Sunday, April 18, 2010

Biofday Weekend in N’awlins

When thinking about New Orleans, I don’t even know where to start. I think I may have gained 20 pounds in 4 days. Totally worth it. I decided to do a destination celebration for my birthday this year. New Orleans has been on the top of my list of domestic adventures for a long time, and what a great place to indulge in my greatest pleasures in life; food and drink. This is the first trip that I have ever taken that I actually did some major food research prior to going. New Orleans! So much to try and taste! So many cultures a rolled up into one small city. Southern food, French, Creole, Cajun, Italian, Spanish, seafood, all with a twist that really makes these things that can only be generalized by one name; New Orleans.

Before going, I pretty much had New Orleans turrets with every person that I met for at least a month prior to my departure, which actually really paid off because everyone that’s been to New Orleans, loves New Orleans, and anyone that loves New Orleans, is crazy about the food there. Food is so prominent in their culture, even the shitty places are good! However, my clan really tried to stick to the food plan, which included waiting in line sometimes for almost an hour to get the best of the best. But who cares, you can drink in the line!!!

First thing we did was go straight to Bourbon St. We found the Old Absinthe House for our first drink. I decided to try the New Orleans classic, the Sazerac. I had never heard of this drink before doing my NOLA research, but now it’s my favorite. I have learned that it is the first American cocktail made of rye, bitters, and just touch of simple sugar with a twist of lemon. The kind of cocktail you want to take an hour to drink, well, maybe 30 minutes. Bourbon St. was pretty disappointing otherwise. All fratty dudes, titty bars and colorful cocktails being spun in slushy machines served in grenades.

Next stop, Port of Call for the best burger in NOLA. The burgers here come with an over the top stuffed baked potato. The cocktails are huge and strong, and in a nifty to-go cup so you don’t have to stress yourself out to drink the whole thing there. The plate was enormous and they weren’t kidding about the burger. Juicy, thick patty, shredded cheddar, and soft bun. Yum! That evening we went uptown to a little bar with amazing live jazz. If there is any advice I can give about going out in New Orleans it’s to get out of the French Quarter! It’s beautiful to walk around and check out, but the good places to go out are definitely scattered throughout the city.

The next morning we woke up in desperate need of some hangover recovery food. I had received a recommendation for Surrey’s Juice Bar from a New Orleans native, so we decided to give it a whirl. Thank god we did. We even got lucky that because it was Easter weekend, and there was a whole “specials” menu dedicated to the holiday. This was the overall best breakfast I think I have ever had in my life. Each of us ordered something that was so incredible, I wanted to eat everything on everyone’s plates. Chiara had a crab and avocado omelet with a homemade biscuit. The crabmeat was shredded with a creamy sauce that topped the omelet. I had Creole baked eggs with andouille sausage. It was like a scramble, mixed with toasted breadcrumbs, sprinkled with cheese, baked, then topped with fresh tomatoes. Chloe had Pain Perdu, New Orleans style, which is basically French toast made from French bread and dusted with powdered sugar. The bread was so soft and absorbent of the sweet maple syrup. And finally, Gabe had the most amazing breakfast dish that I can ever remember trying. It was so “out of the box” that it could only be New Orleans. A poached egg atop a pile of spicy pulled pork supported by stiff jalapeño grits and smothered in hollandaise. Of course served with a homemade biscuit on the side. This dish had such a glorious combination of flavors, it was like evolution on your palate. First the buttery hollandaise with the egg, followed by the marinated pork, then the spicy jalapeño bite kicks in at the end. I think I fell in love this day. 

For lunch we went to Johnny’s, which is supposed to have the best Po’ Boy in the French Quarter. I had the fried oyster one. We were not impressed, so I do not recommend this place for Po’ Boys. Dinner, however, was a different story. To get one of the 6 tables in Coop’s Place, we had to wait about 45 minutes. It’s a lot easier to wait for a table when you can sip down your Abitta beer outside. We decided to share a couple orders of the “Taste of Coop’s”, which included rabbit and sausage jambalaya, red beans and rice, Creole shrimp, fried chicken, and seafood gumbo. We also got an appetizer of crabmeat stuffed jalapeño peppers and a side of coleslaw. Putting crabmeat in a jalapeño popper? Brilliant! This was also served with a potent horseradish sauce. The highlights of the “Taste” were the red beans and rice and the jambalaya. I don’t know how it’s possible to make red beans and rice taste so good, but I’m gonna try to find out. The seafood gumbo was also outstanding, but I just wanted so much more. The coleslaw was made just how I like it; not to mayonaisey, with mustard seeds, and fresh cabbage.

The next morning we were ready to start the day with café au lait and beignets. Beignets are deep fried doughnuts covered in powdered sugar. Café du Monde is the place for beignets in New Orleans. It’s cheap, it’s delicious and the place is big with a really high turnover, so even if there is a huge line, it would only take a bit to get seated. The coffee was divine. So milky mixed with the strong smoky coffee. And the beignets are served scorching hot under heaps of thin, powdery white sugar. So much sugar that it makes a lovely sweet layer all around the inside of our mouth. The most fun part of the experience was that we all got a major sugar high from these sweet treats. 

With all that sugar, our jet packs ignited, and we zoomed off for our next foodventure, destination: Parkway Bakery and Tavern. I had read some reviews that this was one of the best Po’ Boy’s in New Orleans, but being a true Po’ Boy, you’ve got to get to some of the poorer neighborhoods. A quick explanation on the Po’ Boy…it’s basically just a simple sandwich with bread and filling. The filling can be anything from fried oysters, fried shrimp, fried catfish, roast beef and gravy, etc. If you want it “dressed”, that means it comes with lettuce, tomato and mayo. The bread needs to be really fresh, soft and crumbly. I read one review that said if you lap isn’t covered in crumbs, it’s not a good Po’ Boy. We started walking north, past the French Quarter, and into some lower income neighborhoods. It appeared that some buildings had been abandoned, assuming from Katrina, with the windows broken out tall office buildings. We finally cut off the main road, and slipped into a quaint neighborhood lined with homes with porches covered in potted plants. The style of home was similar to the ones we had seen in the Quarter; a few steps leading up to a large porch with wrought iron décor and columns to support the roof; but the difference about these ones were they looked lived in. Music, voices, and smells of food drifted out of them as we passed by. I had a really good feeling about the Parkway.

Whilst making my guide for this trip, I had planned on having the fried shrimp or oyster Po’ Boy, but after getting there, I started to think about the roast beef and gravy. I read that the roast beef was the best one, but I’m not a huge roast beef fan. I think that’s why I finally decided to get it. Breakin’ down taste bud barriers right and left over here. But I also decided to share with Gabe who got the fried shrimp Po’ Boy and some chicken and alligator sausage gumbo. The gumbo. Was. Incredible. Chunky with stewed chicken and okra, and the alligator sausage was mighty tasty, but I have to admit, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you that it was alligator if I didn’t already know. The rumors about the roast beef and gravy were right. I loved having a sauce besides the mayo, it really enhanced the sandwich without making it too soggy. The shrimp was also really good. The big difference between this and Johnny’s was the breading; spicy, with a thin layer of bread to cover ultra fresh seafood. We also indulged in some sweet potato fries. Scrumptious! Yes, folk, this one was definitely worth the trek.

We were down to our last meal of the trip, and it was so hard to choose what to eat. There were still so many things we had wanted to try; oysters on the half shell, charbroiled oysters, escargot….But there was one thing that I knew that I had never heard of prior to my food research that I really wanted to try in New Orleans, the Muffuletta. We found them serving the Muffuletta sandwiches at the Napoleon House, a restaurant that had been there since 1797. The Muffulletta is a sandwich that comes on a large, round, piece of bread resembling a hamburger bun in looks, but definitely not in taste. When I say large, I really mean large, like bigger than my face large. Gabe and I shared one, and we were plenty fine. The bread is topped with ham, Genoa salami, pastrami, swiss cheese, provolone, and an olive salad. Olives is another thing that I am trying to like, and this sandwich really helped. The salad was mixed with vinegar and olive oil, pairing perfectly with the Italian meats. I wanted to buy one to bring home on the plane!

That night we got jacked up again on some beignets since Café du Monde is open 24 hours a day. Yeah, dangerous. And the next morning leaving on a jet plane. I am so excited and fulfilled about our NOLA adventure. Being an aspiring foodie, I was so pleased with the amount of research I did in order to find some unique restaurants in some atypical neighborhoods. I also managed to get a lot of great advice from talking to people, instead of just trying to read reviews on the internet. It seemed like everyone I asked about New Orleans had a story with a dreamy look of reminiscence in their eyes. Now I have that look when asked, too.

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