By Jay Forman
Start the day like the locals do at La Boulangerie, a French bakery offering a wide range of viennoiserie, breads and locally roasted coffee. As hard as it might be when confronted with their fully loaded pastry case, eat sparingly to save room for later. Alternatively, if you require a full-service breakfast at an excellent price, try nearby Surrey’s Uptown for its Bananas Foster French toast or boudin breakfast biscuit. As the city wakes up and the shops open, walk toward Jefferson Avenue, where you’ll find a stretch of boutiques perfect for browsing. Gifts for kids can be found at Magic Box Toys and for grownups at Hazelnut, co-owned by actor Bryan Batt. Clever New Orleans-inspired T-shirts can be found at Dirty Coast. Need a jolt? Ignore the Whole Foods across the street and grab a pick-me-up espresso at the postage stamp-sized Velvet, arguably the city’s best (and smallest) coffee shop. (Although the bulk of America’s coffee passes through the Port of New Orleans, a quality shot of espresso is hard to find. Velvet is an exception.)
So many choices. Make your way back toward downtown. Just past Napoleon Avenue you’ll come to La Petite Grocery, helmed by James Beard finalist Justin Devillier. Try his blue crab beignets or the LPG burger with homemade pickles, grain mustard and hand-cut fries. If you crave more traditional New Orleans fare, roll up your sleeves and sit down to a goliath oyster loaf (aka po’boy sandwich) at the famous but no-frills Casamento’s. Alternatively, Mahony’s Po-Boy Shop, several blocks down, offers more artfully composed versions like fried green tomato with shrimp remoulade.
Browse the stretch between Louisiana and Washington avenues. Fancy shops rub shoulders with offbeat up-and-comers. It also marks the lower edge of the Garden District, so feel free to wander off Magazine toward St. Charles to view some spectacular homes. If you need a midday break, a window seat at Rue de la Course coffee shop is a favorite for people watching. Ladies can spend time in Belladonna, with gifts and day spa treatments, while guys can check out the cigar selection at Mayan Import Company.
Rendezvous for dinner at Coquette, where chef Michael Stoltzfus offers a creative menu with a particularly strong focus on seasonal produce. Alternatively, opt for dinner and drinks at the one-two punch of Lilette and its adjacent Bouligny Tavern, both operated under the auspices of chef and owner John Harris. Housed in a former apothecary and featuring pressed tin ceilings and tile floors, Lilette feels like a French bistro, but the menu is rounded out with regionally sourced ingredients and a fair sampling of Italian fare. For a sleeker, more contemporary dining experience, consider Dominique’s on Magazine. Chef Dominique Macquet hails from Mauritius, in the Indian Ocean, and his background is French with a decidedly colonial flair, incorporating elements of Asian, African and Creole cuisine (be sure to visit the hydroponic herb towers in the back). Reservations are highly recommended for all these restaurants.
Those with a sweet tooth will love dessert boutique Sucre, whose delicate macarons, creamy gelato and jewel-like entremets tempt from the case. For a sophisticated bar scene with a small-plates menu to match, visit Bouligny Tavern.
Several Mardi Gras parades (including must-see Muses) have recently extended their routes to include Magazine Street. To experience parades without the throngs that line St. Charles Avenue and in more of a family setting, check out the stretch between Jefferson and Napoleon avenues. *Routes vary so confirm the specific parade route online before you go.
On the first Saturday of October, Magazine Street transforms into a 5-mile block party. Galleries, restaurants and shops open their doors and serve up wine, food and live music from 6 to 9 p.m. for Art for Art’s Sake.