Jenni is celebrating her 20th Mardi Gras in New Orleans this year. She met her husband Mike when they were freshmen at Tulane, and while life has changed a bit for them since then (a wedding, a move to the northeast, a now eight year old daughter, and twin three year olds), they haven't missed a Mardi Gras yet. Ahead of travels with her family of five, Jenni took the time to give Nibble+squeak her tips for navigating NOLA with pipsqueaks-in-tow:
I always thought that NOLA was not exactly kid-friendly. Maybe that's because NOLA and I met while I was in college, or maybe that's because I gave in to common stereotypes about the city. But, whatever the reason I thought that, I was wrong. After having our first child in 2010, we have taken our (now three) kids to New Orleans every year. We always visit at Mardi Gras, but sometimes during other seasons too.
In New Orleans, "fancy" doesn't always feel fancy and casual doesn't always feel casual. I've categorized as best I can, but know that you can kind of just "go with the flow" when in NOLA. Be sure to check the restaurant's website for a dress code, but most won't have one. This is a list of restaurants that I've taken my kids to and that I love, in no particular order:
Commander's Palace This is classic and quintessential New Orleans. The turtle soup is not to be missed and the three-course offering is always great. The absolute highlight of the meal though for me and my daughter is the Strawberry Shortcake. A perfect shortcake (just enough salt, not too sweet) with fresh Ponchatoula strawberries. You can't find this anywhere else.
Brennan's Another New Orleans classic, this one had me at dessert also. Brennan's is the birthplace of Bananas Foster and it is magical as the chef prepares it table-side.
Court of Two Sisters Jazz Brunch is available every day here and is a wonderful option with kids because there's a little something for everyone. Don't be turned off by the fact that this is a buffet; the food is fresh and inspired. Plus courtyard seating and live music to keep their attention. A great French Quarter brunch option.
Dante's Kitchen Located uptown, this is a hidden gem. Don't miss out on the Vietnamese Style Pork Belly appetizer and the fingerling potatoes which are roasted with herbs and brown butter and topped with a bacon gremolata.
Cochon Donald Link doesn't disappoint. The duck and andouille gumbo is great as is the macaroni and cheese casserole. The creamy grits are always cooked to perfection and the braised short rib is melt-in-your-mouth delicious. The last time I ate here I was pregnant with the twins so, yes, I sampled a LOT.
Jacques-Imo's Another uptown fave. Be warned that they don't take reservations and you *will* have to wait to be seated. That said, it's NOLA. So order a cocktail from the bar in a go-cup (yes, that's a thing. a glorious thing.) and take it outside to let the kids play and be noisy. The shrimp and alligator sausage cheesecake is the must-have app and I go for the blackened redfish every single time and it has never disappointed.
So-Bou Short for "South of Bourbon," this newcomer has impressed us in recent years! The menu is varied and oh-so-interesting. This one's for the families with more adventurous kiddos but I can attest that my daughter was last there at 4 years old and she had no problem finding delicious "kid-friendly" things to eat (the drumettes of fried chicken confit were a big hit). For dessert, I highly recommend the "Pecan Pie, Not Pie" which includes a chocolate covered cracklin' (yes, you read that correctly) as well as peanut butter whipped cream. To.die.for. (Did I mention I was also pregnant with twins for this meal?)
Dick & Jenny's This is another New Orleans classic, with some of the best Creole food to be found. The fried green tomatoes and the fried gulf oysters are both fabulous, as are the BBQ gulf shrimp. Boudin balls are great! My kids like to get a table by the window and watch the cars pass by on Tchoupitoulas Street.
Fun and Casual-ish
Juan's Flying Burrito They do New Orleans Mexican food right. The Bacon Azul Quesadilla is my go-to filled with blue cheese and bacon. The Hawaii 5-0-4 (a play on NOLA's area code) nachos are also delicious, featuring bacon, pulled pork, mango salsa, pineapple salsa, chipotle sour cream, avocado, cilantro and jalapeños. They're famous for their burritos which are a big hit with my husband. If you go to their Magazine Street location, you can sit inside or outside and don't forget to grab one of their excellent margaritas to-go. The perfect drink to savor while shopping the stores on Magazine.
Camellia Grill Note to parents of littles, this is a counter-seat only diner. So if your little one isn't yet able to sit solo on a backless stool, skip this one until they can. Classic diner fare served by some of the best waiters you'll ever meet. Always met with a smile. Chocolate cherry freeze is my daughter's dream beverage.
Superior Grill More good Mexican in NOLA, this time with a few creole-inspired options. The crawfish quesadilla is a must-eat. And, again, don't forget your go-cup of margarita! They'll even salt the lid for you so you can enjoy the full fun of a margarita as you walk around uptown or wait for a parade.
Frankie & Johnny's This is the place that we go to FIRST every single trip. Literally land at the airport, rent the minivan (yes, I know, whatever), and show up thirsty and hungry at F&J's. This is classic NOLA fare including great po-boys. My husband gets the french fry po-boy with debris (don't judge, it's once a year) and we always get the fried pepper and onion rings appetizer. This is our go-to for boiled crawfish as well as boiled shrimp - they are pure perfection. And, there's a kid's menu here that offers red beans and rice, chicken fingers, shrimp and fries or even a delicious (or so I'm told by my oldest) noodles with butter. Pitchers of Abita on tap are best to wash it all down.
Domilise's This place basically feels like you're having lunch in your grandma's kitchen. BEST po-boys in the city, hands down. Come at me. Ha! The menu is short and simple (and extra delicious). Get an oyster po-boy, dressed.
Crescent City Brewhouse Sit outside on the balcony with a view of the river and enjoy beers and excellent pub fare. The specialty salads are awesome here (and because I'm recommending a SALAD while in NOLA, you know it has to be good). A great option with kids if you're downtown in the French Quarter and don't have a reservation but want to have a decent sit-down lunch.
Cafe Du Monde OK, fine. It isn't really a full-service restaurant. But beignets make everyone of all ages happy. Full stop
In New Orleans, Lagniappe means "a little something extra," so here are a few ideas for foodie-adjacent must-dos!
If you're looking for a quick sweet treat with the kids instead of a full meal, two of my fave dessert spots are Hansen's Sno-Bliz and Sucre. Hansen's is old-school (since 1939!) and serves snoballs (shaved ice) to NOLA locals and tourists alike. Keep an eye open for special flavors like Bananas Foster or Chai and definitely indulge with the condensed milk drizzle. Be sure to check their website before you go, Hansen's is only open seasonally. Sucre is new-school and serves sweet treats including chocolates, macarons, cakes, sundaes, gelato and, every mom's favorite, boozy milkshakes.
Columns Hotel - My home away from home when in New Orleans. Drink a mint julep and enjoy sitting on the large front porch overlooking St. Charles Avenue while you watch the streetcars roll by.
Zapp's potato chips - Zapp's has many different flavors but the Crawtators are my favorite! In fact, we included them in our wedding goodie bags. Pick some up at a convenience store on your drive to another meal (hey, it's NOLA), crank up WWOZ on the radio (90.7 FM) and do a little dance. Because life is good here.
King cake - I won't even begin to embroil myself in the "who has the best king cake" discussion (although I definitely do have an opinion). These can be found during carnival season and are the pastry of my dreams. A recent wedding attended while in New Orleans even had a king cake wedding cake. I had never been so thankful for being pregnant with twins as I was at that wedding; I felt zero shame going back for a second slice!
Hotel Monteleone - Want an interesting cocktail in the French Quarter? Check out the carousel bar in the Hotel Monteleone. OK, maybe this is one that isn't for the kiddos, but more for the kids at heart.
Abita is a fave that now distributes far and wide. I still love finding a Purple Haze on tap at home on the East Coast, but I think they taste a bit better in NOLA. You can find more Abita flavors locally too. Although, our (and when I say our, I mean my husband's) most recent fave NOLA brewery is the NOLA Brewing Company. Two thumbs up for their Hopitoulas IPA.
Freret Beer Room Craft beers. Great burgers. Inspired dining. Family-friendly. What more can you ask for?
And New Orleans never disappoints with its kid-friendly offerings. For activities, there are amazing Audubon offerings including Audubon Park, the Audubon Zoo, the Aquarium of the Americas and the Insectarium (yes, my little one ate bugs there for the first time!) There is also City Park, including Storyland, as well as plenty of fun kid-friendly tours on swamp boats and riverboats. And let's be honest, a streetcar ride is fun at any age!
Jenni (Stivrins) and Mike (Murin) met in New Orleans in 1999 during their freshman year of college at Tulane. After moving away post-graduation in 2003, they decided to make New Orleans a permanent part of their lives and were in town paying their wedding deposits the week that Hurricane Katrina was approaching. While they never ended up settling down in NOLA as planned, they have made it a point to return annually during Mardi Gras (and sometimes more often!) That hasn't changed as they added kids to their lives. Their three children, aged 8 (girl) and 3 (boy/girl twins), are experiencing their 9th and 4th Mardi Gras this year, respectively. This year is Jenni and Mike's 20th Mardi Gras in NOLA.