Eating BIG in NOLA
- as seen on chibbqking
Sup roadfood. My most recent visit to the Big Easy was definitely my best yet. This goes for both food and fun. I got to spend six long days down there last month in celebration of my sisters marriage to her now husband. You cant put into words the electricity that those down there to celebrate brought with them. Close to 300 people, most all from Chicago, made their presence felt. Its just how we roll. Bars were dranken out of the cheap Midwest beers my southside part of the family, as well as the groom and all of his family and friends drink while industry people were left wondering if the Bulls or some sort of convention from Chicago was in town or something.
♫ ...back to NOLA ♫
The first couple of days in town I had the chance to cruise around to some spots rec'd by bartenders and other intel I dug out through social media and so on. This locally loved place is located in East New Orleans right across the street from Lake Ponchartrain. They have two doors for guests to enter thru one of which serves fresh raw fish and the other steamed and fried varieties.
Fresh Fish Side
It was packed on this Thursday afternoon. Many people were taking stuff to go for their own grill while others were enjoying lunch. We just had to have some crawfish ($2.99/lb) and also decided to try the gumbo file. Both hit the spot. There's a dining room that's connected to a smoked meat shop which was putting out some great smells but I had too many stops planned to fit it in.
Crawfish and Gumbo File for lunch
I was tipped by an industry veteran that this was the best place in the city for a po' boy sandwich. It doubles as a seafood center. I was told fresh as can be shrimp and oysters are stuffed into bread made at a bakery a few doors down, sounded like a real winner to me. I went with a half fried shrimp po boy with everything including hot sauce (leave that catsup crap off mine) and also picked up a pound of marinated blue crab for the fridge. Both were sensational. I'd wrastle a gator to have this place as my neighborhood lunchtime stop.
Fried Shrimp Po Boy
Since I had rented a car I was asked to grab a few peoples suits along with my own from the tuxedo rental place in Metairie. Me being me I made sure to see what the food options were around this way. A good chunk of my info as far as new to the scene spots came from Brett Anderson who is the Times-Picayune restaurant critic. This old school Italian spot isn't one of those new places but it's the purveyor of what he calls the best roast beef po' boy in the area. It's easy for Midwesterner like myself to pass on one of these with the abundance of seafood down there but this sandwich is not to be missed. I could see it being my most ate sandwich in town if I lived down there.
Roast Beef Po Boy
Same trip we stopped into the original Drago's for char grilled oysters before picking up the suits. It was packed at lunchtime on a Friday but the place is big and the bar was open. There's no adjectives left to describe their signature dish made with lots of garlic, cheese and butter so I'll just add that they certainly weren't a letdown and there was indeed a second round.
Feeling kind of frisky over here
_______________________________________________Le Petite Grocery
I managed to make it to pretty much every place I wanted to eat at, both mom and pop and chef driven spots. La Petite has been around for a while but recently has new blood. Top Chef contestant Justin Devillier and his Louisiana roots have the place back in the conversation of the best restaurant in New Orleans. No he didn't win the competition, but the kids going to be ok. This was probably my best meal of the trip.
Longtime Magazine Street Resident
We stopped in for lunch to meet my aunt and uncle who had gotten into town an hour or so before. These people don't mess around when it comes to their drinks so we were at the cocktail portion of the menu as soon as we sat down. I don't remember which drinks I ordered but I know they were on point. That said, it was the food that dazzled. If this meal doesn't make it into my 'best of 2014' I'll have ate very, very well the rest of the way.
Fried Oysters with Broccoli Rabe, Red Pepper Aioli and Crispy Ham Bits (Special)
Blue Crab Beignets - malt vinegar aioli
Sheep Cheese Pirog - pork cheek, shiitake & choucroute
Grilled Octopus - lentils, country ham au jus, crispy ham bits
Paneed Rabbit - spaetzle, wilted greens & grenobloise
Turtle Bolognese - bucatini, sherry, parsley & crispy soft boiled egg
Stopped into Coop's Place twice on this trip. If you're vacationing down here on a weekday it's obviously a different vibe than weekends, specifically on and around Bourbon Street. I was surprised at how many restaurants closed for the day at 9 or 10pm. Coop's Place serves food late and they also make a mean sazerac...when the place isn't packed, when it is, they serve all drinks out of plastic cups. We stopped in here Wednesday Night (empty around 10p) and also the Sunday following the wedding (line out the door around dinner time). The fried crab claws and seafood pasta hit the spot. You might not have your best meal of the trip here but I've never had a bad one on any of my visits.
Fried Crab Claws
_______________________________________________Cane & Table
One of the hottest spots in the city right now is this hard to spot tiki inspired cocktail lounge in the French Quarter. This is another place I was put onto by Brett Anderson and he calls it "game changing" and notes how cocktails now qualify as a "course of its own, one that precedes and then overlaps with the appetizer course" The inside had the feel of most cocktail bars in Chicago, comfy and dimly lit. While I went in expecting the drinks to be the reason to come back it's the grub that will get me in next chance I have. The menu had just about everything that's ever been paired with rum drinks. Tiki inspired app's like the 'Crispy Rum Ribs' might sound generic but they're the best slabs of pork I've ate of late. Individual Truebridge Duroc Pork ribs are marinated in a papaya chutney are lightly battered and deep fried creating a sticky, crispy texture served with a side of sambol. The Peas N Rice were even better. Brett Anderson out this mashup of New Orleans and the Caribbean in his top dishes ate in 2013. Entrees like the Cuban inspired ropa vieja were tempting but we had reservations elsewhere.
Island Peas. Local Andouille Sausage. Pickled Pork. Popcorn Rice.
Continuing on with newer dining options in the French Quarter area is Tableau. This is the latest spot from NOLA restaurant veteran Dickie Brennan. We were going to go here for lunch one day but went to La Petite instead so after after a few rounds with relatives at C&T me and her headed here for dinner. The place is huge, two stories and the atmosphere is one where both locals and tourists can co-exist. I'm not a big wine drinker but other people I know that went here are and they were impressed with both the selection and prices considering the location. The cocktail menu focuses on fresh squeezed juices and house infused liquors. I wasn't going to visit the Big Easy and not get my BBQ shrimp fix. As soon as I saw their version of it served with grits on the website I had my sights set on it. It was a fantastic rendition of a classic. The gravy aka BBQ sauce was rich, we're talking Master P money. She got the Creole Courtbouillion which had all sorts of seafood in it but we both agreed the shrimp and truffled crab fingers to start were where it's at.
My last full day in town was a Monday and as the sun started to go down I thought I was out of food stops until I realized I had yet to have any red beans and rice. I checked a list of recommended spots for the dish which is on special at many places on Monday which is when it was traditionally eaten back when. Matassas Market seems to be where all the FQ living locals shopped at and according their website it's been that way since 1924 when John Matassa emigrated from his native Sicily.
Local Grocery in French Quarter
He eventually got married and he and she opened Johnny’s Grocery and Bar, a small grocery store with an attached bar and kitchen, at 1001 Dauphine St. in the French Quarter in 1924. It's still there today although relatives have renamed it in his honor. I walked to the deli counter in back and got me an order of what was the best example of that dish I've ever ate. Deep in pork flavor from the hocks and sausage used, I've never had a creamier dish that consisted of zero cream whatsoever. If I'm ever in town and flying out on a Monday, I'll get an order of this to eat then and there and another for my fridge when I arrive home.
Monday's Red Beans and Rice Special
This cocktail lounge on Freret is said to be responsible for bringing the block/neighborhood back. I'd heard about it before heading down and was happy find out our house rental was only a mile of that away. I ended up here three times and enjoyed pretty much everything about it. Both the interior design and atmosphere reminded me of both Merchant in Madison and Holland House in Nashville. If there's one thing New Orleans food/drink industry lacks it's good bartenders. Surprisingly the only bad experience here was the night the proprietor was working the bar. I couldn't stop drinking the Dixie Cocktail off the 'obscure classics' part of the menu but on my last night in town he couldn't make it as good as his employees.
End of the Bar
_______________________________________________The Company Burger
About a block down from Cure is Company Burger. This place was opened up by Adam Biderman who was the chef who debuted Atlanta based Holeman & Finch's renowned burger. It's been called the best in the country by many. They serve pretty much the exact same burger here except the menu isnt limited to just 24 a night. They grind the beef, bake the buns, make the mayo and pickles and only serve tomatoes when in season. Fries and onion rings are hand cut, fries fried twice. I know chef driven is played out but this is the definition of that. They have a nice cocktail menu ($7/each) as well as local brewed beer and wine. The signature burger is made with two thin patties weighing in at 6.5 ounces together. Each patty is topped with a slice of American cheese and thinly sliced onions are sandwiched between the patties and housemade pickles are included too. You add ketchup and mustard at your own will. As American as apple as pie. I'd be here once a month minimum if that were possible.
The Company Burger
I always try and leave some sort of stomach space for the unexpected. Driving back to our place of residence for the week I spied a guy selling Mississippi Delta Style Tamales out of the back of his van. I didn't have time then and there to stop but his location was in an area I'd driven by before so I just hoped he would be there the next day. That he was. This recipe comes to NOLA via Woodville, Mississippi and just like every other Delta style tamale maker I've ever met, this guy was a wonderful/passionate person to chat with. His recipe was a chicken blend and they were about the same size as the bunch tamales places like Jimmy's on Grand here in Chicago use. Taste-wise, I've never had a Mississippi Tamale I didn't like.
Gotta love it
Classic NOLA Dining Destination
I've known about DC's for a while now and always wanted to go. Somewhere along the line I'd read her Friday Shrimp and Lima Bean special is not to be missed and planned a trip there for Friday afternoon. Little did I know that this was prime-time for them as there were groups of people waiting out of the door. We squeezed our way in to put our name down and ended up chatting some real deal French Cajun folk who drove 40 or so miles to come eat. The husband had nothing but praise and made sure we knew it was worth the wait. After about 40 minutes they were able to squeeze us into a table due to the fact there was just two of us.
a peak inside
This stop was a gluttonous call since we had already eaten at a couple places before stopping in. However I really wanted to try that Friday special and my mind was set on doing so. As it turned out the special is part of the lunch buffet which was about as good a looking one as I've ever come across. Problem was we had already ate so damn much I didn't want to drop $20+ just for a bowl. Luckily this was the most professional well run establishment I've ever been to. The service was as good as anywhere and you could tell it rubbed off on customers, everyone says hello to each other, with a wide smile on their face.
I asked our wonderful waitress about getting just the special and she explained the rules but wasn't going to let me leave without eating. So she gave me a bowl that's used for gumbo and told me she'd just charge me that ($6) and I could fill it up with the Shrimp and Lima beans. My gf wasn't hungry at all but our server insisted she eat a cup of gumbo on the house. While it was a very nice rendition, the special was sensational. The lima beans are cooked in a heavily potent shrimp stock and once ready they throw in handful upon handful of fresh gulf shrimps to quickly cook thru. So simple but so good. Soul food at it's finest.
Friday Special Shrimp and Lima Beans
_______________________________________________Kermit's Treme Speakeasy
Also in the neighborhood is Kermit Ruffin's semi new spot. We stopped into here one early evening and enjoyed some cold beers and good conversation, unfortunately they were out of fried rabbit. I could see myself hanging here often if I was living down there.
I was tipped off on this local empire by a patron at Kermit's. They're to NOLA what J&J Fish is to Chicago but the comparisons come to end after that. Cajun Seafood is a one stop shop for many residents of the area. It's an Asian owned seafood company that sells it fresh, boiled and fried. They also have a Chinese menu and all sorts of booze and other products you'd find at your local convenience store. I drove by a few locations but this one in the 7th ward was a monster.
Waiting in line
People from all walks of life were inside when I stopped in one late afternoon. They had workers loading trucks and cars with loads of fresh seafood while the rest waited to have theirs boiled and or fried to order. It was a little overwhelming trying to choose what I wanted amongst crawfish, shrimp, crabs, crab legs, everything you need for a boil they had. Sausage, corn, mushrooms. You buy, they boil. I ended up with a pound of boiled shrimp, a pound of boiled snow crab legs and a small shrimp fried rice for something like $23. I brought it all back to our place, threw some newspaper on the table outside and went at it like a pirate after a score. The fried rice was great around 2a later that evening.
During a browse online of what's good these days I had come across an article about the most anticipated restaurant openings around the country. It listed MoPho as New Orleans most awaited opening of the season. Then I saw on twitter that were opening their doors the week before I was heading down so I made a mental note as they don't take reservations. It comes to the Mid-City neighborhood from Michael Gulotta, former chef du cuisine at the critically acclaimed August. I'd describe it as "Southeast Asia meets the South", the menu combines favorites from the Mekong Delta with the Mississippi Delta and so on.
Banh Xeo Battered Shrimp - Crispy Lemongrass and Ginger Chicken Wings
Lots of Beef Pho
I'm a sucker for fusion food and bowls of pho and more cocktails seemed like the perfect stop for killing a hangover a wedding in New Orleans will bring. It was me her and a few cousins and we pretty much tried everything we wanted with the exception of a menu item or two. Food and drink wise I was pretty happy with what we got, it definitely hit the spot. However service was lacking to say the least. They were packed and obviously not into the groove but I didn't have any time to let them get into it being a visitor and all. Here are some highlights from our 2.5 hour lunch. Here's a few pics, more on da ole blog.
Grilled Jumbo Shrimp with spicy pork pâté, mint-
Slow Roast Lamb Neck and Beet in Green Curry with Creole Cream Cheese Roti
Grilled Pork Trotter in Spicy Crab Broth with blue crab salad, meyer lemon, mint
Speaking of hot restaurant openings, Peche was said by many to be the best New Orleans restaurant to open in 2013. This is the seafood centric spot from the swine loving (Donald) Link Restaurant Group. I'd read about them in what I believe was John T. Edge's 'Top Ten Dishes of 2013' list and knew I wanted to try it. They specialize in flame roasted whole fish which is all the rage down there these days. I remember seeing whole fish on the menu at Cane and Table, MoPho and on special at Tableau. But it'd hard to top their signature dish which is the days fresh catch (on this visit red snapper) roasted over wood with Salsa Verde on top. As simple as it sounds that's what it was, but the sum of it all together was worth a neckload of beads from me. Was this the Queen dish of the trip? Maybe but the nights other roasted fish special was a flounder with a citrus butter salsa that was to die for. The flakiest most taste bud friendly fish dish I can remember. No way I could order just one or the other if I was presented with the same options on my next visit. I'd probably just skip app's...not that they werent great in their own right.
Roasted Red Snapper with Salsa Verde
With a reservation for more than 10 and me doing all the ordering we got to try pretty much everything we (I) wanted. Winners included the fried bread, fish sticks, shrimp toast, lamb skewers with chickpeas, curried mussels with fried potatoes and a baked drum entree that included some veggie fritters beside it. I wasn't big on the bisque or a spicy ground shrimp with noodles dish but I didn't hate them, I happily ate my portion of the plates. The cocktails were quenching and service was both prompt and patient as it's not easy dealing with my immediate or extended family. That said, they always enjoy it, especially after the tip comes. If I was back for a three day weekend or short stay I'd have a hard time not returning here for at least one of my nice dinners out. More pics at S'C'&C
Fresh Catch of the Day: Whole Roasted Flounder with a Gulf Citrus Salsa and lots of butter
Some other notes without pics. Mosca's is still going strong. We worked out an arrangement ahead of time where they agreed to seat as many of us as they could for a dinner. Quite a few of us jumped on a bus and rode out there, those that had never been were wowed. At least half of my aunts and uncles and their kids were at Antoine's daily for their daily cocktail special. On my visit, the 12 martinis the six of us ordered cost $6 while my middle school aged cousins two root beers cost $9. How do you not love this city? By day three, the same fiends for Antoine's were being given locals discounts (15%) at Royal Oyster Bar across the street. That was their everyday 1-2 punch. We put down 24 dozen (raw and grilled) on my visit. As far as food goes I still list NOLA as my favorite US destination for it and the cocktails are better than ever. It's not just Hurricanes here anymore. Not pictured but we enjoyed a few rounds at Kingfish in the French Quarter was which pretty much Scofflaw with a southern accent. I cant wait to get back and do it all over again.
That's it for this trip...see ya next time
10826 Hayne Blvd
New Orleans, LA 70127
4915 St Anthony Ave,
New Orleans, LA 70122
216 Metairie-Hammond Hwy
Metairie, LA 70005
Drago's Seafood Restaurant
3232 N Arnoult Rd
Metairie, LA 70002
La Petite Grocery
4238 Magazine St
New Orleans, LA 70115
1109 Decatur St
New Orleans, LA 70116
Cane & Table
1113 Decatur St
New Orleans, LA 70116
616 St Peter St
New Orleans, LA 70116
1001 Dauphine St
New Orleans, LA 70116
4905 Freret St
New Orleans, LA 70115
4600 Freret St
New Orleans, LA 70115
*3301 S Claiborne Ave
New Orleans, LA 70125
*Sets up on gas station lawn across the street from here
Dooky Chase's Restaurant
2301 Orleans Ave
New Orleans, LA 70119
Kermit's Treme Speakeasy
1535 Basin St
New Orleans, LA 70116
1479 N Claiborne Ave
New Orleans, LA 70116
514 City Park Ave
New Orleans, LA 70119
Peche Seafood Grill
800 Magazine St
New Orleans, LA 70130