Flavors of the OAH: Four Must-Taste Restaurants During Your Stay

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We are still a couple days away from the Annual Meeting of the Organization of American Historians, but our coverage here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home begins today.

William Horne, a PhD candidate at The George Washington University and editor at The Activist History Review , will be reporting for us from New Orleans this weekend.

Horne’s research explores the relationship of race to labor, freedom, and capitalism in post-Civil War Louisiana. His dissertation, “Carceral State: Baton Rouge and its Plantation Environs Across Emancipation,” examines the ways in which white supremacy and capitalism each depended on restricting black freedom in the aftermath of slavery.  He can be contacted here and followed on Twitter at @wihorne.

We all know that conference-going historians love to eat.  So in his first post William, who is a native of NOLA, offers some restaurant recommendations for those American historians who may be new to the cityEnjoy!

One of the things I found most exciting about learning the OAH would be here in New Orleans this year, aside from the short commute, was that I would have a chance to recommend some of my favorite eateries. Many thanks to John Fea and The Way of Improvement Leads Home for allowing me the space to talk New Orleans cuisine.

New Orleans is famous for its food for a reason y’all, and while I’m sure most people know about the beignets (you should skip Café Du Monde and grab yours from Morning Call in City Park), it’s easy to get lost in the sea of restaurants available in city. I’ve tried to highlight several of my favorite eateries with an emphasis on the unique flavors and history of New Orleans cuisine.

  1. Deanie’s Seafood, 841 Iberville St (menu)

Deanie’s Seafood has been an important fixture in New Orleans dining for more than fifty years. It originally opened in Bucktown, a lakefront fishing community and red-light district. If you’re into jazz history, you may have heard Jelly Roll Morton’s “Bucktown Blues” commemorating one of the genre’s many birthplaces.

The French Quarter Deanie’s location brings the humble flavors of Louisiana’s lakes, rivers, and bayous to a more accessible location. While you can get an array of New Orleans seafood favorites at Deanie’s, I’m sending you there for the boiled seafood (yes boiled). Boiled shrimp, crawfish, and crabs are a springtime staple in New Orleans, and you’ll thank yourself for trying them. If you’re not used to spicy eats, you may want to ask for extra butter and potatoes with your meal. The fried seafood is also great if that’s more your cup of tea.

If you’re open to wandering off the beaten path, their 1713 Lake Ave location gives a fuller experience of this type of cuisine without the tourist prices, but the French Quarter location will still deliver the basics. Cajun Seafood at 1479 N Claiborne Ave would be a closer option to enjoy this simpler fare.

  1. Antoine’s Restaurant, 713 Saint Louis St (menu)

I have two primary reasons for recommending Antoine’s Restaurant. First, it’s the oldest family-owned restaurant in the country. If you study New Orleans history, or even anyone who has visited New Orleans over the last 175 years, there’s a chance they ate in this very restaurant. And if that’s not enough of a draw for the historically-minded, they offer tours that include the signed photos and stories of famous patrons. Hard to pass up.

Second, they serve French Creole cuisine that you really can’t get in other parts of the country (Arnaud’s and Galatoire’s are also staples of this genre). The food is a little on the expensive side, but if you’re visiting New Orleans, it’s something you really should experience. I enjoy the Huitres Bienville and the Filet de Gulf Poisson aux Ecrevisses Cardinal, but anything you order there will be delicious. They’re also famous for their Pommes de terre soufflées, puffed potatoes, and they make a great Sazerac, New Orleans’ signature cocktail.

  1. Dooky Chase’s Restaurant, 2301 Orleans Avenue (menu)

Michel Martin’s interview of renowned chef Leah Chase gives a good sense of why a trip to Dooky Chase’s is a must for visitors to New Orleans. Chase made her restaurant a frequent meeting place for local Civil Rights activists and helped facilitate resistance to Jim Crow by fostering relationships through food and integrated space. Famous patrons included politicians, activists, athletes, and entertainers like Hank Aaron, Ray Charles, Sarah Vaughan, Martin Luther King, A. Philip Randolph, George W. Bush, and Barak Obama. But don’t take my word for it; these oral histories conducted by Loyola University New Orleans illustrate the importance of the restaurant to African Americans in New Orleans and local activism in the city that gave us Plessy v. Ferguson. This stop is required for historians of politics, race, and labor as well as anyone appreciative of the struggle for equality.

Dooky Chase’s lunch buffet is a great place to sample New Orleans favorites like red beans and rice, stewed okra, gumbo, and collard greens. Just be sure to learn from President Obama’s mistakes and put the hot sauce away when you’re eating your gumbo.

  1. Ruby Slipper, 1005 Canal St (menu)

Let’s say you stay out late listening to music at Snug Harbor or one of the many excellent venues on Frenchman Street. Maybe this activity even involves consuming adult beverages. Whatever the case, the Ruby Slipper is an excellent place to grab a rejuvenating brunch on Canal Street (the Palace Café is a close second). The restaurant is part of the post-Katrina rebirth of the city and takes its name from Dorothy’s famous realization in The Wizard of Oz that “there’s no place like home.” What better way to pay tribute to the city and remember those displaced by the hurricane?

I should admit that it holds a special place in my heart in part because it first opened in my own Mid City neighborhood, but wherever you’re from, the Ruby Slipper won’t disappoint. I’m a sucker for a good omelet and their “Louisianan” can certainly compete with the best of them. My three-year-old daughter swears by the pancakes.

Honestly, New Orleans boasts an array of fabulous restaurants and you should be in good shape almost anywhere you choose to dine. I’ve really enjoyed contemporary establishments like the Red Fish Grill and Café Amelie or tourist hot-spots like the Gumbo Shop and Bourbon House. If you’re looking to experience the unique food culture of New Orleans, however, you could do worse than those on my list.