The d/b/a of this restaurant is Port of Call, but anyone who has crossed its threshold knows the F is silent. Before the great burger expansion, Port O' Call was by far the most talked about burger restaurant in the city. Port O' Call has all the hallmarks of a New Orleans Classic: long lines, shabby interior, limited menu, non-existent parking, and overproofed drinks. A few years ago, I accidentally walked six or so miles on an otherwise perfect spring Saturday morning, and the overwhelming majority of eavesdropped conversations seemed to suggest Port o' Call was the post-race lunch spot.
There will be a wait, but if you move quickly, and have a small party, you can score a few stools along the bar. You might as well go ahead and order a drink loaded with rum and fruit juices. It will come in a cup large enough to bail out a sailboat. It doesn't really matter which drink you choose, they all taste similar and deliver intoxicating results.
Let's go back to the Burger Manifest Destiny, which swept across New Orleans in the last eighteen months. There are better burgers elsewhere than at Port O' Call. Juicier, thinner patties with crispier toppings, softer buns, and actual melted cheese. A burger cooked over medium elsewhere in town probably won't be mealy and dry. There are gourmet mayos, side orders worth a detour, and craft beers brewed by an ex-Belgian rugby player. Those are the burgers a la mode. The burger at Port O' Call has already won its awards; already had its time in the spotlight. But, and this is important, there may be no better place to eat a burger than in Port O' Call.
Now, my interior decorating skills are often ridiculed by people with taste, but the inside of Port o' Call with its flotsam and jetsam speaks to my inner Tiki aficionado. The dark, wooden space is staffed with a cast of salty bartenders. Early in the day, the customers have the well-worn face of a previous long night. Later in the afternoon, this will give way to people on their way to a long night. With all the fishing nets, sailing lanterns, and nautical bric-a-brac, it is a deep sea dive bar that I find it enchanting.
When ordered medium or below, the burger comes out juicy and soft underneath a crusty patina of char. The baked potato comes with Bacon Bits, which until bacon's resurgence as a major culinary force in the last ten years, were fairly popular. Now, of course Bacon Bits are a relic of another era. Of an era before farmer's markets and gourmet burgers before locally sourced, upscale pub food and Yelp fueled fanaticism. Before a world where every new restaurant looks exactly like the other one that opened a month ago. Same goes for Port O' Call itself. Every now and then, it is a welcome diversion to go back in time.
Port of Call: Is it worth it? Once every few years or so, yes.
838 Esplanade Ave.
*Lindsay's two cents: "You are crazy. My burger was terrible and the prices are way too high. This is definitely not worth it. You just like it because you want a Tiki bar to open."