Ti Martin is one of those New Orleans locals that embodies the city’s spirit, perhaps best summed up as a predisposition for excellent food, drink, and a rollicking good time. As the co-proprietor of Nola’s famed Commander’s Palace (a gig she shares with her cousin Lally Brennan), Martin is nothing short of restaurant royalty, which says a lot for a town so renown for its cuisine. (Her mother, Ella Brennan, and uncle, Dickie Brennan, both major fixtures of Big Easy hospitality, established several of the city’s historic haunts, including Brennan’s.) But running Commander's is only part of the legacy Martin inherited, which also includes a keen sense for the city’s appetite. In addition to penning three books on Nola food and cocktail culture, Martin has helped to expand the family business with hotspots Cafe Adelaide & The Swizzle Stick Bar and SoBou where you can find her on Sunday mornings. Somehow, she still finds time to enjoy the rest of what New Orleans has to offer. Here, Martin shares her favorite hometown to-dos, from where to find the best po’ boy to how to spend an idyllic Saturday afternoon.
What neighborhood are you from, and how long have you lived there? I grew up in the lush historic Garden District two blocks from Commander’s Palace (1403 Washington Ave.; 504-899-8221; commanderspalace.com). But now I live off Bayou St. John in Faubourg St. John—a ten-minute drive but a world away.
Where would you put up friends visiting town? To do a small hotel for an authentic French Quarter experience, I love the Soniat House (1133 Chartres St.; 504-522-0570; soniathouse.com)—it is perfection—or Melrose Mansion (937 Esplanade Ave.; 504-944-2255; melrosemansion.com). But I’m also partial to the Loews New Orleans and the W French Quarter where two of our restaurants are located. The Loews has beautiful large rooms and the Swizzle Stick Bar (300 Poydras St.; 504-595-3300; loewshotels.com). Our modern Creole saloon, SoBou, is in the hip W French Quarter (316 Chartres St.; 504-581-1200; starwoodhotels.com).
Where is the best place to find your hometown’s signature dish? A lot of New Orleanians, including myself, love the gumbo at Café Adelaide (300 Poydras St.; 504-595-3300; cafeadelaide.com). It’s a quintessential dish because it’s influenced by all of our cultures here—French, Spanish, Italian and African. The word “gumbo” comes from the African word for “okra.” We used to do a gumbo contest between all of our restaurants, voted on by guests, and Café Adelaide always won. I love an oyster poor boy, dressed, from Parkway Tavern (only certain days do they do the oysters) (538 Hagan Ave.; 504-482-3047; parkwaypoorboys.com). On a pretty day, get a muffuletta from Central Grocery (923 Decatur St.; 504-523-1620), bike to the lakefront and eat it while watching the sailboats on Lake Pontchartrain.
What is your favorite restaurant to take visitors? Not a fair question to me! Besides my family’s restaurants, I have a rotating list of favorites, including Tableau for cocktails on the balcony overlooking Jackson Square (is a family restaurant – cousin Dickie Brennan’s) (616 St Peter St.; 504-934-3463; tableaufrenchquarter.com), Mr. B’s for BBQ Shrimp (201 Royal St.; 504-523-2078; mrbsbistro.com), hogs head cheese at Coquette (2800 Magazine St.; 504-265-0421; coquettenola.com) and the lamb meatballs at Mariza (2900 Chartres St.; 504-598-5700; marizaneworleans.com).
Where can you find the best cocktails? Beer list? Wine list? Again, not a fair question to me! Besides the Swizzle Stick Bar at Café Adelaide and the bar at SoBou, I recommend Sylvain for cocktails (625 Chartres St.; 504-265-8123; sylvainnola.com). Sylvain makes a great Blood and Sand—not everybody does. The atmosphere is very New Orleans and French Quarter with the courtyard and the crumbling plaster. If you’re going to eat, order the pasta Bolognese. The best wine by the glass list is at Commander’s. Wine Guy Dan Davis buys special allotments from all over the world. We drink all we can and sell the rest.
Where would you choose to splurge on a night out? Restaurant August or Bayona. At August look for things like crispy pompano or whatever foie gras dish the chef is doing (301 Tchoupitoulas St.; 504-299-9777; restaurantaugust.com). At Bayona, try Susan’s veal sweetbreads or the crispy smoked quail salad (430 Dauphine St.; 504-525-4455; bayona.com).
What is your go-to after-hours bar? Patrick’s Bar Vin in the French Quarter, after we lock up at SoBou. I love Patrick, his irreverent personality and his stellar wine-by-the-glass list. And it’s a classy joint right around the corner from SoBou. (730 Bienville St.; 504-200-3180; patricksbarvin.com)
What’s the best way to spend a Saturday afternoon in town? Our bike paths are amazing now. Take one from Bayou St. John to Le Croissant d’Or in the French Quarter for the biggest and best cappuccino in the city (617 Ursulines Ave.; 504-524-4663; croissantdornola.com). So charming, like a funkier New Orleans version of Paris. Then ride your back to Crescent Park in the Bywater for the best views of the mighty Mississippi and the city skyline. Stop at Paladar 511 (511 Marigny St.; 504-509-6782; paladar511.com) for a drink before winding up at Bacchanal Wine Bar for an early dinner and live music (600 Poland Ave.; 504-948-9111; bacchanalwine.com). That would be a very local-style day.
What is your Sunday morning routine in your neighborhood? I leave my neighborhood and go work brunch at one of our restaurants. I do take Sundays off sometimes; I share duties with my cousins Lally and Brad. The best is a walk along Bayou St. John where everybody is kayaking and paddle boarding. I’ll also read in the breeze up in the tall trees around my upstairs porch and walk to Swirl (3143 Ponce de Leon St.; 504-304-0635; swirlnola.com) to buy quirky wines before dinner next door at the new Mediterranean restaurant 1000 Figs (3141 Ponce de Leon St.; 504-301-0848; 1000figs.com).
Where is the best brunch? For Jazz Brunch, Commander’s Palace. It’s my own, but it’s true! For a funky brunch, Dante’s Kitchen Uptown or Willa Jean’s. Dante’s is in a small cottage where the river turns and it’s super casual. They have serious cocktails and sometimes I never even get past the spoonbread they serve as soon as you order (736 Dante St.; 504-861-3121; danteskitchen.com). Willa Jean’s is a new, hip Downtown bakery. Try the grillades and grits and the braised collard greens (611 O'Keefe Ave.; 504-509-7334; willajean.com).
Where do you go for the perfect cup of coffee? Anywhere that serves my favorite French Market Coffee and Chicory. New Orleans was the original coffee town with all the coffee coming from South America. We’re serious about coffee. District Donuts’ is good too, and if you’re lucky you can get a praline bacon donut to go with it (2209 Magazine St.; 504-570-6945; donutsandsliders.com).
What’s your favorite view in town (that tourists might not know about)? The best view in the city is from the old World Trade Center that is going to be our Four Seasons (365 Canal St #1120; 504-529-1601; wtcno.org). You get the magnificent view of the turn of the river in both directions and you can see Canal Street all way to the lake. That mighty Mississippi blows my mind. I never get tired of looking at it. But it is mighty—you can’t go swimming in there.
What’s your favorite path or trail to follow on a walk? I love to walk around Bayou St. John and around the Big Lake at City Park—sometimes all the way to the lakefront—and then take the streetcar back from City Park. It’s fun to jog or walk from Downtown to Camelia Grill all the way up St. Charles and then take the streetcar back (626 S. Carrollton Ave.; 504-309-2679). It’s only three to four miles going one way.
What are your favorite offbeat cultural attractions? McKenna Museum of African American Art, because it’s off the beaten path and in a beautiful old house with a focus on African American art (2003 Carondelet St.; 504-586-7432; themckennamuseum.com). But the whole damn city is offbeat. Just drive around the Bywater and look at the architecture: industrial next to a purple shotgun next to a café.
What’s your favorite shop or boutique? Weinstein’s in Uptown (4011 Magazine St.; 504-895-6278; weinsteinsinc.com). It’s a ladies’ boutique on Magazine Street, dubbed “the funkiest street in America.” Magazine is dotted for miles with boutiques, galleries, and restaurants. Weinsten’s has beautiful ladies clothes and Italian designers that are very fashion forward. I’ve gotten so many fun things there.
I also like Wellington Jewelry on Royal Street (505 Royal St.; 504-525-4855; wcjewelry.com), which has a wonderful collection of antique jewelry. I’m a New Orleanian so I love old things. And they treat you so special there. They even went and found an antique watch at an auction for me after I told them exactly what I was looking for: thin and gold. I spend way too much money here. Both are guilty pleasures.
What’s the ultimate souvenir from your town—something you can only get there? An In the Land of Cocktails book signed by both cocktail chicks (the book is written by myself and my cousin Lally Brennan)! Or a Muses shoe—a beaded, hand-decorated ladies’ shoe thrown by the lady riders of the Muses parade during Mardi Gras.
What’s the best-kept local secret? Right now, St. Roch Market. But it won’t be for long. Have the cold fried chicken sandwich. Trust me. (2381 St. Claude Ave.; 504-609-3813; strochmarket.com)
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Photo Credits: Clay Gardner; Getty Images