricane but if it is after midnight you cannot as that violates the Chok Rules of New Orleans Engagement and a violation will be felt and dealt with in the morning after. Plenty of good beer choices or specialty drinks to choose from at the Piano Bar, the Patio Bar, or the quiet front bar. My favorite drink is the Purple People Eater, which is what I would go for since the Saints play the Vikings on Sunday.

It’s breakfast time and wherever you are or find yourself in the morning locate some coffee with chicory. It’s a special blend of New Orleans coffee and is perfect on a foggy, cool New Orleans morning.

Then you can head to Café Beignet back in the quarter to get the best beignets around. Look, I know Café Du Monde is more famous, but you don’t want famous; you want the best, and Café Beignet is just better. One order will do the trick so don’t try to be a hero this early in the morning—there is plenty left to do and eat today including more beignets. If you are not wearing a white shirt get a white napkin to cover your dark shirt and pants as some of the powdered sugar from the beignet will find the darkest clothes. That’s the best tip of the day by the way.

If Beignets aren’t your thing, Stanley in the French Quarter on Jackson Square is a great spot for a more typical breakfast. Breaux Bridge Eggs Benedict will surely get you started in the right direction for the long day ahead and as an added bonus you can order gumbo any time of day.

If you are inclined to have a drink before lunch you will want to hit the street bar at the Royal Sonesta for a quick beer and some people watching or for the more adventurous eater you can go down to the Central Grocery and grab a Barqs Root Beer out of the cooler and order a half of a Muffletta to split with your companions. Don’t be intimidated by the order process which is a little like the Seinfeld “No Soup for You” episode. Half or Whole that’s all you got to know. The Muffletta is an Italian meat and cheese sandwich with a special olive relish. They don’t make these anywhere else that I know of outside of New Orleans and they are special but they don’t travel well so please don’t save it for later.

For lunch you are going to Katie’s in Mid City which is on your way to the track. The menu is expansive and again everything is good but start with the Oysters Slessinger and stick to the po-boys. Otherwise, all the chargrilled oysters are good, the crab cakes excellent, and a must order is the Crawfish Beignet. See, it’s all about the beignet today.

You head back to the track and back to Michelle at the Star Guitar for that bloody mary and Abita beer but don’t eat because there is a stop after the track you have to make.

After the late double and before dinner you are going to be hungry. Head right down the street from the track and hit Mo Pho for one of the best things I’ve ever eaten – their Fried Vietnamese Chicken Wings. One order for a few people and you get just a nosh before dinner but I dare you to eat just one wing. It cannot be done and frankly, it should not be done as it would be a serious foodie crime. Their beer menu is good as well so go with a local to wash it all down.

Ok, you are full. I get it. But, you are in New Orleans so you cannot pull up. You are in the stretch and you have to go to riding to get to the finish.

Before you head to dinner, take the trolley down to the Columns on St. Charles for a refreshing drink outside on the front porch and take in the people and activity of uptown New Orleans. It is a different attitude and atmosphere uptown.

Dinner will be at one of my two very favorites – your choice.

Herbsaint is on St. Charles as well but it is more downtown and is owned by Donald Link who is one of my favorite chefs. The menu is different from night to night but one constant is the gumbo. It is one of the best in the city alongside another of my favorites – Brigtsens. The rest of the menu is pure New Orleans creole cuisine and it is what makes New Orleans food famous – taking basic dishes and adding a bit of jazz to them. Make sure to include a table share of Fried Oysters in your exotic orders, they always come strong and if they offer onion rings at dinner don’t hesitate.

A second option for dinner if you want to stay with the uptown theme would be the aforementioned Brigtsen’s. Frank Brigtsen’s little house down by the river is a classic and stays much closer to Louisiana and New Orleans cuisine roots then Herbsaint but is equally good. Plus, he’s a race tracker. His gumbo is supreme and the Shell Beach Diet Platter is anything but a dieter’s meal as it is chock full of oyster, shrimp and fish tastes and temptations. You can’t go wrong with either choice of Herbsaint or Brigtsens.

So, it’s after dinner you are full and tired. There is at least a furlong to go so head to the Polo Lounge at Windsor Court for a quiet upscale feel and hopefully Roger is there as the bartender to fix you a nightcap. He used to live in Saratoga and loves the ponies.

If you are more of a closer and still feel you have some horse under you, head to Frenchman St, where the locals go for live music. Usually can’t go wrong catching a show at the Blue Nile and there are lots of options for late night food and music.

It’s now Sunday morning so you have to do brunch in New Orleans. We won’t go classic here we will go best and that is Willa Jean on O’Keefe. BBQ Shrimp and grits. Biscuits. And not just any biscuit but a few choices of biscuits with boudoin, Fried Chicken, etc. and a thing called the Hangover bowl. And, of course, cocktails as you cross the finish line.

Depending on how you gallop out – there is a place by the airport – Check In Check Out – it’s a gas station on the corner of Loyola and Veterans that has a great shrimp po boy for the road as this is one sandwich that does travel well.

One final thing: it is King Cake season. At some point you have to have good king cake. The truth is most anyplace in New Orleans has good King Cake, even the supermarkets are good. But, the best is Manny Randazzos. You can also get a good one at Haydels and a sugar shop called Sucre but get one or a piece of one somewhere before you leave town.

That’s it. Your 48 hours is up once you hit the airport. One final piece of advice for airport eating- do not get a Lucky Dog – it is likely not to be lucky later.

The Lecomte kicks off the Road to the Louisiana Derby, and this itinerary works whether you’re visiting this weekend, for the Risen Star, the Louisiana Derby, or really any weekend in the Crescent City! ENJOY!

Michael Beychok is an Eclipse Award-winning handicapper who provides Chok’s Choices Fair Grounds selections for The New Orleans Advocate, and Spotlight Selections for major race days at Brisnet.com. Follow him on Twitter @BeychokRacing

3 Comments on Fair Grounds, New Orleans, & the Horse Racing Foodie

  1. Fantastic review and advice! Of course there are many other places to go, but I like that you’ve stuck to the classics!

    I did shed a tear when you mentioned the cuisine at the Fair Grounds itself. There was a day when the Fair Grounds was a contender with the surrounding restaurants for best (and cheapest) meals, but those days are long gone.

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