Lunching Gras: At more New Orleans restaurants, Lundi Gras brings festive feasts before the big day

For many, Lundi Gras is a groggy workday between parades. For others it’s a frantic flurry of preparations before Fat Tuesday. And then there are those who seem to have figured things out.

For them, Lundi Gras means making time for a decadent brunch or a lunch gathering, perhaps followed by a good frolic through the French Quarter.

Lately, more New Orleans restaurants are making their mark on this old New Orleans dining tradition. This year, that brings up the possibility of a modernized Carnival tea, an all-you-can-drink brunch and even a 1980s themed “Hair Metal Brunch” for poached eggs and shredded guitar solos.

An evolving tradition

The Lundi Gras luncheon has been a long-standing date for many New Orleans restaurants, especially those of the old line. Antoine’s Restaurant is particularly entwined with Carnival culture, and on Lundi Gras the Krewe of Proteus takes over the French Creole landmark for a private luncheon before its nighttime parade.

Arnaud’s Restaurant changes its schedule to add lunch on Lundi Gras, while groups fill its second-floor dining rooms. In the Garden District, Commander’s Palace replaces lunch with brunch for the day and brings back the roving band from the weekend’s jazz brunch.

One last hurrah

It’s not hard to find restaurants that are open on Lundi Gras. But some make it a special occasion, hoping to draw a festive crowd and log some solid daytime business before the night parades and Mardi Gras itself.

For instance, Dickie Brennan’s Steakhouse will have a rare Monday opening for Lundi Gras, serving a hybrid menu that combines steaks from its dinner menu with more entrée salads and sandwiches.

At Brennan’s Restaurant, which reopened under new ownership late in 2014, private dining rooms upstairs are embroidered with historic Carnival artifacts, while downstairs an extended Champagne happy hour is aimed at more casual revelers.

Normally held in the bar and lounge Tuesday to Friday, Brennan’s happy hour (with Champagne by the bottles at half price) will continue over the entire final Carnival weekend and through to Lundi Gras.

Broussard’s, another historic restaurant now under new ownership, is on its third Lundi Gras brunch. Some of the same groups that came with eight or 10 people that first year now return with tables of 20 or so. They can resemble their own mini krewes, and they come ready to party.

“It’s a New Orleans thing, they’re in it for the long haul,” said Christopher Ycaza, Broussard’s manager. “You can tell they aren’t going back to work.”

At restaurants across town, such tables are in many cases booked far in advance. Still, Lundi Gras can be an easier reservation at some restaurants than the Friday prior to Mardi Gras, another traditional dining day.

At Bayona, chef Susan Spicer has hosted her Lundi Gras lunch for years. Though it’s busy, a looser and more freewheeling spirit tends to reign, even over the reservation book.

“It’s a fun day, a great mix of people, lots of costumes,” Spicer said. “If someone shows up with a good story or a good costume, we can usually make something happen.”

Newcomers, new approaches

Last year was the first Carnival season for the new Meauxbar, which kept the name of a longtime French Quarter bistro along North Rampart Street. Chef Kristin Essig said she was unsure of just what to expect during their first Lundi Gras brunch, but the response was encouraging and this year Meauxbar has expanded the schedule to serve brunch from the Friday before Mardi Gras through Lundi Gras.

For this year’s string of Carnival brunches, Meauxbar is serving a different menu, a three-course prix fixe offer. Dishes veer away from the restaurant’s usual French focus and bring more New Orleans flavors.

Look for king cake scones, confit chicken with red beans, shrimp and grits and sweet potato beignets among other dishes.

Other newer restaurants hope to carve out their own niche. For instance, this is the first Carnival for Angeline, chef Alex Harrell’s fine modern Southern restaurant in the Hotel Provincial, and he’s going off script with his “Hair Metal Brunch” on Lundi Gras.

“We know people are here to party, so let’s shake things up and have some fun ourselves,” he said.

Expect a 1980s soundtrack around the dining room and puns from the hair metal hit parade on the menu and cocktail list (the chef mentioned “Mama I’m Coming Home Fries”). Costumes and wigs are a definite possibility, and drinks won’t be the only thing spiked.

Salon by Sucre, the very modern, design-savvy tea room, lounge and restaurant from the chef Tariq Hanna and his Sucre partners, will also host its first Lundi Gras brunch. In addition to its regular weekend brunch menu, there’s a special Carnival tea menu with muffulettas in miniature and king cake croissants. Hanna is also banking on the bar’s Champagne-heavy menu and Salon’s balcony over Conti Street as lures for Lundi Gras revelers who don’t necessarily have their own annual traditions at older restaurants.

Another new Lundi Gras entry this year is Cane & Table, which is as much a drinking destination as a restaurant. That dynamic is strongly underscored during its weekend brunch.

This includes an all-you-can-drink offer from a list of six different cocktails, while the kitchen serves a brunch menu of Latin, Caribbean and Creole flavors with a modern edge (yucca and duck hash, calas, migas, a pork belly ramen ala yakamein).

This is Cane & Table’s third Carnival season. After seeing how many people are out and about in this part of the lower Quarter on Lundi Gras, managing partner Nick Detrich said it made sense to extend the brunch deal to Monday for the holiday.

“We definitely embrace the entire indulgent spirit of Mardi Gras, so the all-you-can-drink menu made the most sense,” Detrich said. “I mean we can try and over-think this, or we can just give the people what they want.”

Follow Ian McNulty on Twitter @IanMcNultyNOLA.

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