I am a virgin to your streets and am looking to find the best place for sitting down with a beer/bloody Mary and some crawfish/oysters. Could you please give us a suggestion?
John Broullire Washington D.C.
If you haven't yet started to explore the culinary delights of this wonderful city, then you are in for a treat. There are so many places that will offer you just what you're looking for. There are places where you can wear shorts and places where a jacket and tie are required. Places you can go to anytime of the day or night and places for which you will need a reservation. In this city, it's almost impossible to find a restaurant that doesn't serve beer, Bloody Marys, crawfish or oysters. Oh, I suppose there is the odd steakhouse that offers you a choice between steak and steak, but beer and Bloody Marys are ubiquitous.
Since everyone has his or her favorite restaurant, the place for you to start looking for ideas is right here at Gambit. Each year the newspaper conducts a survey to determine the best of everything in the Big Easy. Readers are asked to vote in dozens of categories such as entertainment and nightlife, food and restaurants, politics, goods and services and local life. One of the most important categories is "Best Bar." This large category is also divided into smaller ones. The "Best Place to Get a Cold Beer" is on the list as is "Best Beer Selection."
We vote for the best restaurants according to what there specialty is: ethnic, steak, seafood, soul food, vegetarian, dessert, breakfast, brunch, late night and fast. There are categories within categories and far too many to name here. For you, there are categories called, "Best Place to get a Bloody Mary," "Best Place to get Oysters on the Half Shell," "Best Place to get Boiled Seafood," and "Best Place to Get an Oyster Po-Boy."
You can find the last edition of the Best of New Orleans survey on line at http://www.bestofneworleans.com/dispatch/2h006-08-29/cover_story.php. Bon appetit, and have fun learning all about the best of New Orleans.
Why is there so much Italian influence in New Orleans restaurants?
The answer is simple: because the Italians played and still play such an important role in the culture, cuisine and history of our city.
When the Spanish and French were exploring this part of America, Italians were there for the adventure. Neapolitan Enrico de Tonti was with La Salle in 1682 when the French expedition claimed Louisiana for King Louis XIV of France.
During the 18th century, countless Italians immigrated into colonial Louisiana, many of them from northern Italy. But because they traveled alone or in small groups, the early Italian pioneers often lost their ethnic identities as they married into Spanish or French families.
Italians continued to come to Louisiana, and between 1850 and 1870 New Orleans boasted of the largest Italian-born population of any city in the United States. The colonial and antebellum Italian immigrants spread throughout the state as far north as Natchitoches.
The largest influx of Italians came during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Before the Immigration Act of 1924, more than 100,000 Italian immigrants had come through the port of New Orleans, and about 90 percent of all Italian immigrants to Louisiana were Sicilians. The Sicilians worked on the New Orleans docks and the south Louisiana sugar fields. Second and third generation Italian immigrants played important roles in the city as firemen, policemen and politicians. At one time, there were so many Sicilians that occupied the French Quarter that the area became known as "Little Sicily" or "Little Palermo."
Many Italians opened grocery stores, meat and fish markets, bakeries and confectionary shops. Before long, they were operating restaurants. Tortorici's Italian Restaurant established in 1900 at 441 Royal Street is probably the oldest Italian restaurant in New Orleans. Another well-known restaurant is Pascal's Manale, founded in 1913.
Over the years, dozens of Italian restaurants, large and small, have opened, but one thing is for sure: I've never heard anyone say that New Orleans has too many Italian restaurants.