Like many cities where leisure is an art, New Orleans is capable of lifting breakfast to a higher standard. Enough so, in fact, that we think it wasteful to stay at a place that includes breakfast in the price of a room. Coffee, maybe, before setting foot on the pavement, but to forego the pleasures of the hunt and settle for stale bagels and rubbery eggs or some unknown casserole of a B&B's choice is wasting a chance at some of America's most singular food.
And so the first morning we were in town, we headed for a spot that's been feeding its guests since 1894, long before Preservation Hall, its neighbor, was packing them in. As recently as 20 years ago, it somehow managed to stay off the tourists' eating path, feeding mostly locals, especially in the mornings, but now is busier, its tiny patio and street-front dining room often marked by a line of waiting tummies and their managers.
The Old Coffee Pot, which some may remember as Maxcy's Coffee Pot, or just The Coffee Pot, serves breakfast until “at least” (their phrase) 2 p.m. every day. Not surprisingly, drinks like Bloody Marys are available – we didn't try them but are told that they're very spicy, no surprise in this town. The best tables are those by the tall front windows, providing views of the passing scene on the street as well as the dining room with its eccentric shabby-chic chandelier.
It's another menu filled with difficult decisions, like wavering on a decision between a Rockefeller omelet with spinach and oysters or the eggs Conti. The latter won, simply because finding chicken livers on a breakfast menu is something Joe can almost never resist. The basics are poached eggs sitting on some excellent biscuits, sauced with browned chicken livers in a white wine sauce with green onions and a little suspicion of garlic. Tender livers, perfectly poached eggs, and a marvelous sauce produced chortles of delight. Fried potatoes, just right in terms of softness and seasoning, did their part.
If there are other places in the Quarter, or indeed, in the city, that offer calas, we're not aware of it. Calas (pronounced KAL-luhs) are fritters made from leftover rice, and are a dish that goes back to the early 19th century; some authorities say they came from Africa. Ladies of color sold them, freshly fried, from baskets, part of the vigorous flow of life on the streets of New Orleans then. If they sound intriguing, Google them; you'll get a bevy of recipes and history. They arrived about the size of a baseball, with syrup alongside, as well as a generous serving of grits. We don't use the syrup; it's superfluous, and overwhelms the delicate, slightly spicy flavor of the crunchy exterior and delicate interior. They're heavier than a doughnut, not so fluffy, substantial enough that two of them are a reasonable entree. Why the grits? Dunno. Seems like an illogical pairing of two starches to us, but we're not Yats, as the locals are sometimes called.
Servers seem the sort who've been there for ages, greeting their regulars, juggling the crowds with aplomb unless a hangover-cranky guest needs to be redirected, and presiding over a room where everyone seems to be having a good time. Refills of the good coffee are frequent. Just what we needed.
The Old Coffee Pot
714 Rue St. Peter's, New Orleans
Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner daily
Credit cards: Yes
Wheelchair access: Patio only
Smoking: Patio only