Groovy Grub

Food and music in New Orleans are inexorably intertwined.

Life in New Orleans is like a never-ending festival. We start each New Year with carnival and Mardi Gras, St. Patrick’s and St. Joseph’s tumble right into Hogs for the Cause, Tennessee Williams and the Congo Square Rhythms. All that (and so much more) lead us to where we are now, on the verge of another jam-packed spring celebration with French Quarter Festival and the oh-so massive justification for jubilation, the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival that spans two extended weekends.

For visitors, festivals are a fantastic way to groove and grub in one, convenient location, sampling some of the best music and food our city has to offer. But those of us who live in New Orleans can take our sweet time, visiting live music venues – who also sport some spectacular eats – one by one.

First, let’s hop on a green streetcar and ride until it nearly reaches the end-of-the-line. Step off at the Willow Street exit and amble a block towards the river to Carrollton Station. This self-ascribed, neighborhood “juke joint” lies catty-corner from the streetcar barn, where all green streetcars go to sleep. For nearly half a century, Carrollton Station has been slinging dive-bar drinks, hosting live music, and the food generally featured the usual bar fare like burgers, wings and fries, but now there’s something a little bit different.

Trey Rintala, former sous chef at the now defunct Meauxbar, has been serving cosmically unique eats under the guise of Bertie’s Intergalactic Diner, a mobile kitchen installation that’s popped up at Zony Mash, Twelve Mile Limit, and now a semi-permanent home at Carrollton Station five days a week. Bertie’s brilliance glimmers in dishes of crisp, handmade pizza rolls with caramelized onion and Gruyere (take that Totino’s!), a croque “ma’dang” with brisket and Havarti, and pork belly and apple “pigs in a blanket” wrapped in puff pastry and served with fermented honey mustard. Pair any of Rintala’s dishes served hot in a paper boat with music from Sweet Magnolia Brass Band or Jolie and the Drifters, and you’ll feel just like you’re festin’, minus the port-o-potties and lack of air conditioning.

Just down the river a-ways in Jefferson Parish there’s a funky little shack, with a tin roof-rusted! All B-52-ing aside, the Rivershack Tavern is so much more than a road-side attraction. It’s a neighborhood restaurant, bar and live music venue created from a century-old building (that has always been a grocery or a bar) with original 1940’s hand-painted advertisements. Musicians performing at the Rivershack include local guitarist Clay Diamond, Ted Hefko and Brandon Brunious, and Refried Confusion Brass Band, but affordable foodstuffs always steal the show. Try a shrimp remoulade salad with fresh romaine and crisp fried green tomatoes, an alligator sausage po-boy, or a “Trudy Ages” corned beef sandwich with sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and 1000 Island dressing.

Korean Fried Chicken Sandwich at Three Muses

For a little more shmance, take your pants (and the rest of your bespoke suit) back down the line to the Pontchartrain Hotel. While a bougie bed at this historic hotel will set you back a thick slice of bread, you can still enjoy great food and phenomenal music for a shockingly modest price in the Bayou Bar. Wrapped in dark wood and painted panels depicting the flora and fauna so abundant in the swamps of Louisiana, it’s hard not to feel a little spoiled. When Jordan Anderson is playing piano, or Peter Harris is behind the bass, and the server brings out their 1&1 Burger with melted white cheddar and smoky hickory sauce, or a wild mushroom, grilled cheese sandwich with manchego and truffle oil, you’ll feel like a million bucks, for less than $20.

Way across town on the edge of the French Quarter lies the almost-endangered Buffa’s Bar & Lounge. For 85 years this bar has hunkered on the corner of Esplanade Avenue and Burgundy Street, and over time it has become notorious for its friendly staff, vivacious live music, and comfort food. Get to tappin’ your toes with musicians like Alex McMurray and Susan Cowsill, Tom McDermott and Aurora Nealand, or the Washboard Chazz Blues Trio – but fill your belly first from a patty melt on rye, a huge platter of red beans and rice, or a spicy, half-pound “Dark Side” burger doused in Buffa’s original Chuck sauce and topped with sliced, melty American cheese.

Not far from Buffa’s, there’s Frenchmen Street, an exuberant musical corridor featuring many of the city’s hottest clubs, from Blue Nile to The Spotted Cat. One such musical mainstay is Three Muses. Owned and operated by local musician Miss Sophie Lee, the popular Marigny venue hosts musicians every night of the week, including performers such as Big Jon Atkinson, synth drummer Simon Lott, Becky Lynn Blanca, and the Bad Penny Pleasure Makers. Grab a drink at the bar, pull up a chair and let the music wash over you while munching on their crispy Korean Fried Chicken sandwich with spicy jalapeno and creamy cabbage slaw, or opt for Ms. Moon’s bulgogi rice bowl loaded with thinly-sliced marinated beef, kimchi, spinach and ssamjang.

**Article originally published in the Jazz Fest/April 2024 issue of Where Y’at Magazine

**Lead image courtesy of Chef Trey Rintala @berties.intergalactic.diner

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