Mardi Gras 2018 is Tuesday, February 13th
Simply Heaven: Muriel's Jackson Square
Muriel's Jackson Square Boasts Inventive Traditional Cuisine In a Historic Haunted Location
The courtyard at Muriel's Jackson Square
From tales of Voodoo to The Vampire Lestat, New Orleans’ French Quarter has always had an air of the supernatural about it. It’s something beyond our world, larger than life, that tickles our senses in a unique way. And, settled on a corner overlooking the old parade grounds, Muriel’s Jackson Square is not just one of New Orleans’ most lauded restaurants, serving inventive Gulf Coast cuisine and catering to a loyal Mardi Gras following, it’s also the focal point for all things ghostly in this part of The Big Easy.
When the area that would become New Orleans was first laid out, a tract of land was awarded to a member of the Bienville expedition (which claimed the ground around present day New Orleans, and is generally thought to have “founded” the city). This plot of land happened to be along what were once the parade grounds and later became Jackson Square. Over time, this parcel of land has changed hands many times, its value rising and falling as the local seat of power shifted and the French Quarter and other parts of town drifted in and out of favor. The buildings on the site have been rebuilt and restored numerous times, most recently in 2,000, when it became Muriel’s Jackson Square restaurant.
With its tall front entrance, wrought iron balcony and red brick exterior, Muriel’s is classic French Quarter. Indoors that theme continues as hardwood floors, exposed brick and high ceilings pervade. A series of widely varied rooms, some intimate and others communal, give diners a range of options, all of them tastefully classic. Some corners can be dark and secluded, while others, such as the two-story skylight covered courtyard, let in the light but not the heat. In addition, the courtyard bar makes that room a delightful option for casual drinks or the full dinner service.
From gumbo and pecan crusted alligator to crawfish or a double cut pork chop, washed down with a sazerack or a mint julep and finished with the house’s special Pain Perdu (Bread Pudding), the food at Muriel’s is an inventive riff on Gulf Coast and New Orleans fare. Like the faint echoes of the supernatural, the feel of classic Cajun and Creole cooking is everywhere, but somehow what Muriel’s does with it touches you on a deeper level. It’s unquestionably New Orleans, but goes a step beyond.
While Muriel’s crawfish and goat cheese crepes are a signature and fairly straightforward dish, the classic New Orleans BBQ shrimp are not what most people expect them to be. Muriel's Denise Gratia tells us this dish is actually a sauté of butter and seasonings.” But diners in the mood for an old favorite can rest assured that Muriel’s gumbo is classic New Orleans. It is a dark smoky flavorful stew that cries out for a cold Abita beer and some bread for sopping up every last drop.
Making an effort to source regionally, and rely on local craftsman to provide the right breads, meats, and produce for traditional dishes, Muriel’s uses Louisiana crawfish and locally sourced seafood, and gets produce including Creole tomatoes, figs, and Louisiana Citrus from Becnel Farms. Gratia tells us the alluvial soil on the Mississippi River flood plain gives the tomatoes and citrus their distinct taste. Additionally, Muriel’s sources its light and airy French bread from Gendusa Bakery, and the ground file in their gumbo from Perrone and Sons.
After part of the property burned in 1788, during the "Great New Orleans Fire", which started on Good Friday, Pierre Antoine Lepardi Jourdan bought the land and built his dream house. He later lost his beloved home in a poker game, and was so distraught that he committed suicide on the second floor in what was then the slave quarters, and is now known as the “Inner Séance Lounge”. This story is so touching, and the evidence of monsieur Jourdan’s continued residence so compelling, that the staff at Muriel’s always leave a table set for him (with bread and wine) at the bottom of the stairs leading to the Séance Lounges.
But the Séance Lounge ghost is not the only spirit believed to call Muriel’s home. Mischievous, unexplained events (flying glass, etc.) lead employees to believe that there is a ghost who frequents the courtyard as well. Additionally, some evidence suggests that spirits may haunt the old carriageway - once the living space used by slaves and servants.
Mardi Gras At Muriel's
During Mardi Gras, Muriel’s convenient location, and renowned service, atmosphere and menu attract visitors from around the globe, so reservations are strongly encouraged. But reservations are an absolute must for the traditional Friday before Mardi Gras lunch seating. At this time-honored affair, friends, krewes (Mardi Gras parading societies), business associates, and entire offices make their way to Muriel’s, as they have for years in many cases, to kick off the long Mardi Gras weekend. It’s a tradition that goes on all over New Orleans, but many locals look to Muriel’s to provide the French Quarter ambiance that really makes this event special. As many of these private events are self-organized, you might hear the blaring notes of a traditional New Orleans brass band coming from one corner, and the reedy tones of a jazz clarinet from another. And, as it should be, the balcony at Muriel’s is always full on the Friday before Mardi Gras.
Whether you’re drawn by the classic New Orleans charm and decor, the promise of inventive interpretations of classic Crescent City cuisine, or lured by the supernatural, the pull of Muriel’s is undeniable, and well worth surrendering to.
Sources (and External Links)
The author/editor is indebted to others for the content in this article. While the final product on this page is ours, and we claim full ownership and responsibility for same, what you read here is based on our research, which led us to the following sources of information:
3. A View On Cities: "Jackson Square"; A View On Cities
4. Interview with Denise Gratia (Marketing Director of Muriel’s Jackson Square):
conducted 28 February, 2014 at Muriel's Jackson Square
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