Sunday, May 12, 2013

The NOLA Chronicles, Part 4: Playing Favorites

Oh, to have endless expanses of time to be able to write..but alas, this is not the time of my life where that was meant to be.  Nevertheless, onward with the New Orleans escapades...I was, as I often am, determined to sample many of the dishes the Crescent City was known for on our excursion there.  The trick is finding some great examples in the short window of time available to us and this did not prove easy.  Not because the options were difficult to find, oh no.  Sure enough, we asked the locals; from the cab drivers to the concierges, and all those in the know certainly shared their opinions on their preferred Big Easy chow.  The results just made the choices
more perplexing in a sense..there was no consensus or popular choice; every source asked had a different suggestion.  What a problem to have, though, right?  Folks polled were passionate about their choices as well, hell, some were vehement that we try their choices.  Time (or moolah) didn't allow us to follow everyone's opinion, though, and the truly gratifying outcome was that there was not a sub-par choice among the bunch.  Ahead are some of the dishes and the places we found them...

The Muffaletta sandwich has its origins at Central Grocery (below right), an Italian-American grocery and deli in the French Quarter that dates back to 1906.  I had hoped to hit up Central Grocery itself to try it, but it was closed on Monday and Tuesday, so I settled for an outdoor cafe with Keith's Mainstreet cohorts.  The Market Cafe(pictured at left) has atmospheric outdoor seating replete with live jazz in the middle of the Quarter and boasts a spicy housemade Bloody Mary that's considered a "local favorite".  It was indeed a kick and points added for the pickled green beans as garnishes. The K-Man and I split half of the Market's muffaletta and it was still a monster: thick, crusty Italian pompeian bun laden with mortadella, salami, ham, provolone and tangy olive salad with extra vinaigrette on the side.  Had we realized its size, we might have re-thought splitting also a helping of the thick jambalaya with its succulent shrimp and zingy Andouille sausage, but then I'm quite happy we didn't miss it either.

I ventured off on my own after this fine lunch and took to sauntering about the historic French
Market.  I watched the expert oyster shuckers at work; was tempted to try out a hot sauce bar and finally was stopped in my tracks by the sweet offerings at Loretta's.  Loretta ia known for her pralines, another NOLA specialty, and I had to have them.  I picked up some caramel pecan pralines to take home to share with Keith and enjoyed them thoroughly.

Speaking of the Mainstreet crew, including Keith's "conference wife" Crystal (who I tried to steal for the week), I re-joined them for a fabulous lunch at Dickie Brennan's Palace Cafe the next day.  This grand cafe, owned by a member of the historic New Orleans restaurant family, is set in a gorgeous historic Canal Street building and offers many takes on New Orleans favorite dishes.  I joined the crew at the window looking into the exhibition kitchen and we got a first-hand look at the creation of the decadent desserts.  I had been anticipating and finally got to settle into a plate of Shrimp Remoulade,(pictured top left) a dish I have treasured since the days I was a busser at my first restaurant job in college.  This was a marvelous version; jumbo Louisiana shrimp bathed in Dickie Brennan's version of that joyously spicy remoulade (originally like a mayo-based aioli but in Louisiana it's kicked up with paprika and other spices) sauce over a bed of bright greens.  I also sampled the creamy crawfish macaroni and cheese and it was heavenly.  We had watched the evolution of each of the sweet treats for so long at this point that we knew we had to sample a couple for sure.  We were fascinated with the process of watching chief pastry chef Nettie guide her charges through her clearly perfectionist methods of prepping such striking desserts and wevhad to talk to her ourselves.  She was as charming with us as she was particular with her staff and she personally delivered our devilish delights: a sinful dark chocolate brownie with fresh cream and toasted walnuts, traditional pecan pie with praline ice cream and ta white chocolate creme brulee.  All three were suitably swoon-worthy.

Finally, in the no-frills but must-visit category, K and I checked out Mother's Restaurant for a late dinner near our hotel.  Mother's has enjoyed a long history of flavor-seeking since 1938.  I sought another local favorite here: Mother's red beans; an astoundingly hearty portion of mouth-watering red beans and rice.  With a side of greens doused in peppered vinegar (another dish I've missed since I used to revel in them in Atlanta), this dish felt classically flavorful and I was relishing every bite.

Part of the revelatory take from this trip was that there really wasn't bad food to be found.  I'm sure it exists, but not by us, thankfully.  In my next post, I'll talk about one of the more imaginative food experiences I enjoyed with some cherished friends in NOLA....


Anonymous said...

We had a conversation about the lack of bad food in NOLA. There is so much good food, that if a place has food that isn't amazing it doesn't last very long.

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