Food, Know Your NOLA

Polly’s Bywater Cafe on St. Claude is a Hidden Gem in Plain Sight

This is the kind of place that makes you forget you own a smartphone

New Orleanians are not above foodie hype, but there’s something to be said about the underrated joints that we collectively, almost as if by an unspoken agreement, keep as hidden gems.

One of my favorite brunch spots in the city has hardly been written about or made its way into any top-10 listicle recognizing the usual suspects that herd locals and tourists alike come Sunday mornings. It’s an unassuming, neighborhood cafe in the
Bywater.

Polly’s Bywater Cafe is named after the owner’s rambunctious black and white boxer, whose colorful portraits will be the first thing that catches your eye when you walk into the diner. Tables are dressed with vinyl picnic tablecloths that alternate between the traditional shade of red, and aquamarine. Above the booth-lined wall, a collection of photographs by local artists provide small windows into New Orleans’ rich culture, ranging from portraits of musicians to the picturesque alleys of the French Quarter, to the familiar smiles of strangers.

It’s not packed busy, but it’s not empty, either. The one server on the floor greets me personally because he remembers that we’re namesakes. Paul is a darling white-haired man, with a tender shyness, that he only joyously breaks from when I ask if they have
Bloody Mary’s. “Oh, our Bloody’s are so delightful, you’re going to love them!”

The food takes a bit longer than usual to arrive, but you don’t mind it because this is the kind of place that makes you forget you own a smartphone. There’s nothing on the menu that would hint the food here is anything out of the ordinary, since it consists mostly of traditional breakfast and dinner staples.

But this misconception will leave you almost instantly the minute you put a bite of the comforting dishes in your mouth; you can tell that the food here is made with care and love, and from that moment on, you will have no other option than to return that
devotion.

Paul continues to weave himself in and out of our conversation, which has now shifted its focus to the warm fluffy biscuits that accompany the corned beef hash, or how the pan seared hogshead cheese on the Eggs Bywater — their take on Eggs Benedict –cuts the hollandaise sauce with the perfect mix of tangy and spicy. Pro tip: when ordering the Tumbled Home Fried, go all out and add your choice of meat and sauteed veggies, and don’t sleep on the specials board! It usually showcases the quiche-of-the-day, which I promise will become a hit on your Instagram feed.