2019 was a memorable year in New Orleans dining

Leah Chase was a constant presence in the kitchen at Dooky Chase’s Restaurant in New Orleans, including the annual serving of gumbo z’herbes on Holy Thursday.

 

Leah Chase’s contributions to Creole cooking, her support of civil rights and personality and charm will never be forgotten. Her death June 1 is one of the most notable changes in the city when looking back on 2019. She was 96.

While Chase’s family carries on her legacy at her landmark Dooky Chase’s Restaurant, 2019 was a busy year in New Orleans’ dining scene. Many new restaurants opened, and a few landmarks, such as Pascal’s Manale, changed hands. The city’s appetite for many things grew. Here’s a look back at some of the noticeable trends this year.

Tacos locos. There was no hotter item in 2019, with taco joints rolling out all year long. Otra Vez opened its stylish doors in the Warehouse District, while Uptown welcomed hipster shack, Barracuda, and food truck Taceaux Loceaux opened a brick-and-mortar eatery. New brewpub Zony Mash Beer Project chose TacoCat as its food purveyor, and Galaxie and Luna Libre recently opened their respective spots in the Bywater. The trend seems poised to continue as the new year kicks off, with El Cucuy planning a January opening on Tchoupitoulas Street with a heavy metal twist and an Airstream trailer.

Bakery boom. Carb lovers rejoiced as bakeries rose up around the city. Levee Baking Co., The Tiger Bakery, Bellegarde Bakery and Mayhew Bakery touted old-world breadmaking methods and delicate treats to tempt every taste.

Vegan everything. Vegans and culinary trendwatchers have predicted the arrival of this boom for years as more diners investigate plant-based foods. Vegans who once had to settle for side dishes now find restaurants across New Orleans dedicated solely to their diet. Nola Vegan Cafe serves up vegan fare while supporting foster children. Vegan popups like the Chinese-inspired Midnight Noodle and sushi-based Kinoko gained steam. The Daily Beet, an eatery that offers crossover items to attract vegans and omnivores alike, opened its third location. Vegan restaurant Kindred Food & Drink plans to open in the university section before year’s end, and Lower Garden District’s Seed will reopen with new owners.

Dim us sum more. Several Chinese restaurants moved into higher profile addresses this year. Dian Xin’s owners left their restaurant in the suburbs to open their busy French Quarter eatery. In Metairie, Wishing Town Bakery Cafe announced a move to the former Morning Call space near Lakeside Shopping Center, bringing its dim sum and baked goods to a busier thoroughfare. In Faubourg Marigny, Bao & Noodle moved from a quiet corner near New Orleans Center for Creative Arts to a St. Claude Avenue storefront. The delayed opening of Lower Garden District restaurant Blue Giant has drawn plenty of anticipation, although it has yet to serve a dumpling.

Late-night eats. Late-night fare once was easy to come by in this town, but following Hurricane Katrina the pickings became slimmer. Several new options arrived in 2019, including a few late-night happy hours, like those at Palm & Pine and Belle Epoque, geared toward service industry workers looking for a decent bite after their shifts end. They join a handful of French Quarter cocktail and small plate taverns. In addition, the Swamp Room will be back in early 2020 in a new location (down Veterans Memorial Boulevard from its former spot), serving big burgers to Metry night owls until 5 a.m. on weekends.

Pop-up proliferation. The culinary landscape seems ever-friendlier to pop-ups. Aspiring cooks shared specialties ranging from hatch chili stew (Hatch+Harvest) to Neapolitan pizza (Nighthawk) to regional Thai dishes (Budsi’s Authentic Thai) and everything in between. Food trucks were a common stop in the restaurant development phase, but pop-ups are taking over as testing grounds.

Feed me. Long a menu hallmark at Tony Angello’s now-closed Lakeview restaurant, “feed me” options invite diners to let chefs choose their dishes. They are starting to appear at more local restaurants, notably at Gianna and Marjie’s Grill. Less precious than tasting menus, which often mean a succession of modest dishes for a hefty price, “feed me” typically means family-style service that allows a party to try more of the menu for a more reasonable cost (Gianna charges $50 per person for five courses).

And a few trends we hope to see less of in 2020

Instagrammable decor. In the age of Insta, a filtered photo of melty mozz or frothy foam is likely to hit social media before anyone picks up a fork. The fawning formerly reserved for food has extended to restaurant decor, which is increasingly designed with photo ops in mind. We’d rather turn our attention to a delicious meal or engaging company than a gaggle of fellow patrons posing in front of a neon sign.

The cheeses. Pimiento and hog’s head cheeses were once a novelty at High Hat Cafe and Toups’ Meatery, but the spreads have grown a little tired. Let’s find some new nibbles for a new year.

Kitschy vintage glassware. It was cute when Turkey and the Wolf started it, but 1970’s rec room barware feels played out. We’re all about reduce, reuse, recycle, but maybe the new decade could bring a new look to the table?

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