When I was in the seminary, a fellow seminarian who happened to be an ex-Marine used to say, “Opinions are like assholes—everybody has one.” I beg to differ. You have only one asshole, but you can have many, many opinions. With that happy thought in mind, let me share some of mine.
Best dive bar: F&M Patio. Or any other place where the next morning’s cleanup is done with a hose.
Best neighborhood bar: Ms. Mae’s, which also gets my vote for best cheap drinks. Why? A couple of years ago, the building caught on fire, and the fire department tried to evacuate the bar, but the customers wouldn’t leave. It seems the Saints were on TV, playing a prime-time football game. The game was so enthralling that Ms. Mae’s customers wouldn’t budge. That’s my kind of bar.
Best bar patio / courtyard: Napoleon House. You can sip a Sazerac or a Pimm’s Cup while sitting at perhaps the same table where Tennessee Williams did some scribbling. Or at least I like to imagine that.
Best place to get a Bloody Mary: Commander’s Palace, during Sunday Jazz Brunch. The waiters wander around the dining rooms with these bottles of vodka frozen inside blocks of ice, continually topping off your drink.
Best beer brand: Abita. Brewed locally on the North Shore. Enough said.
Best place to hear free live music: Lafayette Square, during the Young Leadership Council’s Wednesday at the Square series.
Best local rock band / artist: Theresa Andersson.
Best local jazz band / artist: Kermit Ruffins.
Best Cajun / zydeco band / artist: the underrated Sunpie Barnes & the Louisiana Sunspots.
Best lunch specials and best cheap eats: P & G. I especially recommend the lasagna special every other Tuesday: a brick of meat with maybe two layers of pasta.
Best place to get a muffuletta: Napoleon House. I like theirs better than Central Groceries’. That thought may be heretical, but there it is.
Best shrimp po-boy: Commerce, on the corner of Gravier and Camp.
Best roast beef po-boy: FredRick’s on St. Charles. Nicely seasoned meat, and the sandwich is nice and sloppy, the way a roast-beef po-boy should be. (If you’ve been lunching next door at Quiznos, then shame on you.)
Best public spat: Stacy Head versus Tracie Washington. I don’t care which one is the baby-face and which one is the heel, the show is so entertaining.
Best local scandal: Mayor Nagin’s disappearing e-mail. We can only imagine what someone is trying so hard to cover up.
Best new job for Mayor Nagin: The only thing I can think of is insult comic. He’ll need a better writer than the one doing his speeches how, but he has the right attitude.
Best do-gooder: An easy vote for Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.
Best Saints player: Another easy vote: Drew Brees, the best quarterback in the NFL.
Best Hornets player: Just as easy: Chris Paul, the best point guard in the NBA.
Best local author: Fredrick Barton. Actually he’s the only living local author whose stuff I’ve read. But trust me, he’s good.
Best local 5k/10k race: I imagine the Crescent City Classic will win this one overwhelmingly, but my vote goes to the most distinctly New Orleans race: the Tchoupitoulas Barathon, where you can get your needs met. (Not exactly 10k, but close enough.)
Best Carnival day parade: Thoth. For a while, it was the last neighborhood parade in New Orleans. Last year it was joined by a few more parades lining up in the same neighborhood.
Best way to go green (besides recycling): New Orleans is a walkable city. So when you’re running your errands, walk. And conduct your business as close as possible to your own front door.
Best radio station: WWOZ. Non-commercial, with music selected by the music-loving DJs rather than a corporate monolith. 90.7 FM locally, wwoz.org on the Web.
Best local publication: Sorry, Gambit; it’s the New Orleans Levee—they don’t hold anything back.
Best local TV sportscaster: an easy vote for Jim Henderson.
Best investigative reporter: Lee Zurik. Weird eyebrows, but he’s done outstanding work exposing stuff going on in City Hall.
Best shopping mall: Magazine Street. Actually not a mall; just miles of the most interesting shops you’ll find anywhere.
Best barbershop: Mr. Louis. Get your hair washed, cut, and dried, and get your ear talked off.
Best place to buy local music: Louisiana Music Factory.
Best financial institution / bank: Our local institution, the Whitney. They don’t issue green eye shades to their tellers, but almost.
Best hardware store: Clement Hardware, Magazine and State. When some little gizmo in my house breaks, I can take it there, show it to the man behind the counter, and ask, “Do you have any of these?” He’ll show me a bin full. I’ll make my selection and take it to the counter. The same man will ring up my sale—on an adding machine—and charge me something like 79¢. Try that at Home Depot or Lowe’s.
Best New Orleans neighborhood grocery: Langenstein’s.
Best Jefferson neighborhood grocery: Dorignac’s.
Best supermarket: Rouse’s.
Best Jazz Fest food: For years, my favorite has been the cochon de lait po-boy. While that is still excellent, the Vietnamese booth at Heritage Square (between the Blues and Jazz tents )is giving it a run for its money. Their spring rolls are excellent; so is their vermicelli topped with grilled shrimp.