Among the ways I kept my shit together in 2014 was long bike rides through New Orleans’ suburbs. There’s a lot I love about New Orleans suburbs. I love finding bike routes among the canals, I love the DIY carport conversions and yard art, I love the partially-empty plazas and faux-French- Quarter details on apartment complexes, and most of all I love the people, who are either New Orleanians or immigrants from other countries. In the suburbs, I still hear New Orleans accents. Nobody is talking about Brooklyn. Nobody is talking about pop-ups. Of course there are still assholes in the suburbs, but they’re New Orleans assholes.
Most days, I eat food. When I’m not at home—for instance, because I’m in a distant suburb—I end up eating out. The following is an informal roundup of some of my favorite suburban places for food from the last 12 months. Although I also biked around the East and St Tammany Parish, they aren’t in this roundup. Maybe I’ll get to those next year.
Jefferson Parish (Westbank)
There is only one “best” and it’s Nine Roses. Nine Roses is not just the best Vietnamese restaurant in our area, it’s probably the best overall restaurant in this article. I’ve wandered the length and breadth of its daunting, encyclopedic menu, and everything I’ve tried has been superb. Try the duck porridge! Try the hot-and-sour catfish soup! Among Nine Roses’ most laudable hallmarks is its consistency: you can get a great meal plenty of places, but Nine Roses is one of very few places you’ll get a great meal every single time. Although the pho and spring rolls (especially the grilled shrimp ones) are top-notch, Nine Roses is a treasure trove for anyone interested in digging into lesser-known Vietnamese dishes. Come and explore. It’s located conveniently near a stretch of the Westbank Expressway that has a bike path underneath it, so you can pedal alongside the Westbank’s three major cyclist demographics: cute Mormon boys, Latino laborers, and dudes with DUIs. Please note that Nine Roses is a fairly classy joint, so wear something half-decent. 1100 Stephens Street, Gretna
Most of Jeff Parish’s Westbank Mississippi levee is now beautifully paved. A couple pieces are inaccessible (Harvey, Avondale), but only Marrero’s is still gravel-topped. If you don’t like biking on gravel and don’t want to be killed horribly by the drivers doing 70- plus on River Road, then c’mon down to Marrero’s Fourth Street, which has super-generous concrete shoulders, intriguing commercial and light industry spaces (a party bus depot!) and Schnell’s, a fine example of no-frills South Louisiana family dining. For me, Russell’s Marina Grill in Lakeview is the prototype for these kinds of places: slightly motel-ish decor, staff who are sweet without being obsequious, big portions, paper napkins, po’boys, onion rings, hamburger steaks, Kitchen Bouquet in the gravy. When I go out to eat I tend to favor what my parents would call “ethnic food,” but on a hot day’s ride, few things will revivify you like a gallon of iced tea and a big, salty, sloppy roast beef po’boy. 5501 4th Street, Marrero
Bubble teas are what, 3,000 calories each? I know we all live for pleasure, but c’mon. If you’re going to have bubble tea, you might as well have a bubble tea that blows away all the others. Your all-time favorite bubble tea, in a rainbow of flavors derived from actual foods rather than powders, awaits an improbable distance down Manhattan Boulevard. All of Frosty’s drinks are divine, but I particularly recommend the less sweet flavors like red bean, taro, and avocado. It’s a long haul, but there’s bikeable sidewalk along most of Manhattan, and where there isn’t, the feet of the underclass have beaten you a packed-dirt path. For connoisseurs of ar-kitsch-ecture, two must-see spots enliven this trip: the Fountain Place Centre, an incongruous oasis of ersatz-Saudi-Vegas splendor among the stripmalls, and then just behind Frosty’s, the idiosyncratic McMansions of a gated community called “The Residence at Hyde Park Avenue.” This exclusive address combines the prestige of London’s Hyde Park with NYC’s Park Avenue, just a stone’s throw from the Verret Canal’s most scenic slab bridges. 2800 Manhattan Boulevard, Harvey
Honorable Mentions: Coffee & 1, Sahara Cafe
When a waitress calls me “Daddy,” I know I’m where I belong. I don’t drink, so I can’t enjoy bars like I once did, but certain late-night, come-as-you-are diners like Coffee & 1 (13 Westbank Expressway Trail, Gretna) scratch that same itch. The hamburgers are just an excuse; I go for the psychic balm of conversation with staff and other patrons. Meanwhile, down in what I call the Timberlane Triangle—Lapalco Boulevard, Wall Boulevard, and Belle Chasse Highway—Sahara Cafe (401 Realty Drive #1, Gretna) serves very, very good Middle-Eastern food in what I find a soothing strip-mall ambiance. The Triangle, strongly flavored by the Muslim Academy, is just one of many interesting neighborhoods in the Westbank’s ethnic mosaic.
Jeff Parish (Eastbank)
Let me give you the definitive answer to a speculative conversation everyone should be tired of. Is there great Indian food in metro New Orleans? Yes there is. It’s in the less-than-prepossessing environs of Tandoori Chicken, on Cleary Avenue, in Metairie. Note that if you are snobby or prissy, this establishment is not for you. Tandoori Chicken may have flown its former coop in the New Orleans CBD, but retains a pre-DisneyLandrieu charm. When you’re inside, you’d swear the Hummingbird Hotel was around the corner. Tandoori’s fit and finish are, shall we say, distinctly unambitious. The food, however, needs no such generous euphemism; it’s delicious. You’ll love it, you’ll stuff yourself, you’ll yearn to return. The big draw is the buffet: lunch, Monday through Saturday, and dinner on Friday and Saturday. It’s not inexpensive—the dinner buffet is $16 and lunch is $10— but it’s worth every greasy penny. The whole plaza around Tandoori Chicken, anchored by the evocative signage of Bugsy’s Hideaway, gets two thumbs up; it’s an example of why I love the suburbs, and it sure doesn’t hurt that Cleary is one of the least suicidal means Metairie offers for biking over I-10. 2916 Cleary Avenue, Metairie
Pho NOLA is in a comfortable spot, midway on the continuum between classic Vietnamese food done scrupulously well and the more new- generation approach of places like Namese or Magasin. The restaurant itself is cheerful, colorful, and chic, and the menu offers both familiar Vietnamese dishes and original twists—get the NOLA Boba, a bubble tea that mixes mango, lime juice, honey, and cayenne. Their banh mi and soup combo is a heck of a lot of fresh, well- executed food for just under ten bucks. Next door is an Asian grocery heavily weighted towards Korean food and the equipment for making Korean food; it’s the place to go for Bibimbap bowls. The residential neighborhoods in this region of Metairie—upriver of the Causeway, between Vets and the lake— are among my favorite areas to bike aimlessly through. Everyone seems to be doing okay, the street grid’s broken up enough to be interesting without being so fractured it’s frustrating, and one comes across rewarding details, like the little footbridge over the Canal. 3320 Transcontinental Drive, Metairie
Yet another devitalizing downturn in Fat City’s long, sad City Council- enforced death spiral was the recent loss of cult-favorite Japanese restaurant Kanno, run by a sushi chef known as Elvis. Kanno reopened in September, a couple blocks closer to the Lakeside Mall. I was anxious to read, in Todd Price’s nola.com coverage of their move, that Elvis wasn’t looking for new customers. My partner and I had only just discovered Kanno! Would we make it under the wire? What if one of us was allowed in, but not the other? Fortunately, Elvis hasn’t made us leave the building. At Kanno, the fundamentals kick ass, the inventive soups kick ass, the service kicks ass, and the decor is slyly hip without being pretentious. Even the bathrooms are remarkable; the Ladies’ features a wondrously overdesigned 12-function imported toilet that’s an attraction in its own right. Please note that this is a nice restaurant, so if you go, wear something that reflects a respect for the employees’ craft. 3517 20th Street, Metairie
Honorable Mentions: Pho Sunrise, Whole Foods Smoked Meat Plate
Large swaths of Kenner are not fun or easy to bike. Despite opposition from a vocal portion of the electorate who consider crosswalks a UN conspiracy, plans are afoot to change that… but these things take time, so any New World Order stormtroopers itching to cycle safely through Kenner must for now be content with the isolated, oil-company-sponsored mile of path running beneath Power Boulevard’s soaring utility towers. While biking through Kenner in 2015 still requires some serious ovaries, it can also be exhilarating, the exurban equivalent of whitewater rapids. Take the gorgeous Lakefront Path (the jewel of Jeff Parish!) out to the Treasure Chest Casino, grind down the sidewalks of Williams, pray your way along the bricked neutral ground beneath I-10, and there on Vets, just downriver of an intersection you’ll see in your nightmares, is the delicious and budget-friendly soup of Pho Sunrise (2305 Veterans Boulevard, Kenner). Their broth is exquisite: a salubrious, precisely balanced mélange of spice, neither too delicate nor too savory. Far back along a very different chunk of Vets, it pains me only mildly to admit that among my favorite Metairie meals is the boudin plate with two sides from the smoked meat counter at Severn Avenue’s Whole Foods. I eat a medically dangerous quantity of boudin from a huge number of sources, and I’m telling you, the Whole Foods smoked boudin is not to be missed. Do I like being in Whole Foods? No. Do I like getting a plate of awesome boudin and way- above-average beans and slaw for under ten bucks? Yes.
St Bernard Parish
Bonzai Sushi Express
Here’s how to bike through Arabi and Chalmette: as soon as you’re downriver of the National Guard Barracks, go up Mehle or Angela and take a right on Patricia Boulevard. This route, which becomes first West and then East Genie, will get you across all the canals without exposing you to the extremely bike-hostile traffic of Judge Perez. Once you’re lined up with your destination, you then pop back down towards the river. This sushi outpost on the line between Chalmette and Meraux—it’s “Bonzai,” not quite Bonsai the tiny tree, nor Banzai the exclamation—is what I’d call down-home sushi. The atmosphere is laid-back, everything is yummy, prices are reasonable, and the rolls with soft-shell crab are competitive with far more expensive sushi joints. On your way down here from E. Genie, you’ll pass through a strange, mostly empty region of bare lots with no sidewalks and almost no trees or homes. Is this another preserved Civil War battlefield? Only in a manner of speaking: it’s the footprint of the Murphy Oil refinery disaster. 1912 East Judge Perez Drive, Chalmette
Stella Maris Cafe & Grocery
This is a fantastic eatery, and I hope 2015 will bring it better recognition. Stella Maris vies with Lebanon on South Carrollton for the metro’s Middle-Eastern food crown; my partner and I have discussed the matter at length without being able to settle on a clear winner. It’s easily St. Bernard Parish’s most exciting new restaurant. The dining area isn’t 100% to my taste—the lighting ’s a little harsh—but the friendly mood and stellar food at low prices more than make up for that. The menu options are similar to what you’ll find at Mona’s, Lebanon, or even upscale spots like Casablanca on Severn. It’s the quality that sets Stella Maris apart; however it is they’re seasoning their food, they’re doing it differently from (and better than) a lot of other places. Save room for their stand-out desserts. They’ve also got a nice Middle Eastern grocery, including fresh produce, and a hookah lounge. 7555 West Judge Perez Drive, Arabi
ChillBerry Extreme Frozen Yogurt
There’s a plethora of places selling self-serve frozen yogurt by weight, but I honestly believe that in a blind taste test ChillBerry would smoke all the competition. Best flavors, best texture, best je-ne-sais-quoi. Most of the eateries in this article are chosen because they have an ambiance I find comforting; ChillBerry is the exception. Its cleanliness and brightness are Extreme. You know how when you’re tweaking, everything seems sort of crystalline and hyper-articulated? ChillBerry is like that. It’s highly shiny. The interior’s beyond pristine, and the sassy, brightly- colored plastic café seating seems not built to adult scale. Perhaps ChillBerry is not meant for clumsy humans like us; it’s more like where the characters in an upbeat, tween-targeted Bratz-doll branded video game might congregate. As you fumblingly dispense yourself their ambrosial yogurt, you inevitably fail to return the yogurt handle to its fully upright and locked position: a turd- like tiramisu-flavored tell-tale protrudes from the ultra-polished chrome. The tiny, slightly traumatized-looking employee must follow along after you to wipe up. You are an interloper. Pay for your shamefully tourist-sized heap of dessert and escape ChillBerry’s surreal, surgically-lit welter of oversaturated colors and mirrors. Take your yogurt out to the calm mall concourse, and there, experience heaven. NOTE: As of January 2015, ChillBerry was undergoing a transition to new management. Stay tuned for their reopening! 8700 West Judge Perez Drive, Chalmette
Honorable mentions: Gerald’s, MeMe’s Bar & Grill
I read in the St. Bernard Parish Post last year that there are now more than a dozen donut bakeries in St. Bernard. I haven’t tried most of them; when Gerald’s (6901 St Claude Avenue, Arabi and 2101 East Judge Perez Drive, Chalmette) is so good, why fool with anywhere else? The two Gerald’ses, one just by the Orleans Parish line and the other way out by the refineries, offer an interesting contrast, especially late- night. It’s like a pair of twins who’ve taken slightly different directions in life. The conversations are different, the patrons are different, and yet they’re still far more alike than unalike. The non-donut food is fine for what it is, and both locations are everything a 24- hour diner should be. At MeMe’s (712 West Judge Perez Drive, Chalmette), on the other hand, the food is sumptuous. It’s technically casual dining, but this Creole bistro is noticeably fancier than most of what Da Parish has to offer; Tom Fitzmorris called it “The Galatoire’s of Chalmette.” A cozy room, superb service, indulgent options, and patriotic portion sizes make MeMe’s a great date-night destination.