When I think of New Orleans, I think of three things. Live music, drive-through daiquiris, and seafood that’ll make your fins curl.
When it comes to seafood, oysters are my go-to. Oyster po-boys, oysters on the half shell, broiled oysters, I could go on like Bubba Gump for days but you get the idea. When I broached the idea of coming down to New Orleans to my friend Nate, a local and happy-hour-extraordinaire, he planned our Saturday happy hour with the care and precision of a military strategist.
First stop, John Besh’s Borgne Seafood Restaurant for tapas and drinks. Located just inside the Hyatt Regency, Borgne serves coastal Louisiana dishes with a touch of Isleño, or Canary Island influence. We sat down and went straight for the starters, which are half-off from 3-6 PM. After Nate told the story of the last time he ate at Bourne, when he and two friends ordered four orders of the duck poppers, I was sold. We also ordered fresh ceviche, hush puppies, and fried pig feet. With a crack of our knuckles, we scanned the wine menu and ordered the Gabriel Liogier, les louvieres 2010 Chardonnay, also half off during happy hour. The wine was deliciously smooth and had substance enough to balance what was to come. The duck poppers were without exaggeration, life changing. Surrounded in bacon and filled with cheese and duck meat, a true war ensued when there was one left on the plate. We resorted to scraping the plate with our forks for the last of the sauce and called a truce. The hush puppies, essentially fried corn meal, had a mean cocktail sauce, and the ceviche was a nice acidic balance to the richness of the bacon and hush puppies. Finally, the fried pig feet. They came with a phenomenal sweet onion sauce that got emptied in a few dips. Sweet, sweet joy.
When our wine glasses were emptied, we took a quick drive to Lüke for fifty-cent oysters on the half shell, and more drinks. Lüke is a Franco-German Brasserie owned by John Besh as well. Lüke had a more old school feel to it, with framed vintage menus decorating the walls and the sweetest waitress you’ve ever met serving your food. We went straight for the good stuff and ordered two-dozen oysters on the half shell. The boys ordered the Maredsous Belgian Triple Ale, and I tried the Riverbend: a vodka based cocktail with lemon juice, basil syrup, blueberries, and ginger ale. A few sips in, I performed a common Lena maneuver: offer a taste of your drink when your main goal is to get a sip of theirs. One sip of the Maredsous Belgian and it was all over. I’m a sucker for Belgian beers and this one I could not find a word against. Nate, myself, and our friend Charlie needed a few seconds to look at each other and say, “It’s just…so complex,” with no brilliant words to describe the depth of amazement we felt. Don’t worry, the Riverbend was delicious and was not left behind.
Then, my friends, the oysters arrived. They couldn’t have looked more beautiful if they showed up in a magical pumpkin carriage. With dishes of cocktail sauce, ketchup, and horseradish to knock you out of your chair, some of oysters were the size of my fist. Granted, I have small fists, but they were gorgeous, huge, and most importantly, fresh. Everyone has their own way of eating oysters; Nate ate them on a saltine with his pre-mixed sauce hybrid. Charlie and I preferred leaving them in the shell and throwing them back like a tequila shot. No matter what the mode of entrance, you would not be disappointed. Mind you, during happy hour the oysters are fifty-cents each, and the drinks are half off. Now that is a happy, happy, happy hour.
Borgne: Happy Hour 3-6 PM (601 Loyola Avenue, New Orleans, LA 70113) For reservations call 504-613-3860
Lüke: Happy Hour 3-6 PM (333 St. Charles Ave New Orleans, LA 70130) For reservations call 504-378-2840