New York and New Orleans share much more than a word in their names. Both are foodie havens that attract ambitious, creative souls. And lately, New Orleans has been exporting cultural goods—music, food, and drink especially—to our lucky city at such a fast pace that we wouldn’t be surprised to spot the ghost of Faulkner on the A train. As N’awlins continues celebrating its tricentennial this year, now is the perfect time to explore New York’s Cajun explosion. Here’s how:
Get Down to Big Easy Music at…
Making its inaugural trip to Brooklyn’s Gowanus (natch) May 18–20 is Cajun music and dance festival Swamp in the City. Accordionist Wilson Savoy, guitarist Courtney Granger, and the Empty Bottle Ramblers are just a few of the musicians who will play a range of sonic genres, from country-folk to zydeco. There are also Cajun dance lessons on all three days—check the schedule to sign up for one!
From Sidney Bechet to Barney Bigard to Omer Simeon, New Orleans has produced many of the world’s greatest clarinetists. Evan Christopher continues that tradition and brings his ensemble to the deeply blooming New York Botanical Garden for a June 22 celebration of the Crescent City’s 300th birthday. Make a night of it and arrive early for dinner at the bright and lively Hudson Garden Grill on the grounds. 2900 Southern Boulevard, Bronx; 5–10:30 p.m.
Any fusion-ista worth his porkpie hat won’t want to miss an evening with horn-blowing genius Trombone Shorty for a set of brass band music that takes welcome detours into funk, blues, and hip hop. The August 8 Voodoo Threauxdown at SummerStage in Central Park also features the eternally hot jam band Galactic and the older-school Preservation Hall Jazz Band. The park setting is ideal for a sultry summer dance party. Central Park; 6–10 p.m.
Eat Cajun and Creole at…
Chef John Verlander of Brooklyn’s Lowerline says his food is “pure Creole soul.” His lip-tingling menu certainly delivers on this notion: The seafood and okra gumbo includes Gulf shrimp, oysters, and andouille, while the crawfish étouffée comes slathered in shellfish gravy. Grab a stool at the bar or a table bathed in light streaming through the wall of windows and prepare for a postmeal unbuttoning of trousers. 794 Washington Avenue (between Saint John’s and Sterling Places), Prospect Heights
Some of the best restaurants in New Orleans are housed in old, grand, sprawling houses (Commander’s Palace comes to mind). The owners of Mr. White in the East Village go for a similar vibe. They’ve created a gorgeous and elegant space in which to chow down on classic dishes like grilled oysters and perennial favorites, such as Southern Fried Chicken. All of which pairs well with a draft beer list that champions Southern brews. 123 St. Mark’s Place (between First Avenue and Avenue A)
For a faster, messier, but still intensely tasty experience, head to Cafe Booqoo on bustling Smith Street in Carroll Gardens. The po’boys are the thing to order here and come with kitschy names and addictive qualities. If you only have time (and room) for one, go for the Baabaay. That would be blackened chicken with crispy onions, white barbecue sauce, lettuce, and tomato. 478 Smith Street (between 9th and Mill Streets), Carroll Gardens
Drink Like a Nawlander at…
The rye whiskey–powered Sazerac is the unofficial cocktail of New Orleans. At 1803, the bartenders make a wicked-good variation with plenty of bitters and the caramel-conjuring demerara syrup. (Would you expect any less from a joint named for the year of the Louisiana Purchase?) Other bevvies at this lively spot with vibrant botanical wallpaper are just as good—even the Bloody Mary gets amped up with candied bacon. 82 Reade Street (between Church Street and Broadway)
Speaking of names with meaning, the Upper East Side’s Infirmary NYC takes its moniker from the enduring New Orleans jazz hit “St. James Infirmary.” Play the staggering track to get in the mood, then get thee to the brick-walled restaurant for the aptly named Bang Bang cocktail, which involves mezcal and grapefruit juice, or one of three Sazeracs, from the classic to the absinthe-splashed house number. The fried catfish and other Southern sustenance will keep you from falling off your chair. 1720 Second Avenue (between East 88th and 89th Streets)