Monday, December 6, 2010

Drinking the Haterade... Kind of

As far as new restaurants opening in New Orleans, the biggest headline of the year has definitely been Rick Tramonto and John Folse's partnership in the Royal Sonesta Hotel.  But while that project seems to be a long time away from fruition, another huge project now appears to be full steam ahead. Walk-On's and Happy's Irish Pub, both of Baton Rouge, will open in 1009 Poydras Street, the former homes of both Smith & Wollensky and Maylie's.

For those who are not regular attendees of Fall Saturdays in Tiger Stadium, the original Walk-On's is located in prime real estate on the edge of the LSU campus. The self described "bistreaux" has likely surpassed The Chimes as the #1 pre- and post-game watering hole. "This is the Baton Rouge version of 'Cheers,' where everybody knows everybody," according to their marketing director.*

Walk-On's also serves food, but apparently the menus in Baton Rouge and New Orleans will not be the same. "'We'll have a completely different offering in Baton Rouge and New Orleans,' Hains said. 'We're developing a special product line for this location.'"

That's a good start, because the food at Walk-On's in Baton Rouge is, in a word, bad. The menu reads like a pseudo-Cajun version of Chili's or Applebee's - Cajundillas, boudin balls, boneless wings, and blackened alligator. Don't get me wrong, I love a basket of waffle fries just as much as everyone else.  All I'm saying is that I usually eat at Walk-On's out of necessity, meaning it's midnight after the 2008 LSU-Alabama game and all I want to do is drown my sorrows by inhaling mozzarella cheese sticks.

I will admit that Walk-On's in Baton Rouge has a fun, upbeat atmosphere where most people (including myself) enjoy throwing back a few beers with their friends. But the food is mostly frozen, fried, or pre-prepared. The majority of New Orleans locals demand better. I have no doubt that Walk-On's on Poydras will crush the lunch business once it opens, but I would hate for convenience and low cost to prevail at the expense of local eateries that may cost a little bit more and take longer to serve but uphold the standards of dining in New Orleans. And considering the prime location, who knows how many visitors staying at the newly renovated Hyatt will wander over to Walk-On's. What impression of New Orleans cuisine will those diners return home with?

I presume that a number of people will view my words as an act of shooting one's self in the foot. Why would someone who loves New Orleans disparage a couple of business owners who want to invest $3.5M to transform a dormant, prime piece of real estate into an employer of 175 locals?

Good question. Here's my answer:

I want New Orleans to thrive and succeed but without sacrificing it's sense of self. If the only way New Orleans can catch up to the rest of the world is by transforming itself into an adult Disneyland or a modern creolized" version of Anywhere, USA, then I wish you all good luck with that. I'm moving to Charleston.

Too often cities are defined by availability and not originality. I am often baffled when I hear people say: "I love [insert city]. You can go to Panera for breakfast, Five Guy's for lunch, and shop at Anthropology in between."

Manhattan probably boasts all of those above chains (or their equivalents), but millions of people don't fly through La Guardia everyday to patronize them. Instead, tourists flock to New York to spend their money at places like Magnolia Bakery, Casa Mono, and FAO Schwartz. I want visitors to New Orleans to remember our city for experiences such as breakfast at Surrey's, lunch at Parkway Bakery, and shopping along Royal Street.

I both live and work less than 100 feet from the new home of Walk On's and Happy's. If anyone would like to see those businesses succeed, it's me. But I hope that success can be accompanied by quality food that New Orleanians can be proud of.

* I don't think that's how the theme song goes, but I could be wrong.

34 comments:

termite said...

i'm guessing from your post you've have never been to Walk On's in Baton Rouge??

Rene said...

Termite,

Did you read Peter's post? I can assure you he has been to Walk Ons in Baton Rouge, many many times, as I have as well. I doubt few people would disagree that the food at Walk Ons Baton Rouge is below average.

jeffrey said...

Lagniappe: NYT June 13, 1920: Maylie's is No More

http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=F30B16F8385E157A93C1A8178DD85F448285F9

termite said...

you'll find this comment to be purely selfish on my part - but i've been a season ticket holder since 1988 and have waited for this 'type' of establishment to open around the dome for years. i.e. casual, fun and a football (and basketball) friendly environment.
i've been to Walk On's maybe a dozen times since they've opened in B.R. and the food is delicious. yes, it's a huge sports bar, but that's is exactly what that area needs.
after leaving the dome you have a choice. sit in your car or find a place to go while it dies down and watch the other games while having dinner and a cocktail - i usual make the hike to Ruth's - but you have to be quick because the tables go very fast. this is the same problem i have after (or before) the hornets games. i like to watch the other games that are going on.
as i said, this is purely selfish on my part, but you can bet i'll be the first one at Walk On's after each game.

jeffrey said...

Sorry didn't finish that comment. Maylie's actually survived into the 80s but everybody knows that.

termite said...

yes rene, i read Peter's post. my sarcastic humor is obviously wasted on you.

Rene said...

Termite,

Love sarcasm, but sorry I didn't see it. Agree with you that New Orleans has needed a "sports bar" type establishment near the Dome. Am not really sure what Champions Square is supposed to be, but it doesn't really meet what the area needs. As an optimist, wish Happy's and Walk Ons all the best.

Peter said...

Termite,

I am in 100% agreement with you in that Walk-On's is a "casual, fun and a football (and basketball) friendly environment." However, I could not disagree with you more that "the food is delicious."

Whether or not the area needs a sports bar, only time will tell. I thought that Champions Square would fill whatever void there is, but that's not really a "sports bar" in the true sense.

termite said...

absolutely - as i said, i'm thrilled to have this 'type of establishment' around the dome. but let me make myself clear, i'm in no way comparing their food to other restaurants in the city. You can't - they aren't even close. but hey, for what they will provide and the convenience, i'll go.

termite said...

ack! sorry peter, i didn't see your comment.
yes! i was in hopes that Champions Square would be 'all that' but it sure doesn't look like it's panning out that way.

k jane c said...

Peter, i loved this post. I am in full support of new orleans being desired for its originality and charm in both tastes and sights.

Walk on's food is not good, but we all know it will be a hit, if they improve the menu or not.

And if such baton rouge establishments are trickling down here...we might as well get a mellow mushroom, an am-mart, and a new york bagel. right?

or maybe some locals will pop up with their crescent city inspired food movements and make their mark first.

Meghan said...

I completely agree with this post. I think the concept and idea of a sports bar in that part of town is great but if the food is anything like the one in Baton Rouge, it will be a disaster. I want it to succeed but I also want it to serve respectable food.

Anonymous said...

Walk-On's food is disgusting. HyTops was a great sports bar, why not bring that back? Who is going to go to the new Walk Ons for dinner on a Wednesday night?

Ryan Waldron said...

The Food at Walk-Ons may not be the same quality that John Besh serves, but it is locally produced, and it is NOT Applebees. If I were to go to Walk-Ons, I would Order food, but as a compliment to the Beer and Atmosphere. It is not intended to be the headliner. Plus, this place will fill a void we have. It'll be a great place to go watch the olympics.

The Spaniard said...

Like the Casa Mono reference. Everyone knows you go to New York for the Spanish food.

nola said...

great post. i too expect us not only to rebuild, but to rebuild right. ive never been to the BR original, but heres to hoping they do us right.

termite - i cant read any obvious sarcasm in your your first post, either. it reads pretty straight, like you didnt feel the blog author had been there.

re: Champions Square -- does anybody know what the latest is? is Benson building a sports entertainment district w/ bars & whatnot? thats what i was hoping.

as for sports bars in general....im of the "Who needs 'em?" crowd. this country and this city is filled with more flat panel TVs than i care to admit. one cannot *escape* sports. even dear, drabby haunts such as the Abbey now have mindless flat panels illuminating everything in their flickering blue glow.

boo.

Rene said...

Ryan,

Great place to watch the Olympics? I hope so, but for their sake I hope not. Using a quadrennial sporting event that is plagued by bribes and stupidity as the basis of any money making operation is a bad idea. Not to mention although this town is a drinking town, there are few people who want to get up at 4 am to guzzle beers and watch the Women's Curling Quarterfinals.

The Spaniard said...

Speak for yourself. Women Curlers are hot. Although I refuse to date them. Too wild.

kw said...

we already have gordon biersch so we don't need any more "suck" to ruin nola.

Jones said...

better to have pre & post game choices other than Allegro's than to not. Bring on the wide(er) than normal variety of beer, scotch & cocktails. Helluva lot better than the aforementioned zoo... To boot, it will be a great addition to the Loyola/Poydras area, especially when the Hyatt opens. Also, not spreading rumors, but I would think that the Hyatt knows better than to leave out a sports bar venue in that hotel property...

termite said...

@nola- sorry about that- I've commented here enough & assumed it was taken as sarcasm.
I'll have to watch it next time. *sigh*

Thomas said...

I'd rather eat someone else's F&M's cheese fries from a trash can on Lyons than eat at Walk On's. Take me to the Pastime. The Walk On's family is known for shotty food/entertainment (i.e. Roux House). Schlitzz and Giggles is bearable. However, i believe they are also the inventor of the motorized cooler. A must have.

http://www.coolawraps.com/ProductDetails.asp?ProductCode=CoolaCruizerLSU

bloggle said...

In Baton Rouge you can paint a hole in the ground purple and gold and people will stand above it and throw money into it. The order of priority in BR is booze first, proximity to campus second and food quality comes in a distant third. I can say that having lived in Baton Rouge as a well traveled, well fed adult well beyond my college years that the food at Walk-ons is, at very best, substandard, Sysco garbage prepared merely to sustain, and prolong, long nights of heavy drinking. The substandard, uninspired crap they serve won't pass muster here. We're smarter than that, and we have options. I genuinely hope for the investors part that a different business model is brought here. 10 NFL games plus a couple of dozen fleeting (possibly gone) Hornets games are hardly the draw of an entire 9 months of LSU athletics that the Baton Rouge location enjoys. I hope I’m wrong about this, and I do wish them well, but they’re going to have to drastically upgrade their game in New Orleans.

Anonymous said...

I dont think its fair to compare Applebee's to Walkon's. At least its run by local guys. (I realize New Orleans would rather die than call Baton Rouge "locals", but its the truth.) Its not the typical chain coming in to ruin the "spirit of New Orleans." Having said that, the food at walk on's is ok at best but i will stand by the fact that they have the best cheese fries this side of the mason dixon line. A mound of waffle fries, 2 cheeses, banana peppers, bacon bits and chives. Are you kidding me?? For once just be happy that someone relatively local is putting time and money into trying to improve the area. Its ok to not eat at a 4 star restaurant for every meal.

Awren said...

Morning Mentlegen. I hope I haven't moved you all too much and I know that Rene & Peter are American Football fans first, but I've come to wonder if there are any good soccer bars in the city. I know that every place with more than one flatscreen/served beer hosted World Cup 2010 matches, but is there a definitive "Football Pub" in the city? Maybe a topic for discussion or I'll just go back to my corner...

-Awren (@HotFootMcCook)

nola said...

@termite - but whats even sarcastic about it? sarcasm is a form a wit that is generally pretty easy to detect. your post says youre guessing hed never been, but theres no obvious humor in stating that.

*sigh*

termite said...

@nola -- you must be one of those people who comment over at NOLA.COM

meh.

peter, i like you very much and i liked this blog. but i'm outta here darlin'.
happy holidays to you and yours.

Peter said...

Anon,

I agree with you that Walk-On's serves pretty good cheese fries. I guess that I was not clear in the post, but when I said "Don't get me wrong, I love a basket of waffle fries just as much as everyone else", I was talking about waffle fries at Walk-On's.

I also agree with you that "Its ok to not eat at a 4 star restaurant for every meal." (Note, my agreement is based on the presumption that stars is based mostly on cost and not quality). But I don't think that low prices necessitate poor food quality. I would guess that the check averages for lunch at Parkway Bakery and Walk-On's are similar, but I believe that the food at Parkway is exponentially better than that at Walk-On's.

I am all for outside investment and support people who want to improve the city. But I don't want New Orleans to lose its character, its charm, and its reputation for great food. Walk-On's may not be the "typical chain" as you call it, but I think that you will agree with me in that the food at Walk-On's is not indicative of the type and quality that New Orleanians demand and that New Orleans tourists have come to expect.

As for being happy "that someone relatively local is putting time and money into trying to improve the area," I think the last paragraph is clear in that I want Walk-On's to succeed. I would just like to see Walk-On's succeed without taking away from what I think makes New Orleans great.

Peter said...

Termite,

Honestly, I did not read the sarcasm in your original comment, but it did not bother me either way. I try to keep an open mind and not immediately go on the offensive/defensive when someone disagrees with my opinion. I'd say that you conduct yourself in the same manner, which is why we can engage in amicable dialogue even when we disagree.

Thanks for reading, and we hope you come back soon.

Anonymous said...

Peter,

I take issue with your opinion here. First, anything and I mean anything is better than a boarded up building on Poydras St which is the current state of the future Walk On's location and has been for years.

In addition, this post says all you need to know about people from New Orleans and the mentality that nothing good comes from outside "The Bowl". As one would expect, no restaurant from outside of New Orleans could possible offer good food or an enjoyable experience to customers or add something to the New Orleans area.

Sure, I will agree the food at Walk On's is not the best. Personally, I think anyone who prefers Walk On's over the Chimes knowns little to nothing about quality tradition home-style Louisiana dishes.

But the creators of Walk Ons, Happy, etc. have provided the Baton Rouge community with numerous benefits outside the taste of their food.

For example, the development of the Baton Rouge downtown social scene, from an entertainment perspective, can be largely attributed to Walk On's owners. If you do not believe me, ask anyone who is familiar with the Baton Rouge area, outside of the past 5 years. Prior to 2005, Downtown Baton Rouge was a wasteland after 2 pm with little to no places to dine or solialize, but this all changed with the opening of the Roux House on Third which has lead to numerous other similiar Bar/Restaurant openings in the immediate area. I know this may be hard for a New Orleanian to believe but even New Orleans bars have been opening in the downtown Baton Rouge area to piggy back off the success of the Roux House.

Therefore, I think this is great idea for New Orleans. The area around the Superdome is desperate for food/entertainment options both during the week and after Saints games. A Walks On's type establishment will provide locals, tourists, etc, with an additional option, and if nothing else, a good place to go before and after Saints and Hornets games or whatever other event is going on at the Dome on that particular weekend.

Also, I take offense to the comment about AM Market made by one of your earlier readers.

How familiar are you with Baton Rouge, meaning did you ever travel there prior to 2005? Or are you one of those kids whose only experience in the area was during Law School or when you went to Tigerland?

Anonymous said...

Peter,

I am an avid reader and a first time poster who usually agrees with all your post.

But I take issue with your opinion here. First, anything and I mean anything is better than a boarded up building on Poydras St which is the current state of the future Walk On's location and has been for years.

In addition, this post says all you need to know about people from New Orleans and the mentality that nothing good comes from outside "The Bowl". As one would expect, no restaurant from outside of New Orleans could possible offer good food or an enjoyable experience to customers or add something to the New Orleans area.
Sure, I will agree the food at Walk Ons is not the best. Personally, I think anyone who prefers Walk On's over the Chimes knows little to nothing about quality tradition home-style Louisiana dishes.

But the creators of Walk Ons, Happy, etc. have provided the Baton Rouge community with numerous benefits outside of the how their food tastes.

For example, the development of the Baton Rouge downtown social scene, from an entertainment perspective, can be largely attributed to Walk On's owners. If you do not believe me, ask anyone who is familiar with the Baton Rouge area outside of the past 5 years. Prior to 2005, Downtown Baton Rouge was a wasteland after 2 pm with little to no places to dine or socialize, but this all changed with the opening of the Roux House on Third which has lead to numerous other similar Bar/Restaurant openings in the immediate area. I know this may be hard for a New Orleanian to believe but even New Orleans bars have been opening in the downtown Baton Rouge area to piggy back off the success of the Roux House.

Therefore, I think this is great idea for New Orleans. The area around the Superdome is desperate for food/entertainment options both during the week and after Saints games. A Walks On's type establishment will provide locals, tourists, etc, with an additional option, and if nothing else, a good place to go before and after Saints and Hornets games or whatever other event is going on at the Dome on that particular weekend.

Also, I take offense to the comment about AM Market. How familiar are you with Baton Rouge, meaning did you ever travel there prior to 2005? Or are you one of those kids whose only experience in the area was during Law School or when you went to Tigerland?

Anonymous said...

Peter,

I am an avid reader and a first time poster who usually agrees with all your post.

But I take issue with your opinion here. First, anything and I mean anything is better than a boarded up building on Poydras St which is the current state of the future Walk On's location and has been for years.

In addition, this post says all you need to know about people from New Orleans and the mentality that nothing good comes from outside "The Bowl". As one would expect, no restaurant from outside of New Orleans could possible offer good food or an enjoyable experience to customers or add something to the New Orleans area.
Sure, I will agree the food at Walk Ons is not the best. Personally, I think anyone who prefers Walk On's over the Chimes knows little to nothing about quality tradition home-style Louisiana dishes.

But the creators of Walk Ons, Happy, etc. have provided the Baton Rouge community with numerous benefits outside of the how their food tastes.

For example, the development of the Baton Rouge downtown social scene, from an entertainment perspective, can be largely attributed to Walk On's owners. If you do not believe me, ask anyone who is familiar with the Baton Rouge area outside of the past 5 years. Prior to 2005, Downtown Baton Rouge was a wasteland after 2 pm with little to no places to dine or socialize, but this all changed with the opening of the Roux House on Third which has lead to numerous other similar Bar/Restaurant openings in the immediate area. I know this may be hard for a New Orleanian to believe but even New Orleans bars have been opening in the downtown Baton Rouge area to piggy back off the success of the Roux House.

Therefore, I think this is great idea for New Orleans. The area around the Superdome is desperate for food/entertainment options both during the week and after Saints games. A Walks On's type establishment will provide locals, tourists, etc, with an additional option, and if nothing else, a good place to go before and after Saints and Hornets games or whatever other event is going on at the Dome on that particular weekend.

Also, I take offense to the comment about AM Market. How familiar are you with Baton Rouge, meaning did you ever travel there prior to 2005? Or are you one of those kids whose only experience in the area was during Law School or when you went to Tigerland?

Megan said...

I am definitely excited about the addition of Happys...I plan to frequent it as much as I did the one in Baton Rouge. I agree that the Walk On's addition doesn't excite me because I did not like the one in Baton Rouge, except when I had to go to meet up with people pre- or post-game. Hopefully the fact that they'll have different menus will be a good thing.

Peter said...

Anon (from 12/10/10 at 10:30am),

I just saw this comment for the first time. Not sure if you (or anyone for that matter) will read this response, but I thought that I should provide one anyway:

I agree with you that "anything is better than a boarded up building on Poydras". I thought that I had made this clear in the original post and comments, but obviously I did not considering all of those who have taken issue with this post. That's my fault.

As to your comment that "this post says all you need to know about people from New Orleans and the mentality that nothing good comes from outside 'The Bowl'," I think that you are extrapolating my single opinion on Walk-On's as encompassing all "outside" restaurants. For example, I mentioned Rick Tramonto's new venture but offered no opinion on his prospect of success. The food at Walk-On's in Baton Rouge is bad. That was the focus of this post.

You are correct in that I failed to mention any of the potential upsides to this development in New Orleans or the benefits that the Roux House has had on downtown Baton Rouge. I don't think that what happened in Baton Rouge has anything to do with New Orleans, so that's why I did not mention that. Maybe the Walk-On's will do for the CBD what Emeril and Adolfo did for the Warehouse District? I don't know.

Lastly, I don't see anywhere that I made a disparaging remark about Am-Mart. Maybe your comment was directed at someone else? To answer your question though, I lived in Baton Rouge for a few months pre-2005, specifically in the fall of 2004. Also, for a year post-K and then three years of law school, I'd say that I was widely experienced in the Baton Rouge dining scene, especially outside Tigerland. I am a huge fan of Frank's, Pho Quynh, and (the former) La Mexicana out by Tiger Bend.