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Where Y’Eat: Restaurant Comebacks Lifted Spirits in a Tough Year

Ian McNulty
Red beans, fried chicken and gumbo at Li'l Dizzy's Cafe in New Orleans.

This year some of the biggest stories in food and drink were about revivals for some very old names. Even as the pandemic and a destructive hurricane put much in doubt, these stories lifted spirits.

In January, the Uptown institution Charlie’s Steak House reopened with new owners but the same unfussy feel. Charlie’s dates to 1932, but when its owner died last year its future was in question. There was talk of condos going in. Instead, the sizzling steaks are back and, as usual, there is no menu.

Mardi Gras was quiet, but around that time we got to welcome back Li’l Dizzy’s. The Treme café is known for its gumbo, red beans and chicken, and for its role continuing one of the longest running Black owned family restaurant legacies in New Orleans. It looked like Li’l Dizzy’s might be gone for good when its owner retired in the pandemic, but then the next generation stepped up to bring it back and run it today.

In Faubourg St. John, Liuzza's by the Track was at a crossroads after its cofounder died. Instead, the next generation of this family took the reins and is maneuvering this classic neighborhood tavern into a new era.

2021 marked the return of Morning Call Coffee Stand after two years in limbo. With hot beignets and café au lait, Morning Call now has a new home at the end of the Canal streetcar line, surrounded by cemeteries, like the locale from a lost Tennessee Williams script.

And finally there's the Saturn bar, irreplaceable but nearly lost when it closed in the pandemic. It was brought back by new owners this fall who are intent on restoring its orbit in the constellation of wonderfully weird New Orleans joints.

None of these places could be described as grand or fancy. None are curated or calculated. All are individualistic expressions of New Orleans, and this year they offered some welcome continuity through changing times.

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