Monday, October 26, 2009

Monday Munchies: Cafe Maspero

I realize that I’m a bit of a broken record at times. After all, when you’re trying to blog nearly every day – about your favorite topics, interests, and destinations – you’re bound to repeat yourself every now and again. But I simply can’t resist mentioning my favorite French Quarter restaurant for “Monday Munchies” – especially given that it’s my first week back in New Orleans, a gourmand’s veritable paradise.

As I mentioned on this blog over two months ago, Cafe Maspero is indeed my favorite eatery in the Vieux Carré – it has been ever since I was a child, when Mom and I would eat here almost every time we visited the Quarter. I even devoted part of an American Nomad post to this casual corner joint at Decatur and Toulouse. Surrounded by shuttered French windows that are often wide open during business hours (especially during pleasant weather), this popular eatery frequently sports a lengthy line of hungry tourists and locals on the front sidewalk... and it’s no shock as to why.

For decades, Cafe Maspero has welcomed tons of eager folks through its narrow doors. With weathered brick walls and scuffed wooden floors, it definitely looks as though it’s been here a while. Upon entering the restaurant, you’ll spy a long bar on the right, where locals especially love to sip cheap daiquiris and beers and munch some of the best fried seafood in the city. At the end of the bar sits the open kitchen, where extremely efficient cooks prepare a range of classic dishes, from jambalaya and hot roast beef sandwiches to fried oyster plates and toasted muffulettas. To the left is a sea of old tables and chairs, crowded so close together that it’s often necessary to befriend one’s neighbors before maneuvering into a seat.

But that’s part of what makes Cafe Maspero so darn special. While you’ll spot plenty of empty seats during the off-hours, prime meal times (especially on the weekends) are a different story altogether. At such times, the tables are teeming with diners, the air is rife with munching, clinking, and conversation, and the busy waiters and waitresses are ever on the move. “Lively” doesn’t even begin to describe the joint, especially on a Saturday night, when a delay is not uncommon. Although Dan and I didn’t have long to wait this past Saturday, we definitely got an eyeful while our table was being prepared – many of the tables were filled with well-dressed captains and wenches. Apparently, a pirate convention was in town (ah, New Orleans, how I love thee).

Of course, despite the old-world décor, fresh air, and ever-present vitality, the real reason to come is the food. Believe me when I tell you – you’ll be hard-pressed to find a place in the Quarter that offers such large portions for such low prices. A seafood plate, for instance, boasts a heaping pile of fried shrimp, oysters, catfish, and calamari (plus steak fries and a yummy salad) for about six bucks less than the average (much smaller) seafood plate throughout the rest of the Quarter. One of my favorite dishes, though, is the muffuletta – a warm Italian sandwich filled with ham, salami, pastrami, provolone, and olive salad and served with steak fries. On Saturday night, Dan and I naturally shared a “muff” and a seafood plate. Hey, what’s the fun in being married if you can’t share your meals?

(In the interest of full disclosure, though, I should warn you that people aren’t the only happy diners at Maspero’s. Pigeons, mice, and cockroaches appreciate the place, too – which is not uncommon in the dingy Quarter, I’m afraid.)

So, now that you’ve tolerated my food-related ramblings, what's your favorite hometown restaurant?

18 comments:

Martha W said...

Hi Laura! This place sound divine. I can taste the seafood from here- of course, mine doesn't have the additional diners you mentioned at the end!

Favorite hometown restaurant? That would have to be a place called 'The Tropicana'. They serve the best 'home' cooking I've tasted in a restaurant. The saganaki (flaming cheese) is yummy and their chicken noodle soup... mmmmm.... Now I'm hungry for dinner and it jut now turned 7am. *grin*

Natalie said...

Wow, that looks and sounds lovely. I can't really think of a favorite hometown restaurant. Maybe Merritts Cafe. It is a complete dive, but they serve the most amazing scone with honey butter.

Becky said...

BTDT... For now I'm planning on one last "Talley burger" today. I miss N.O. seafood more than anything! YUM!

Angie Ledbetter said...

LOVE this place! Best muff around besides the ones at Central Grocery Store. And the roast beef poboys are simply.the.best.

Oh, the atmosphere and ghosts from its origins as a slave auction house!

NOLA at its finest. I'm hungry now. Thanks.) :)

Bane of Anubis said...

Houston - Niko Niko's / Cafe Adobe
Denver - Tokyo Joe's
Portland - still trying to figure it out (my wife's is Russell St. BBQ).

Marguerite said...

I've never eaten at Cafe' Maspero, but will certainly give it a try, next time I'm in the Quarter. That Muffuletta has my mouth watering!

Laura Martone said...

Martha - It IS divine... and I can believe it. Maspero's seafood is THAT powerful. :-) Mmm, your hometown pick sounds good, too. Is that the Tropicana outside Detroit? (Teehee - I love making my online buddies hungry! It's my master plan, of course.)

Natalie - It's awesome, truly, but your "dive" sounds yummy, too. Mmm... scones with honey butter. Now, I'M hungry!

Becky - Yeah, I figured you'd been to Maspero's. Enjoy your last "Talley burger" - they're delish, too! And good luck with your cross-country move. Wonder what yummy eateries you'll find in Oregon? Knowing you, you'll find 'em for sure!

Laura Martone said...

Angie - Awesome! Another Maspero's fan. I like their muffs even more than Central Grocery's - I think it's 'cause they're served warm. The roast beef po-boys are delish indeed (if a tad messy). But a slave auction house? I didn't know that... hmm, that explains a few things. P.S. Glad you're hungry now! Muhahaha!

Bane - Thanks for the recommendations! The next time I'm in Houston, Denver, or Portland, I'll look these places up! P.S. You'll probably find your favorite Portland joint just before you move to San Antonio (if that's still happening) - that's how it works, right?

Marguerite - Never eaten at Maspero's?! And you call yourself a Cajun?! Just kidding, of course - if I've learned anything about Louisiana, I've learned there are way too many yummy spots for even natives to experience them all. Next time you're in town, definitely give it a go. ;-)

Deb@RGRamblings said...

Okay, I think I've been out in the sticks too long... For all the meals I've eaten out--I can't think of a single name at the moment... sheesh

Laura Martone said...

Wow, Deb, you HAVE been in the country for too long! I'd be hard-pressed to forget my favorite eateries, especially when I can't get to them. Absence makes the heart grow fonder... and my tummy get hungrier.

Donna Hole said...

My favorite place to eat - though my home town is too small for one - is RED LOBSTER. Honey bar-b-que shrimp kabobs and garlic toast! Can you believe - it was my birthday this month and nobody thought to take me to Red Lobster!? Well, tax refund time isn't that far away.

Here in Orland I like THE BERRY PATCH. Not excellent food by MASPERO standards, but the atmosphere is friendly and I don't have to cook or do dishes. And it's the only restruaunt my youngest son will actually order food and eat.

Laura, have you ever thought of writing articles for travel or food magazines? I really think you have the knack for it. Your posts are always so well put together, and interesting. And accomplish your ultimate goal of making me hungry.

........dhole

J.J. Bennett said...

There's a famous place there that makes a sort of French Scone right?... They look out of this world Laura...

Laura Martone said...

Donna - You know, I have a confession to make. I like Red Lobster, too - so does my hubby - but my grandpa thinks it's sacrilege for a native New Orleanian to eat there. But, OMG, do they have the best cheddar biscuits ever?! I sure hope someone takes you to RL soon - and if not, just take yourself!! Shoot, I haven't eaten alone in years (hard to shake the hubby), but I used to love eating at restaurants in Chicago alone - I'd just bring a book and stay as long as I wanted.

The Berry Patch sounds nice, though - hey, you can't beat a place where kids are willing to eat... although I must admit my parents had no trouble getting me to eat as a kid. I wasn't picky at all.

Thanks for the kind words about my posts. I do write travel guidebooks, but I haven't written magazine articles in a while. Lately, I've thought about pursuing it again, so your vote of confidence sure helps! And as stated above, I'm very happy that you're hungry now. Mission accomplished. ;-)

Laura Martone said...

Jen - Hmm... A famous place that makes a French scone? Well, there's Cafe Du Monde, which I wrote about last Monday. Beignets aren't scones - they're considered French doughnuts - but it's definitely a well-known joint - and it's open 24 hours daily! Can you believe it?

TheWordWire said...

I LOVE that you encountered a pirate convention on your first week back in NOLA. Hilarious!

Your invitation to share favorite home town restaurant makes several places come to mind. Favorite in Athens, GA: The Grit. New Orleans is not my hometown, but if I may add my favorite from there: Jacques Imos (Uptown next to the Maple Leaf)

Laura Martone said...

I know, Wordy. It's way hysterical - and so appropriate!

I've never been to Athens before - is The Grit a real Southern-style joint? More importantly, do they serve grits... which just so happen to be one of my favorite foods in all the world!

As for Jacques Imos, I just passed that place on Friday! Dan and I were looking at an apartment not far from the Maple Leaf, and we noticed JI and wondered if it lived up to its reputation. Now, I'll definitely have to check it out! Thanks for the recommendation... :-)

J.J. Bennett said...

Yes, that's the place! I was playing catch-up from being gone last week so I'm guessing I didn't see your post!

Laura Martone said...

No worries, Jen! I was just confused for a second there... but all's right with the world again. Yahoo for beignets!