Late Night Bites
by Leslie Cardé
IF YOU’VE EVER EXITED a movie theater or jazz club at 10:30 p.m. and bemoaned the fact that there was no decent place to eat at that hour, think again.
Although we’re all aware that one can get a drink at any time in New Orleans, finding food when your palate runs to something a bit loftier than dive bars and drive-thrus can be a bit elusive if you don’t know where to look. So, in that vein, we present suggestions for excellent food across a variety of communities in our exploration of late-night bites in the city.
THE FRENCH QUARTER If you stroll on N. Peters alongside the river, just a stone’s throw from Canal Place, you’ll find St. Lawrence, a gastropub known not only for its late-night hours (a full menu until 2 a.m.) but for its interesting fare and signature drinks. Since its opening six years ago, it’s been a haven for tourists and locals alike who find themselves hankering for a real meal after 11 p.m.
“We are definitely a Louisiana gastropub with very elevated bar fare and simple dishes made great in a casual setting, with a real focus on our food,” says co-owner Brendan Blouin, who along with his partner, Jeff James, owns both St. Lawrence and its sister restaurant at the other end of the street, St. Cecilia.
Only St. Lawrence serves late-night food, and since its namesake is the patron saint of cooks and restaurateurs, there’s a loyalty program with great discounts for those in the service industry. But, no one’s complaining about the prices here for food that’s as good as anywhere in the city, and cocktails that draw you in again and again.
“The St. Lawrence, our most popular drink is well-balanced in terms of ingredients and is particularly refreshing on a hot summer’s day,” explains St. Lawrence bartender Casha Balkan. “It’s a mix of Cathead vodka, passion fruit purée that we make here at the restaurant, freshly squeezed lemon juice, elderflower liqueur and a splash of freshly squeezed grapefruit juice, all topped off with Champagne.”
The original menu was put together by Susan Spicer protégé Caleb Cook, so excellent food choices abound. Here are some of the highlights:
Soft-Shell BLT. Colosso-sized (yes, that’s a fishing term) soft-shell crabs on a bed of fresh lettuce, onion, tomato, pickles and a spicy mayonnaise to die for.
Chicken Confit Wings. Slow cooked inside the oven and served with a sauce that includes Chinese chili paste, these wings have just the right pop.
Crawfish Mac and Cheese. If you’re a carboholic, you can’t go wrong with this creamy rendition of a classic.
St. Lawrence is located at 219 N. Peters Street.
LOWER GARDEN DISTRICT
If your tastes run toward Asian fare, here’s the place to go to get fresh fish and beyond. Located on St. Charles Avenue’s streetcar line, Hoshun serves a full menu (one of the largest in the city) until 2 a.m. in an elegant setting.
“Many people don’t know we stay open late, but more than half of our business is after 10 p.m.,” says General Manager Mick Tran. “The owner, Steve Ho, came up with the late-night concept in 2005, but got waylaid by Hurricane Katrina. At the time, I was at Commander’s Palace, getting off at midnight, and there really wasn’t a variety of places to get good food late at night. After re-grouping post-Katrina, the restaurant opened in 2007. Folks in the service industry found us first, and they spread the word to others looking for late-night food.” Happy hour from Monday to Sunday is 3 to 6 p.m. Tuesday is for night owls, from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. Bartender Rochelle Polkey whips up popular drinks like the Blueberry Lemon Drop and the Pineapple Kiss, both of which lend themselves to the exotic fare. The choices are wide and varied, but you can’t go wrong with a few particular mainstays.
Coconut Curry Soup. Traditional dish of coconut milk and curry, surrounded by fresh veggies and an enormous amount of large fresh shrimp.
Beef Teriyaki. Large pieces of ribeye steak, grilled with bell peppers and onions, served on a sizzling plate, with a teriyaki sauce that nicely dances a fine line between sweet and savory.
Streetcar Roll (Sushi). A wonderful ensemble of avocado, crabsticks, minced snow crab and rice enveloped in soy paper with Champagne and eel sauce and spicy mayo and then deep-fried.
Five-Pepper Calamari. A restaurant favorite, the lightly battered fried squid is tossed with jalapeños and four other peppers.
If you’re looking for anything Pan-Asian you can possibly imagine, you’ll find it here. And don’t count out dessert. Everything from Mississippi Mud Pie to 5-Layer Chocolate Cake and Cheesecake. And, of course, the well-known Asian ice creams—green tea, red bean and mango.
Hoshun is located at 1601 St. Charles Avenue.
In the heart of Magazine Street, nestled amongst residential architecture, you could miss Bouligny Tavern if you don’t already know it’s there. Plenty of folks have already discovered this cozy bar and restaurant, which is next door to Lilette and brought to us by the same owner, John Harris. With Christie Plaisance at the helm in the kitchen, the excellent late-night choices are served from 4 p.m. until midnight, Monday through Thursday, and from 4 p.m. until 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday.
“We’re an upscale cocktail bar with an excellent wine list and really great food,” says General Manager Craig Cooper. “I like the informal nature of this place, where you can come in for a quick beer or drink, or you can come in with a group and sit and have cocktails, a round of oysters or a good bottle of wine. We may be more of a bar, but our food and beverages are up to a level of any good restaurant in the city.”
And while we’re on the subject of beverages, the drinks are unique in name and ingredients. While perusing the cocktail list, I found the Sol y Vida, the White Linen, La Palabra and the Bouligny Bamboo. Meanwhile, my bartender C.J. Russell was whipping me up another concoction known as the Managed Mischief, consisting of Barsol Pisco, orgeat, cold-press coffee, lime, and Angostura bitters. Quite the drink!
The food runs the gamut from snacks and small plates to salads, bruschetta and crostini, and varied fried selections. I sampled a couple of popular items, which I’d definitely re-order.
Tempura Green Beans. You don’t have to be a vegetarian to love these lightly battered and tempura-fried French-cut beans, with a spicy sesame aioli on the side.
Vietnamese Short Ribs. For the carnivore in you, it’s hard to beat these ribs, which are cross-cut on the bias and full of flavor. Grilled with marinated carrots, cucumber and pickled onion on top, they’re served with garlic chips.
Bouligny Tavern is located at 3641 Magazine Street.
For anyone who remembers the old Christian’s Restaurant nestled inside of a 1915 Lutheran church on Iberville, this location will be familiar. Since 2016, it’s been Vessel Nola, serving dinner until 11p.m. and small plates, drinks and dessert until midnight on weekends. Its motto? “Eat, Drink, Congregate,” as the entranceway signage declares.
“The location is obviously unusual, and as such we’ve been in a couple of national publications, including Architectural Digest,” says General Manager Scott Brogan. “We’ve done some remodeling so that the ceiling is now modeled after the inside of a boat hull … so, that’s the vessel. And we have numerous different sorts of vessels for your drinks. There’s a theme. It’s a little kitschy, but it works.”
The most impressive part of the interior is the long bar flanked with etched and stained-glass windows that rise to the cathedral ceiling above.
“Believe it or not,” says Brogan, “people come here for sanctuary from the storms because it’s a church, and these gigantic windows are protected by plexiglass. We’ve had huge storms which have knocked the power out, but those windows have stayed firmly in place.”
The specialty cocktails, which often come in unusual vessels, are innovative and tasty. I tasted the Carlota Fresca, made from Espolon Blanco, sloe gin, lime and coriander and Serrano Soda—great on a blisteringly hot day. And, a more traditional Tipping Point, put together with Cathead vodka, St-Germain, Cointreau, lemon, and Rosé bubbles. The ingredients blended beautifully.
If your idea of a late-night bite is an appetizer, a drink and a dessert, this is the place. The small plates available until midnight include a pickle plate of five seasonal vegetables, a cheese board including four specialty cheeses, two house jams, grilled semolina bread, candied pecans and fresh berries—perfect for a late night after a flick at the Broad Theater. Or try the smoked fish dip of red snapper, catfish, cod or redfish, ground up and turned into a creamy pâté. It’s all served on semolina bread.
But my sweet tooth kicked into high gear with the desserts. Recommended highly? The delightful bread pudding or the large brownie, with large dollops of vanilla and coffee ice cream, respectively. It’s all inspirational!
Vessel NOLA is located at 3835 Iberville Street.
Where Franklin Street meets Royal Street on the slope that divides the Marigny from the Bywater sits Mimi’s In The Marigny, a two-story neighborhood bar whose slogan is “Two Blocks from the River, Three Sheets to the Wind.” Join in the fun and merriment until 4 a.m.
Their mixologists at the bars do something called the “Trust Me” cocktail. You pick the spirit, and they’ll invent the rest. These drinks won’t have names because they’re all original, so if you like the blend, write it down. Behind the bar was Elise Prince, whose jubilee of ingredients perfectly hit the spot. My gin drink not only took the edge off the hot, humid day I’d walked in from, but looked like a piece of artwork—3rd Ward Gin, muddled mint and cucumber, St-Germain Elderflower Liqueur, freshly squeezed lemon juice, homemade simple syrup topped with Champagne. (Yes, I wrote this down, for the next time.) My tequila, bourbon and vodka medleys were equally audacious.
“I always knew I wanted a bar, but it took many years to find the right location,” says Mimi Dykes, one of the co-owners. “I had returned from Manhattan and began the long search for the right place. We’ve been here now since 2002, and the secret to this place is the wonderful and loyal employees. Rob Hughes, the downstairs bartender has been with me since the place opened, and our wonderful Chef Heathcliffe came just after Katrina. If you don’t have collaboration and support, the restaurant business can be tough. These are pros, and they’re very aware of how much I appreciate them.”
Serving top-notch food is the job of Executive Chef Heathcliffe Hailey whose existentialist manifesto on all things culinary is a bit unusual.
“Cooking involves mastering the control of fire, and it dates back to Australopithecus man when he grabbed that lightning-struck tree and held the sabertoothed tiger at bay,” says Hailey. “He had taken charge of his life by controlling fire in the same way that chefs control fire to entice us with their edibles.”
Take it from me, however you spin this, Chef Heathcliffe knows what he’s doing and brings farm-to-table produce handpicked from Louisiana farms straight to your table. Here’s a small sampling:
Marinated Quail. Served with morel and chanterelle mushrooms in a demi-glace.
Lamb Chops. Served lollipop style, after being marinated in olive oil with Simon and Garfunkel herbs (parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme).
Mimi’s in the Marigny is located at 2601 Royal Street.
Just a stone’s throw from the Lakeside Mall on 17th Street is one of the best finds in town. Billed as the home of the world’s greatest 12 oz. burger, it’s The Harbor Bar And Grill. Whether you want a ribeye or a tuna steak, they’re grilling until 4 a.m. It’s been a family-owned business since 1987, when patriarch Gary Saucier opened its doors.
“The menu has now been expanded to include just about everything, but back then it was just burgers and steaks,” says Christy Saucier, daughter-in-law of the founder.
“You know, I used to come here with my dad when I was 12 years old, and I never thought I wanted any part of the restaurant business, but I came to love it,” says Jason Saucier, the founder’s son.
The restaurant never closed during Katrina, but it eventually lost both roofs and sustained rainwater damage. Two months later, it was up and running again with a packed house. “We were crazy busy, because so many places had closed,” explains Jason. “The construction workers all came here because they knew they could get good food.”
Their notable 12-ounce burger is so big you can barely get your mouth around the prime beef. At $8.50, this is a steal. “And there are specials,” says Manager Theresa Thompson. “We have a steak special every Thursday. It’s a 10-ounce ribeye, with mashed potatoes and a side salad for $12.”
Long-term employees are the name of the game here. Take the bartender who’s been there since the day it opened. “Vito Longo has been here 30 years,” says Jason. “I go to San Francisco and New York, and people ask me if Vito is still there. He knows everyone’s name and their drink.”
Eat in at a high-top by the bar, or take your food to go. Whether it’s a seafood platter, or a BLT with fries, late-night chowhounds can have a feast and still have change in their pockets.
The Harbor Bar & Grill is located at 3024 17th Street.