Unknown Food Critic
No matter who’s on the stage, Jazz Fest time will always speak of certain foods for some New Orleanians. That’s because the unique and high-quality food program at the festival and the well-known vendors who participate in it are just as much a part of the experience. But if you’ve been jonesing for your favorite Jazz Fest dish and haven’t been able to make it to the Fair Grounds this time around, remember that some of the food vendors also operate local restaurants. Here are four places to find festival favorites all year round (note that during Jazz Fest time itself, you should always call first to make sure the logistics of the fest haven’t changed their dining room schedules).
Galley Seafood: 2535 Metairie Road, Metairie, 504-832-0955
I know people who travel from far and wide to attend Jazz Fest and arrive with one craving fixed firmly in mind: soft shell crab po-boys. This has been the specialty of Galley Seafood for many years, and it’s the go-to item at this Old Metairie restaurant. The dining room has the look of a fishing camp, and the smell of boiled seafood fills the air. The po-boy is as good as you remember from the festival grounds, but much bigger. The standard po-boy at the restaurant has two soft shell crabs and of course you can wash it down with a cold draft beer.
Li’l Dizzy’s Café: 1500 Esplanade Ave., 504-569-8997
From this Treme café, Wayne Baquet carries on a Creole family restaurant tradition that stretches back for generations. Each year at Jazz Fest, his crew prepares a plate you’d expect to find at a nice restaurant, not necessarily on a paper plate at a festival grounds. That’s the trout Baquet, a meaty cut of fish with a nice crisp edge, a lemony butter sauce and a generous topping of crabmeat. The same dish is the queen of the menu at Li’l Dizzy’s, where you can get it with sides of baked macaroni and white beans. Don’t miss the Creole gumbo either.
Bennachin Restaurant: 1212 Royal St., New Orleans, 504-522-1230
A plate of seasoned, sautéed spinach and fried plantains has long been the refuge for vegetarians attending Jazz Fest, and it’s a year-round specialty of Bennachin, a restaurant serving traditional west Africans foods from Gambia and Cameroon. Ask for the musical-sounding jama-jama for a generous heap of the same spicy spinach over aromatic coconut rice, with the sticky-sweet plantains on the side. The restaurant itself is found in the quiet end of the French Quarter and has a casual, homey feel and low prices. It’s BYOB, or you can try the refreshing and soothing ginger drink.
Walker’s Southern Style BBQ: 10828 Hayne Blvd., New Orleans, 504-241-8227
The cochon de lait po-boy is the Jazz Fest food I hear about from eager fest goers more than any other. The sandwich has been a sensation for years, and it has inspired many imitators at po-boy shops and other restaurants around town. It also inspired the cochon de lait’s original Jazz Fest vendor to open their own restaurant -- Walker’s Southern Style BBQ. It’s a good thing the sandwich has such a following, because Walker’s isn’t the kind of place you’re liable to just stumble upon. It’s just across from the lake levee way out in New Orleans East, next to a much larger seafood market, Cast Net. But devotees to this cochon de lait know the way very well by now. There’s brisket, chicken and other barbecue plate items. This is one place you should absolutely call before making the trek however – even outside of Jazz Fest time they close when they run out of meats for the day.