N.O. area waterfront restaurants offer an easy holiday weekend alternative

Labor Day weekend typically sees an exodus of city dwellers headed to the beach to beat the heat. But even if that type of outing is out of the question for you this year, there might be another answer.

A revived restaurant row along the New Orleans lakefront and some old waterfront favorites further afield offer views, cool breezes and special festivities this holiday weekend. Add some fresh local seafood and tropical drinks, and you may feel like you’ve had a mini vacation of your own.

The West End restaurant scene has been revitalized with a handful of seafood houses. Brisbi’s Lakefront Restaurant & Bar and the Blue Crab Restaurant & Oyster Bar opened on Lakeshore Drive just last summer. They sit next to Landry’s Seafood, a chain restaurant that originated in Lafayette in 1947. Each of the three establishments differ in menu options and ambiance, but they share the same postcard panorama of Lake Pontchartrain.

“Locals are viewing our facility as a vacation destination in their backyard,” said Jonathan Brisbi, the owner of Brisbi’s.

He notes that business throughout this past spring and summer was strong, but he is expecting an especially large crowd for Labor Day weekend.

Brisbi’s will host a daylong party on Sunday, with live music beginning at 1 p.m. The Top Cats will take the stage at 4:30 p.m. In addition to regular dining service, the restaurant will set up three satellite bars selling food items, such as chilled shrimp rolls and snowballs.

The menu, created by chef David DeFelice, includes West End classics, like seafood plates, meatballs and pasta, and fried oyster Bordelaise. But the chef’s spin on fish tacos and sesame-crusted tuna, drizzled with a teriyaki glaze, give the menu a more modern edge too.

With floor-to-ceiling windows on the west wall, which remain open during pleasant weather, Brisbi’s offers the feel of eating outdoors. A new bar constructed beneath the restaurant has been dubbed The Yat Club, and Brisbi said it is a place for boaters and patrons to kick off their Sperrys and listen to “Jimmy Buffet-style bands.”

Next door to Brisbi’s, the Blue Crab Restaurant & Oyster Bar also has outdoor seating where diners can watch sailboats slip into the marina. Its spacious interior, accented in cool blues and nautical photography, is popular for family gatherings. The eatery is owned and operated by Jack Panno and Nick Asprodites, and specializes in seafood dinners, served with hush puppies and fries. The basin BBQ shrimp and grits are popular, along with the stuffed crabs.

“It has been gratifying to see how well the community has embraced the return of fresh seafood dining to the lake,” Panno said. “We just celebrated our first anniversary and are looking forward to Labor Day, the unofficial start of fall.”

To celebrate, the restaurant will offer happy hour prices all day on Monday, with oysters for 50 cents and a few surprises from chef Gina Montalbano.

With 19 locations scattered across the country, Landry’s Seafood is a definitely a chain restaurant, which some New Orleanians tend to eschew. But if you are looking for waterfront dining with a view, Landry’s should still make your list.

The wide, elevated patio offers a sweeping, unobstructed panorama of Lake Pontchartrain and the New Canal Lighthouse, along with plenty of options for outdoor seating. Landry’s serves substantial-sized seafood platters centered around Gulf Coast seafood, steak dinners and pasta bowls. Start your meal with seafood stuffed mushrooms or the tempura fried shrimp, coated in a sweet chili glaze.

Around the Lake

Travel just a bit outside New Orleans and more waterfront options present themselves. For instance, Morton’s Seafood Restaurant is a popular destination on the calm waters of the Tchefuncte River in Madisonville. The menu revolves around seasonal boiled seafood, fried calamari, oysters on the half shell and po-boys served on classic Leidenheimer French bread. During the restaurant’s “Boil ’n’ Brew” special on Thursday evenings, boiled seafood and draft beer are half-price.

About 40 minutes outside of New Orleans, Middendorf’s Restaurant in Manchac overlooks Pass Manchac and Lake Maurepas. Dating to 1934, the restaurant has become a culinary landmark, and Karen Pfeifer, who co-owns the restaurant with her husband Horst, describes the modern appeal as a “staycation” kind of place, with a sand pit styled after a stretch of beach, a waterfront dining area called “the Deck” and even a dock. In fact, on a typical summer day, many customers arrive at this bustling eatery on their own boats.

Pfeiffer expects a larger crowd than usual for Labor Day weekend (the restaurant is closed Monday), since it is the last big boating weekend of the summer.

“The beach area becomes the perfect spot for a family competition in sand castle building,” Pfeifer said. Children can play while the parents enjoy waterfront dining and listen to live music on the Deck.

Famous for its ultra-thin fried catfish, the menu also includes broiled flounder topped with lump crabmeat, Italian salads, marinated crab fingers, shrimp gumbo and frog legs. The bar now boasts hand-crafted, frozen Bellinis — Middendorf’s “summer drink” — and will be equipped with additional options for frozen drinks.

The approach of Labor Day means it’s not too soon to start thinking about fall, and plans are underway for the next season at Middendorf’s too. Beginning the first week of October, Middendorf’s will serve Oktoberfest menu specials, and the Deck will remain open on Saturdays and Sundays this fall during nice weather.

Meanwhile, Brisbi’s is gearing up for football season. The restaurant contains two U-shaped bars backed by 70-inch televisions, and enough room to hold a considerable crowd of people. Private parties and receptions take place throughout the year.

Brisbi noted that while the popularity of outdoor dining dips during cooler months, the stellar waterfront views remain the same.

Brisbi’s Lakefront Restaurant & Bar

7400 Lakeshore Drive, New Orleans, (504) 304-4125; bris bisrestaurant.com

The Blue Crab Restaurant & Oyster Bar

7900 Lakeshore Drive, New Orleans, (504) 284-2898; thebluecrabnola.com

Landry’s Seafood

8000 Lakeshore Drive, New Orleans, (504) 283-1010; landrys seafood.com

Morton’s Seafood Restaurant and Bar

702 Water St., Madisonville, (985) 845-4970; mortonsseafood.com

Middendorf’s Restaurant

30160 U.S. 51 S., (Manchac), (985) 386-6666; middendorfsrestaurant.com