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Where Y’Eat: New Orleans Builds Niche for Outdoor Winter Dining

Ian McNulty
Bourbon-brined fried chicken, a takeout order from Rosedale.

On one chilly January night there was still a warm glow around Rosedale, and it wasn’t all coming from inside this snug neighborhood restaurant. Rosedale's leafy back patio pulsed with portable heaters. Some were planted in big flowerpots next to each couple’s table, like ice buckets with the opposite effect.

There were Sazeracs, shrimp Creole and bourbon-brined chicken in rotation and, all around, more evidence of how New Orleans restaurants are handling the latest phase of the coronavirus crisis.

Outdoor service has been the anchor for many with indoor capacity cut and health experts urging outdoors as a safer venue for just about anything now.

In earlier phases, when restaurants were just reopening, moving outdoors was often ad hoc, with makeshift arrangements not much more developed than your average tailgating scene.

As the crisis has dragged on, our restaurants have gotten better at the lifelines that are keeping them in business, namely takeout and outdoor dining.  They have more experience, better systems and more gear.

What they don’t have, is any control over the weather but in New Orleans we have to be counting our blessings. Elsewhere we're watching restaurants soldier on with outdoor dining in freezing conditions. Here the winter weather makes outdoor dining usually viable and intermittently wonderful.

Head out these days and you’ll find portions of parking lanes on the street blocked off and converted for outdoor service

Some restaurants have even been building in permanent outdoor accommodations,  redesigning areas with shade , fans and, yes, heaters built right in.

Trying to guess what comes next in this crisis is more vexing than trying to divine our subtropical climate from week to week.

But what's beyond doubt is the vigor and adaptability of our restaurant community.

 On porches and patios, reassessed sidewalks, rehabilitated side yards and even in the takeout boxes for your own house, New Orleans restaurants are setting a table to try to make it through.

Ian covers food culture and dining in New Orleans through his weekly commentary series Where Y’Eat.

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