Well ah do declare – I’m sorry, I don’t know if anyone actually talks like that in the south of the USA but my childhood images were formed by one Miss Penelope Pitstop – if my favourite foodie, Ms Erika Rose, she of Musette Bakery in Brooklyn, hasn’t just gone and spent time in New Orleans and sent me back some amusing musings on her time there, dangnabbit!
I must be honest – New Orleans was never really a to-do for me. I just picture loud, rowdy college kids drinking on Bourbon Street and not much else. But, having read Erika’s recommendations on where to eat, and the descriptions of all the delicious food, it now definitely is on my 2013 list.
So if you’re heading down there and want to know where to eat in the Big Easy, read on, y’all.
“Yes, a dark time passed over this land, but now there is something like light.” So says Dave Eggers, in his 2009 tome to New Orleans, Zeitoun, and so say I, after a recent long weekend visit with friends to the home of jazz, po-boys, and Ignatius J. Reilly. New Orleans is a place like no other place I’ve been in the United States, all at once American and French and Spanish and other, familiar and alien, old and new. But, mostly, delicious.
It was the food in New Orleans that always enticed me, the promise of praline everything, fried everything, gumbo’ed everything. And, on that front, New Orleans did not disappoint. Our first day in town, we awoke and walked our way through the French Quarter to Cafe du Monde, a well-known stop for coffee and beignets, fried fritters covered with powdered sugar, and a staple of New Orleans cuisine. We took a seat at our table after a ten-minute wait outside, and, five minutes later, the table was covered with powdered sugar. An order of beignets and coffee with chicory for everyone. The taste of warm dough and sugar melting in our mouths. Six happy stomachs. We walked off those beignets with a wander around the French Market, a series of shops and buildings on the Mississippi River that has been around since the 1800s.
A quick beignet-induced nap later, and we were off to Acme Oyster House. After another short wait (expect to wait at least a few minutes at many New Orleans hotspots on the weekend), we took our seats, and immediately placed an order for raw and chargrilled oysters. Gulf oysters, I discovered, are in a class of their own, far bigger and sweeter than the many Wellfleet and Pacific oysters I have known and loved. But, it was the chargrilled version that changed my oyster-loving life. Grilled in a pan with Romano cheese, white whine, lemon juice and Creole seasoning, the oysters, and the sauce that was left to soak up with bread when they were eaten, blew me away. I had barely processed the experience when out came my Fried Peace Maker Po-Boy. Already a fan of po-boys of any kind, this was, by far, the best of the best. A combination of fried oysters and shrimp, generously seasoned, nestled inside two pieces of bread lathered with Tabasco-infused mayonnaise, this is the sandwich to end all sandwiches. Even the bits of shrimp and mayo that fell out of the back of the sandwich were gobbled up in a matter of minutes. And the Boo Fries we had on the side, golden fries topped with roast beef gravy and cheese? They disappeared, too. Acme, you sure know how to treat a visitor. New to my bucket list is to someday join your 15 Dozen Club (that’s 15 dozen or more oysters consumed in one sitting, and I think quite a lofty goal.).
It is a testament to the power of New Orleans food (and our stomachs) that we were ready to eat again by dinnertime. Off to Cochon we went (a ten minute taxi ride if you’re staying near or in the French Quarter). Cochon specializes in Cajun Southern cooking, and is run out of a former warehouse by two chefs with three James Beard Awards between them. We dove right in, and started off our night with a trio we lovingly referred to as “gator, cheeks, and feet”. First up was fried alligator, tender and hot, served with a creamy garlic aioli. Next were the cheeks: pork cheeks glazed with cane syrup and served with mushrooms, and, that other Southern staple, corn grits. And finally, finally, a pig’s foot, stuffed with cabbage and apples. I’m hard-pressed to pick a favorite among three strong (and filling) appetizers, but, if I had to do it again (if only!), I’d have the pork cheeks. They made me inordinately happy, and they felt like home, even all the way down South. The Louisiana cochon, the restaurant’s namesake, was a formidable main course, but the real standout was the rabbit & dumplings, another warm, comforting dish that struck all the right notes. It was a most memorable meal. Did I mention the deep fried homemade beef jerky on our salad? No? Well, it’s also available in the Cochon Butcher shop next store (well worth a visit in its own right), and it tasted just as good on the flight home.
Twelve hours later, still full and dreaming of pork, we headed out to explore a different neighborhood, the Upper Ninth Ward, and a different kind of Sunday brunch, New Orleans-style. Elizabeth’s held the promise of praline bacon, and that bacon, coupled with biscuits and gravy and an entire softshell crab, fried and served with a poached egg, made my morning. Crisp, salty and sweet at the same time, topped with pecans, the bacon itself summed up everything I fell so quickly in love with in New Orleans. When we walked outside, full and happy, we were greeted by two young boys, marching down the street, playing a drum and a trumpet, and it was at that moment that I knew that New Orleans had captured a piece of my heart.
Another piece went that night, when we headed out for our “last hoorah” meal, the one we had imagined for months, the one that brought me to New Orleans, the legendary Galatoire’s. Galatoire’s rightly calls itself “the grand dame of New Orleans’ old-line restaurants”, and has served authentic French Creole cuisine for four generations. That cuisine includes mouth-watering versions of Eggs Sardou (poached eggs, artichokes, creamed spinach and Hollandaise sauce), shrimp cocktail, Meunière Sauce, and jumbo lump crabmeat on top of anything. And I mean anything. In fact, one of the true joys of stepping into Galatoire’s is the waitstaff, who are not only polite and exceedingly professional, but who aim to serve and to please your every gastronomic desire, all while sitting in an open dining room under chandeliers and tiled floors. Whatever you like, however you like it cooked, it’s yours. Galatoire’s was an experience, from the red fish to the bread pudding to the wine list to the gentleman who greeted us at the door. I can’t imagine it ever being replicated anywhere else, and, for a few hours, I couldn’t have imagined being anywhere else either. That New Orleans light, it lives here.
No night in New Orleans, not even the most delicious one, would be complete without music. I can highly recommend Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop, a quaint old building on the brighter side of Bourbon Street (for those of us who aren’t into the more traditional Bourbon Street experience). Grab a drink and sit at the edge of the piano, bathed only in candlelight, and you’ll never want to leave. For jazz, it’s hard to beat The Maple Leaf Bar in Carrollton. If you’re lucky you’ll be there the same night as The Dirty Dozen Brass Band! Another well-known club, popular since the 1970s, is Tipitina’s in Upper New Orleans. Or just stroll along Frenchmen Street, a short walk from the French Quarter, where music echoes from every bar (and even on the street).
I may have come to New Orleans for the food, but I left with so many other memories. I’d highly recommend riding the St. Charles Streetcar line through the Garden District, an ideal (and cheap: round trip for $2.50) way to see the old New Orleans houses from the comfort of a streetcar line which dates back to 1835. New Orleans is also known for its above-ground cemeteries, and a walk through St. Louis Cemetery #1 is the best place to start, as it’s both the oldest and the closest to the French Quarter. Just wait until you see the pyramid Nicholas Cage has made for his afterlife. Afterwards, stroll through the French Quarter for a drink at Napoleon House on Chartres Street. Legend has it that Napoleon Bonaparte was set to exile in the building from France, and you can almost picture it when you step inside and take a seat at the stately bar. For those of us who are fans of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, A Confederacy of Dunces, famously set in New Orleans, there’s a statue of the unforgettable main character, Ignatius J. Reilly, at the former site of the D.H. Holmes department store, on the 800 block of Canal Street, just outside the French Quarter. And, if you’re into cycling as much as I am, you’re in luck: there are plenty of resources for cyclists in the area, including the New Orleans Cycle Club, which arranges group rides, and Rouler, a mobile bike mechanic and fitting service for cyclists of all levels.
We stayed at the Ritz Carlton New Orleans, which I’d highly recommend both for the location and the nightly jazz. For a longer-term vacation rental, I’d suggest River House, a guest house a few blocks from Frenchmen Street (one unit and two unit condos, currently (Nov 2012) starting at $345 a night for short term rentals, prices vary longer-term).
Further afield, if you have the time, is Mosca’s, a family-style Italian restaurant in Avondale, Louisiana, about a half hour from New Orleans (and well worth the trek).
With many thanks to Hank and Natalia Lauricella, a New Orleans native and his New Orleans-loving daughter, who share, among other things, my fierce love of food.”
COPY & PHOTOS = MS ERIKA ROSE. So don’t cut & paste and pretend it’s yours y’all or we’ll come and get you. Seriously.
From the UK Bon Voyage Travel is my recommendation to tailor make trips to New Orleans
Erika’s bakery in New York = Musette
HUGE THANKS ERIKA!