Is there any other U.S. city that brings to mind both fine music and good food as this city does? New Orleans and jazz are synonymous. New Orleans and food are also synonymous. And there is an abundance of both. So what better way to enjoy the best that the city has to offer than by checking out one of the many jazz brunches around town? And no, the places that offer jazz brunches are not just to be found in the Quarter. Nor is brunch reserved for just Sundays anymore. Brunches come in many different forms—the variety of brunches around town is pretty impressive, as are the different types of restaurants serving them. The right combination of music and food can make for an especially relaxing and enjoyable brunch time.
Not all brunches are created equal. The jazz brunch is something special—if the music is even barely tolerable, it can be enough to keep you in your chair an extra hour after you have taken your last bite of food. Music seems to be the critical ingredient. When it comes to a regular breakfast, people just seem to prefer eating at home rather than in restaurants. Brunch, however, lures folks into restaurants and is popular across the country. Add jazz, and you have something that is uniquely New Orleans. Too often, though, it seems to be perceived strictly as an activity best reserved for our out of town visitors. Well, it shouldn’t be! What better excuse to spend a couple of hours in the Quarter, Uptown, or wherever, feasting and sipping on your favorite drink? This month, we visited four restaurants that serve jazz brunch (or in one case, samba brunch).
The Palm Court Jazz Cafe on Decatur Street is an interesting concept in dining. Akin to the bookstore/cafe concept that was so popular during the 1970s, the Palm Court is a combination restaurant and jazz emporium. It operates as a part of the Jazz Foundation, which is an organization dedicated to preserving and documenting jazz and other types of American music, as is explained on their menu. Were it not for the food being served, you might think you had mistakenly wandered into a record store. The records that line most of the walls are available for purchase, or can be heard by request when there is no live music. Between the hours of 11 and 3 p.m. on Sundays, Palm Court’s brunch hours, you can order from the regular menu. There is also an egg special available; Eggs Sardou (poached eggs, spinach and artichoke) on the morning that we went. The menu offers a combination of New Orleans standbys (Gumbo, Remoulade, Shrimp Creole and Red Beans) and some more unusual items, including Shrimp Potato Cakes and Creole Beef Indienne (simmered with vegetables and potatoes). In addition, there are six entrees classified under their Light Dining section, which is dominated by chicken and shrimp dishes. Overall, the menu offers a nice mix.
The atmosphere at the Palm Court is very informal and relaxed, a welcome condition on Sunday mornings before that first cup of coffee. The band played a combination of jazz and blues and was exceptional, especially when the singer sat in. Of all the restaurants that we visited, this was the most enjoyable jazz band that we heard. They were also popular with the crowd.
Make reservations or get there early. The dining room filled up shortly before noon on the day we went. Folks must know a bargain when they find one—this is one of the least expensive brunches around, even though everything is a la carte, rather than buffet.
For an entirely different experience, Flagons on Magazine (Uptown) has recently begun serving a samba brunch. Not only is it very different than any other brunch in town, but it is also different than Flagons’ normal fare. It works though! For $15.00 you get a choice of appetizer, entree and dessert. Nachos and salsa are delivered to your table when you sit. Drinks and some of the special appetizers are extra. You can even order from their extended list of wines by the glass, for which they offered a special: buy one glass of sparkling wine and get the bottle. Lots of folks took advantage of this one. Flagons’ other drinks are reasonably priced, as well.
Start with either of the soups—Tortilla or Caribbean Black Bean. These were the most interesting of the five appetizers. Other choices included two types of salads and a cheese and fruit plate. Many restaurants, when offering choices from a menu for brunch, limit the number of selections. We were pleasantly surprised to find seven entrees from which to choose. Unfortunately we couldn’t sample them all, even though they all sounded great. We can however vouch for the Huevos Rancheros and the Yucatecan Marinated Grilled Shrimp. Being a Huevos Rancheros fan from way back, I can’t resist them at any time of day. And Flagons’ are good. Other interesting dishes included a Grilled Fish with Mango Salsa and Grilled Chicken with Roasted Poblanos. All of the entrees are served with black beans and saffron rice. They even have choices for children—a welcome sight. Believe me, you don’t go hungry here. Even though it was a major task, we did manage to finish our desserts. No bread pudding here—I guess it doesn’t fit the samba theme. The lemon tart and chocolate desserts hit the spot, however.
The music was excellent, and as you can imagine, a change from the norm. The band was hot, and they play inspired samba. Ask to sit in one of the front rooms so you can hear and see the band. I’d still be there enjoying the music, but a screaming baby (mine) forced me to make an early exit. Go and enjoy this one of a kind offering in New Orleans.
One of the restaurants that always seems to get mentioned when brunch is the topic of discussion is the Court of Two Sisters. Located in the heart of the French Quarter on Royal Street, it is a landmark of sorts. They also take their brunch seriously. They serve it seven days a week from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m., buffet style. Weather permitting, you can sit in their attractive courtyard. For $17 you can eat as much as you want off the buffet line, which includes an egg station where omelets and eggs benedict are prepared to order. The Court of Two Sisters offered the greatest variety of foods of any place that we visited. The cold food selection included several salads, herring in sour cream, mini bagels and lox spread, cheeses, fruits and much more. The hot side of the buffet line had an equally impressive selection with an assortment of entrees including typical breakfast fare (grits, potatoes and bacon) and Andouille Gumbo. Both hot and cold desserts are also available, including bread pudding, pies and fresh fruit. A great way to end a meal, though, is with their Crepe Suzette. Lots of food, for sure. The kitchen prepares some items better than others, but with such a wide selection you can pick and choose.
The music was performed by a jazz trio doing traditional Dixieland, and they fit the bill just fine. The band was also easily seen and heard from all parts of the dining room.
The service was attentive and even though customers served themselves from the buffet, the dining room staff was busy clearing and pouring coffee. Even though we ate indoors and enjoyed ourselves, I think I’d like to go back when they are seating in the courtyard. Eating outdoors always beats indoors. I’ll be back in the Spring.
Seb’s, located on the fifth floor of the Jax Brewery, commands one of the better views in town. We were lucky enough to get a table by the window that directly overlooked the river and the view was great. Most of the tables in the dining room had a similar view. Seb’s offers an all-you-can-eat buffet for $18.95 from 11 until 3 p.m. on Sundays. Brunch is the only midday meal that they serve—they are open for dinner every night. Seb’s bills itself as a Creole restaurant, but the brunch is more traditional American. Salads, cheeses, cold marinated vegetables and boiled shrimp were among the starters that were available. Scrambled eggs and accompaniments were available for traditional breakfast eaters, as were omelets that were prepared to order. Hot entrees included choices of chicken in a white sauce and barbecued pork. There was no fish entree on the day we ate there, but we are told that choices change on a weekly basis. Everything was well prepared, but for the price we expected a greater selection. The music, again, was performed by a trio. They were difficult to see from where we were seated but we had no trouble hearing them.
Seb’s offers a unique experience owing mostly to the view and the well appointed dining room. For the price, you get a nice combination of sights, sounds and tastes.
There are several other restaurants in New Orleans offering jazz brunch, not to mention the numerous hotel dining rooms. If you haven’t been to one in a while, or if you’ve never been, consider trying one of our famous, or one of our less famous restaurants for an occasion. It’s a good excuse to get out and try a different type of restaurant experience, especially this time of year. Breakfast can be a tiresome meal, not only to prepare but also to eat. The jazz brunch offers a nice respite from the usual.