The restaurateurs behind Superior Seafood (4338 St. Charles Ave., 293-3474; www.superiorseafoodnola.com) knew from the start they had to have a plan for Mardi Gras.
"Given the address, that location, we just had to be ready," says Gabe Garza, a managing partner in the restaurant, which opened just last month at a prime spot along the Uptown parade route.
So while they were constructing the restaurant's oyster bar and installing the interior's extensive tile work, they also built new balconies overlooking both Napoleon and St. Charles avenues. The balconies, custom-built for Carnival, will be packed with revelers who have reservations this week as Mardi Gras hits high gear.
Not all eateries on the parade routes can sport balconies. But every restaurant needs a plan, and the smart paradegoer should have a food plan, too. After all, revelers must gird themselves to stay in the game for the long haul.
Many people already have favorites, but choices for snacks, meals and outright feasts around the parade routes are always changing. For instance, this will be the first Mardi Gras for Irish House (1432 St. Charles Ave., 595-6755; www.theirishhouseneworleans.com), the pub and restaurant opened by chef Matt Murphy. For the week leading up to Mardi Gras, the restaurant's gated parking lot will be fitted with a beer truck and food stands selling meat pies and Irish-style "toastie" sandwiches.
"We're calling it the Irish Mardi Gras village," Murphy says with a chuckle.
Eating options tend to be found in clusters along the Uptown route. Catty-corner from Irish House there are smoked-meat po-boys and platters from Voodoo BBQ & Grill (1501 St. Charles Ave., 522-4647; www.voodoobbq.com) and thin-crust pizza practically next door from Slice (1513 St. Charles Ave., 525-7437; www.slicepizzeria.com). Parade-watchers can get pan-Asian fare from Hoshun (1601 St. Charles Ave., 302-9716; www.hoshunrestaurant.com), which also is a post-parade pick thanks to its late-night hours. A few blocks up the avenue, the spring rolls and banh mi from the new le Viet Cafe (2135 St. Charles Ave., 304-1339) make portable parade route food.
Since some Uptown parades have extended their routes, Magazine Street restaurants between Jefferson and Napoleon avenues are front and center for more parties. New York Pizza (4418 Magazine St., 891-2376; www.newyorkpizzanola.com) goes into serious by-the-slice mode for parades, serving them from the counter nearly as fast patrons can order. Next door the Turkish and Persian restaurant Courtyard Grill (4430 Magazine St., 875-4164; www.courtyardgrillnola.com) sells kebabs, falafel and gyros sandwiches from a kitchen window facing the street.
Eating Through Endymion
Mid-City gets just one parade, but the intensity of Endymion is second to none. The crowds are so thick, in fact, it can be hard to access some restaurants along stretches of North Carrollton Avenue and Canal Street, but the blocks just off the route offer backstreet finds. For instance, there are barbecue sandwiches, burgers and boudin pistolettes at Boo Koo BBQ (www.bookoobbq.com), a walk-up window inside Finn McCool's Irish Pub (3701 Banks St., 486-9080; www.finnmccools.com), and Norma's Sweets Bakery (2925 Bienville St., 309-5401), a new addition to the area, serves Latin dishes, including tamales, a great Cuban sandwich and hot plates. Lemonade Parade (4709 S. Carrollton Ave., 428-2200) is another good option. It's a take-out joint offering hot tamales and grilled cheese sandwiches.
Outside the Box, Inside the Grocery
The middle of a Mardi Gras parade might not seem like the best time to make groceries, but markets near parade routes can be invaluable. Both locations of Zara's Little Giant Supermarket (2042 Prytania St., 523-3658; 4838 Prytania St., 895-0581; www.zarasmarket.com) offer hot rotisserie chickens and bargain po-boys, and the new Rouses Supermarket (701 Baronne St., 227-3838; www.rouses.com) in the Warehouse District has a burrito bar, pizza by the slice, sushi, plate lunches, panini and even bowls of pho to go. Rouses is also debuting its party-size muffuletta this Carnival season. It is a $50 sandwich that weighs more than 13 pounds and can feed many.
Business As Usual, Somehow
While some restaurants modify their business models at Carnival time, with buffets, table rentals or pay-one-price access, others take Mardi Gras madness in stride.
The Uptown location of New Orleans Hamburger and Seafood Co. (4141 St. Charles Ave., 247-9753; www.nohsc.com) was open for three months last year when Mardi Gras rolled around, but its managers decided to throw the doors open and see what happened.
"We struggled at first with a few different plans, but in the end we decided that since we've branded ourselves as a neighborhood restaurant we should be open to the neighborhood," says manager Damien Harvey.
The menu of burgers and po-boys was curtailed a bit, but the restaurant's dining room, bar, beignet shop and bathrooms were open. This approach was successful, and Harvey says he's confident it will work again this year.
"We're reserving our parking lot for our employees, but otherwise it's business as usual," he says.
The Milk Bar (1514 Delachaise St., 891-9361) splits the difference between business as usual and no business at all. Tucked just off St. Charles Avenue, it serves unusual and uncommonly delicious sandwiches (like roasted lamb with spinach and mozzarella on an oversized ciabatta roll). During Mardi Gras, the restaurant follows its normal schedule, opening for weekdays only 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., and foregoing weekends, even though crowds surge nearby for the super-krewe parades.
"We want to party ourselves on the weekends, that's why we picked this Monday to Friday format for our business in the first place," says Inta Phayer, who owns the Milk Bar with her husband Kevin.
The following week, they close the Milk Bar altogether for Lundi Gras, Mardi Gras and Ash Wednesday, the better to revel, and to recover.
"You've got to have some fun too," Phayer says. "After all, you can't take it with you when you go."