Hometown: New Orleans, Louisiana
Occupation: Host, “New Orleans Cooking with Kevin Belton” (PBS); Resident Chef, WWL-TV
Number of years worked as a chef: 26
Awards/Accolades: Top 30 New Orleans chefs, American Culinary Federation (2014)
President’s Award, WYES (2005)
Disclaimer from Chef Kevin: “I wanted to fit in all of the 900 restaurants we have. I’ve eaten at most of ‘em, but it wouldn’t fit on the page.” [laughs]
The Best Thing About New Orleans’ Food Scene
Everybody’s doing it their own way. Everybody’s cooking the same thing, but everyone’s putting their own little twist to it.
Must-Visit Standout Restaurants
One of the things I always tell people is that you have to go to Dooky Chase to meet Miss Leah [Chase]. They’re only open for lunch. She’s 94 years old and she’s in the kitchen everyday. To be able to go and meet living history . . . even if you don’t go eat, you got to go meet her. Just a couple weeks ago, I’m in the kitchen with her, just chit-chatting. She would do some things and her legs get tired now so she’ll sit down, and they’ll bring her a little something that’s cooking on the stove . . . and she’ll taste and go, “OK, that needs more paprika, about this much salt.” They bring everything by her to see and taste. I definitely think if you’re [in New Orleans], you have to go meet Miss Leah. The shrimp Clemenceau [should be tried]. Their fried chicken is also really, really good, but they have a dish called shrimp Clemenceau that is really . . . it’s just good.
K-Paul’s is true, old-style Cajun cuisine. It’s one of the few places where you can get that . . . because [Chef Paul Prudhomme] was from Opelousas, Louisiana. Chef came up with the technique of blackening. You gotta do the blackened red fish or any one of the blackened fish dishes because he created that technique of blackening. And if you’re not a fish eater, I think he has a blackened steak on the menu.
Antoine’s is the oldest restaurant in the city. 176 years old. It’s one of those places that it just bleeds New Orleans history, and to walk around the place and see the place, and as you step in, you can almost imagine what it was like to be in there, if you walked out in the streets when the streets were foggy late at night, like you’re back in the 1800s, early 1900s. Usually when I’m at Antoine’s, I tend to do some type of fish with meunière. Meunière is like a Worcestershire-butter-lemon sauce. They recently started doing personal-sized baked Alaskas. They used to do big ones for the table. Now they do a smaller personal-sized. Now you don’t have to share with anybody. [laughs]
Restaurant R’evolution. I would say it’s one of our high-end restaurants here in New Orleans. John Folse who is from Donaldsonville, just outside of Baton Rouge, and Rick Tramonto teamed up to do this. It’s just flat-out good. There is the veal chop with the warm crab salad. It’s on the bone and they pound it out really thin and then put a warm crab salad on top of it. But it’s as big as the plate by the time they pound it out and it’s usually so tender.
And you have to get a po’ boy somewhere. In the Quarter there’s Johnny’s Po-Boys. Uptown is a place called Domilise’s. We have so many of these neighborhood-type po’ boy shops in different parts of the city that are just really good. They pretty much have their standards; they may do them a little bit different. Some of them might have a sauce they’ve come up with, but they’re all pretty much standard. Probably a shrimp or oyster po’ boy [is my favorite].
Shaya. Alon [Shaya] is doing some Middle Eastern cuisine, some Israeli . . . And oh man, the pita bread, the hummus. The hummus is so smooth and creamy, it’ll make you cry. It’s just good. That’s my new go-to spot that I’m gonna have to bring people to when they’re here.
It really depends on my mood. I think one of the best kept secrets here in the city is a restaurant called Brigtsen’s. Frank [Brigtsen] does a duck that, it will just bring tears to your eyes. He just roasts it and slow cooks it . . . once he roasts it, I think he might sear it off in the pan, just to kind of crisp it up a little bit. But it’s just moist, it’s good . . . he usually serves it with a dirty rice.
I think one of the best things on the menu—I think it’s one of the best desserts in the city—he does a lemon crème brûlée. I’m not a fan of crème brûlée; a lot of places make ‘em with a lot of sugar on top and you kind of have to really stand up in your chair and come down and break it. He’s not a fan of that either, so the sugar layer is super thin and the texture is so smooth and so creamy. Plus, one of my favorite foods is lemon so I just think it’s the stuff.
My Perfect “Dining Out Day”
I like this crazy sautéed potatoes and sausage with over-easy eggs on the top where it just runs through. [My significant other] Monica makes that for me here at home. That’s what I usually get to really start my day. There’s a restaurant that does something similar to that called Slim Goodies. It’s up on Magazine Street. They got a [slammer] where they sauté everything down and put the eggs on top and all. Sometimes they do like a hash brown bottom on it. They got about four or five different slammers. My other breakfast go-to spot was a place called Ruby Slipper. And I used to go to the gym and work out and leave the gym and go straight to Ruby Slipper. My go-to dish there was the migas. It was like a mixture of like a Spanish-style breakfast with the eggs and the black beans and the salsa and tortilla chips. Yeahhh.
Lunch, there’s a place probably I go to more often than not called Martin Wine Cellar. It’s a wine shop that they have a great deli in, and everyday they’ll do a few different specials, but they do great sandwiches and salads. That’s lately my go-to lunch spot. I often go with the chicken salad salad.
Dinner is kind of a mix. We have a place called Mr. Ed’s Seafood and Oyster Bar. I’ll go to Mr. Ed’s and have the chargrilled oysters with an oyster po’ boy, but it’s like a buffalo oyster po’ boy with blue cheese. We always go to Mr. Ed’s.
This is a new one. It’s been open for a few months now . . . It’s Meril. It’s one of Emeril [Lagasse]’s new restaurants. Will Avelar is the chef over there. It’s like small plates, but yeah, it’s good. They have a couple of flatbreads that are really good. There’s a shrimp taco that is, oh, really good. The Korean short rib . . . yeah. It’s big enough to fill you up, but it’s also small enough so you can try a lot of different things. Often when I go, I just send word to the kitchen, “Whatever you want to send, send out.”
Guilty Pleasure Dish
We have a restaurant here called Legacy Kitchen, and they have a lemon icebox pie that they have on the menu. They freeze it so it’s really hard, but I like to order it early so it has time to get a little bit of that chill off of it. But it’s like a graham cracker and nut crust, and it’s super, super thick. But it’s really good, it’s really good.
We’ve got a lot of Latin cuisine now and South American cuisine. We have a [Colombian] place called Maïs—they make the different arepas. We have a huge Cuban community. That’s the nice thing about this city. We get a little bit of everything, and in more recent years, we’ve gotten some great Mexican cuisine. There’s one Uptown, there’s one in the Quarter called Felipe’s. You walk up to the counter and you order it, but everything is made fresh. It’s all fresh, it’s inexpensive, but it’s good.
Best Cheap, Quick Eats
We have a Vietnamese place that’s only open Monday through Friday called Pho Tau Bay. It is just so good and so fresh. Because it’s right across the street from the [Tulane Medical Center], it’s one of those places where you can get in and out fairly quick.
I mentioned it earlier. Martin Wine Cellar is kind of like that, too, where it’s kind of an in-and-out, real quick kind of place.
[laughs] To show you how crazy it is down here . . . There are two guys who had a gas station, and their first gas station was across the street from a hospital. And the nurses that got off at night would stop to get gas and they complained, “Hey, you guys really need to have something to eat. We really would like something to eat.” They put in a deli making po’ boy sandwiches. And now all their gas stations have a deli inside. It’s called Danny and Clyde’s. So you could pull up, start pumping your gas, run in, order a po’ boy. Come back out, your gas is finished, pull up to the curb, run back in, grab your sandwich, and you’re on your way.
So a lot of the gas stations now, Danny and Clyde’s was the first to start it. We’ve gotten a few others now. There’s one gas station called Brother’s where they just do a lot of fried chicken. Even though Popeye’s started here, a lot of people are like, “I’m going to go get some gas and chicken.” [laughs] But it works.
Most of the restaurants have great bars in them. We have a couple of bars that stand out. Probably one of the best known bars is a place called the Carousel Bar in the Monteleone Hotel. It’s literally a carousel where you sit and it goes around. If you sit at the bar, it moves. They’ll have music, they’ll have jazz and stuff like that there. Down on Frenchmen Street—Frenchmen Street is a two-block strip—that’ll have places like Spotted Cat, and d.b.a., and Snug Harbor, and all these places have bars, but they also have music, so it’s a combination of the two.
Must-Try New Orleans Specialties
Beignets, the square French doughnut, that’s probably the biggest thing. There aren’t any secret [spots]. They’re all a little different. There’s Café du Monde which of course is down in the Quarter. And then there was a place in the Quarter that moved out to Metairie years ago called Morning Call.
If you happen to be here during the summer months, try a sno-ball. It’s not like a snow cone. It is really a snowball where the ice is fine, fine, fine shaved. It’s just like snow. They’ll put different flavors on it. Probably the top three sno-ball stands here in the city: One of the oldest is Hansen’s; Plum Street, which is Uptown off of Carrollton Avenue; and Sal’s is out in Metairie out on Metairie Road. They pretty much open up March, April. They’ll stay open until maybe November . . . it starts getting cooler so the sno-ball stands close up then.
The One Thing Any New Orleans Visitor Must Do
I think that everybody should do a city tour. So often what happens, folks will get to New Orleans and the first time they’re here, they get stuck in the Quarter. And then maybe the next trip they venture out a little bit. But by doing a city tour, now they get to go not only just the Quarter area, but they’ll take ‘em out toward the City Park area, out toward Lake Pontchartrain, the Lakefront, bring them back through Uptown where the universities are, the Garden District, back Downtown and then into the Quarter. It’s a great way to see the entire city.
Gray Line does a city tour, and we also have a company now that is called Hop-On, Hop-Off. They have a couple of different routes where you can get on and off different spots of the city, but it’s a really neat way to get out of just the Quarter . . . But to do a city tour, that way you see it all and then you can go back and realize, “Wow, there is a lot more here than just the French Quarter and Bourbon Street.”
Chef Kevin’s Shortlist
Recommended dishes: shrimp Clemenceau; fried chicken.
K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen, 416 Chartres Street (French Quarter): Cajun/Creole, lunch Thursday-Saturday, dinner Monday-Saturday, closed Sunday.
Recommended dishes: Any blackened fish or steak dish.
Antoine’s Restaurant, 713 Saint Louis Street (French Quarter); French-Creole, lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday, jazz brunch Sunday.
Recommended dishes: Any fish dish with meunière; baked Alaskas.
Restaurant R’evolution, 777 Bienville Street (French Quarter); Cajun/Creole fine dining, lunch Friday, dinner daily, jazz brunch Sunday.
Recommended dish: Panéed veal chop with warm crabmeat salad and truffle aioli.
Johnny’s Po-Boys, 511 Saint Louis Street (French Quarter); po’ boys, breakfast and lunch daily.
Recommended dish: Po’ boys.
Domilise’s Po-Boys & Bar, 5240 Annunciation Street (Uptown); po’ boys, lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday, closed Sundays.
Recommended dish: Po’ boys.
Shaya, 4213 Magazine Street (Uptown); modern Israeli, lunch and dinner daily.
Recommended items: Pita bread, hummus.
Brigtsen’s, 723 Dante Street (Carrollton); Creole/Acadian, dinner only Tuesday-Saturday, closed Sunday-Monday.
Recommended dishes: Roast duck, lemon ice box crème brûlée.
Slim Goodies, 3322 Magazine Street (Garden District); American diner, breakfast and lunch daily.
Recommended dish: Any of the slammers.
The Ruby Slipper Cafe, 1005 Canal Street (French Quarter); Southern, breakfast and lunch daily.
Additional locations: Mid-City, Marigny, Central Business District, and Uptown; all open for breakfast and lunch daily.
Recommended dish: Migas.
Martin Wine Cellar, 3827 Baronne Street (Uptown); deli/wine and cheese shop, open daily.
Recommended dish: Chicken salad salad.
Mr. Ed’s Oyster Bar & Fish House, 3117 21st Street, Metairie, La.; seafood, lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday, closed Sunday.
Recommended dishes: Charbroiled oysters, oyster po’ boy with buffalo sauce and bleu cheese (specifically request for the po’ boy to be prepared buffalo-style)
Meril, 424 Girod Street (Warehouse District); contemporary American, lunch and dinner daily.
Recommended dishes: Flatbreads, shrimp taco, Korean short ribs.
Legacy Kitchen, 700 Tchoupitoulas Street (Warehouse District); American, lunch and dinner daily.
Recommended dish: Lemon icebox pie.
Maïs Arepas, 1200 Carondelet Street (Central City); Colombian, lunch Tuesday-Saturday, dinner Tuesday-Sunday, closed Monday.
Recommended dish: Arepas.
Felipe’s Mexican Taqueria, 301 N. Peters Street (French Quarter); Mexican, lunch and dinner daily, late night Friday-Saturday.
Second location: 6215 S. Miro Street (Carrollton); lunch and dinner daily.
Third location: 411-1 N. Carrollton Avenue (Mid-City); lunch and dinner daily.
Pho Tau Bay, 1565 Tulane Avenue (Downtown); Vietnamese, lunch and dinner Monday-Friday, closed Saturday-Sunday.
Danny and Clyde’s, 4320 Clearview Parkway, Metairie, La.; convenience store/po’ boys, breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily.
Second location: 2201 Clearview Parkway, Metairie, La.; breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily.
Third location: 5861 Citrus Boulevard, Jefferson, La.; breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily.
Recommended item: Po’ boys.
Brother’s, 148 Carondelet Street (Downtown); convenience store/fried chicken, open daily.
Multiple locations throughout southern Louisiana.
Recommended item: Fried chicken.
The Carousel Bar & Lounge, Hotel Monteleone, 214 Royal Street (French Quarter); bar, open daily.
The Spotted Cat Music Club, 623 Frenchmen Street (Marigny); bar/jazz club, open daily.
d.b.a., 618 Frenchmen Street (Marigny); live music club, open nightly.
Snug Harbor Jazz Bistro, 626 Frenchmen Street (Marigny); Cajun/Creole restaurant/bar/jazz club, open nightly.
Café du Monde, 800 Decatur Street (French Quarter); cafe, open 24/7.
Recommended item: Beignets.
The Morning Call Coffee Stand, 3325 Severn Avenue, Metairie, La.; cafe, open 24/7.
Recommended item: Beignets.
Hansen’s Sno-Bliz, 4801 Tchoupitoulas Street (Uptown); sno-ball stand, open 1-7 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday, closed Monday (closed during winter months).
Recommended item: Sno-ball.
Plum Street Snoballs, 1300 Burdette Street (Carrollton); sno-ball stand, open daily (closed during winter months).
Recommended item: Sno-ball.
Sal’s Sno-Balls, 1823 Metairie Avenue, Metairie, La.; sno-ball stand, open daily (closed during winter months).
Recommended item: Sno-ball.
Gray Line; bus city tours, operates daily.
Hop-On, Hop-Off; bus city tours, operates daily.
About the Chef: Kevin Belton is a true New Orleanian through and through. Born in the city and having lived there nearly his entire life, he now teaches viewers the beauty of Cajun and Creole cooking as host of PBS’s “New Orleans Cooking with Kevin Belton.” He also appears on New Orleans’s CBS affiliate as its resident chef, and he’s also made terrific videos such as this one explaining the differences in Cajun and Creole gumbos.
At the time of this interview, he had just wrapped up filming season two of “New Orleans Cooking.” He gushed about his top-notch crew and discussed his own connection to PBS cooking programs. “As a kid, I grew up watching Julia Child, I grew up watching Justin Wilson. And I never, ever would have thought that I would have a show on PBS,” says Belton.
A self-taught cook, Belton looks like a natural educating his TV viewers. When you learn about his family, it’s no real surprise why. “Mom was a teacher. Her sister was a principal. My dad’s brother was a principal. His wife was a teacher, and my dad’s sister was a teacher,” Belton explained. “It’s in the genes, definitely.”
And in true teacher form, Belton loves hearing from his “students”—viewers young and old who send him handwritten letters and photos proudly showing off the finished product of one of his recipes.
“That’s probably the biggest award . . . the fact that people feel comfortable enough to try your dishes. There’s no award for that, but that’s where I appreciate the satisfaction.”