When Jen mentioned she and Brandon were making a temporary move to Louisiana in the new year, I left a comment pledging my undying love for New Orleans, and implored her to visit if they’d be near the city.
So of course, she asked for any recommendations of places to go and things to see. And I realized I didn’t ever actually share much of anything from our trip on here. Except Freddie.
As has become typical with any trip Neil and I take, most of our itinerary and planning revolved around food. And with its unique regional cuisine, fresh ingredients and access to amazing seafood, New Orleans ranks among the top foodie cities in America.
The Starting Place
In the past few years we’ve clued in to the fact that taking a cooking class wherever you end up traveling is an excellent way to sample some regional delicacies and learn about the history of an area. So much of a region’s development is shaped by the foods they have and the things they can grow, hunt and gather. Cajun cuisine (along with the rest of the culture) is a fascinating pastiche of French, Spanish, Ethiopian, Caribbean and Native American cooking and customs. Tinted by the spirit of a fiercely independent state full of people who were used to doing things their own way and are still (at least deep-down) a bit annoyed by the Louisiana purchase.
We spent an afternoon with Miss Pat at the New Orleans School of cooking, where we were introduced to New Orleans through its food, and sampled a number of dishes in this demonstration cooking class. It helped set the stage for understanding a lot more about the city as we wandered and ate.
Being incredibly close to the gulf coast as well as right on the Mississippi river, a huge amount of New Orleans food revolves around both fresh- and salt-water seafood. Two key stops included Deanie’s for their incredible, ridiculous, incredibly ridiculous seafood platter. It’s exactly what it looks like – a giant plate of deep-fried sea creatures for your enjoyment (Shrimp, Catfish, Crayfish Hushpuppies, Oysters, topped with a Soft Shell crab) . And this was the half-platter. There’s one twice as large.
We also hit up the legendary Acme Oyster house for some fresh-shucked gulf-coast oysters. These babies are HUGE. I was intimidated. I don’t normally like Oysters that much. I mean, I don’t mind them, but I’ve never gone wild for the oysters I’ve had here in BC. These oysters are different. They were delicious. Big, buttery, smooth, with a bit of that saltwater tang. Love. Sit at the bar and chat with the shuckers.
We also ate a number of Creole soups & stews (Jambalaya, Etouffe, turtle soup) with various seafoods as well as learning how to properly eat a Crayfish during Jazz Brunch, thanks to our server at the Court of Two Sisters (Twist off the heads-only suck them if you’re hardcore and/or brave-peel the tail. Devour).
You can’t go to New Orleans without trying some of their famous sandwiches: The Po’ Boy, the Muffaletta, the Lucky Dog. Okay, you can probably skip the Lucky Dog, but it is an excellent way to soak up all the booze you’ll be drinking (more on that later).
Neil and I were strongly divided on sandwich preference. I came away preferring the muffaletta, a hot italian sandwich of olive salad and cold cuts in a Sicilian sesame loaf. You would not believe how badly I have been craving one the past few months. Along with a pint of Abita Amber Ale. Made worse, of course, by the fact that cold cuts and beer are both on the naughty list for pregnant ladies. You’d better believe it’ll be one of the first things I make once the kidlet appears.
Neil was partial to the Po’Boy. Specifically the Fried Oyster Po’Boy. He likes more crunch and texture in his sandwich, and this one delivers. Lettuce, tomato, tons of condiments and a hefty helping of protein – the aforementioned fried oysters, catfish, shrimp, ham, roast beef, turkey… the list goes on. I had the Debris: a motley assortment of meat shrapnel in a sandwich. Easy to grab and economic to share for lunch, our favourite Po’Boys were at Mother’s Restaurant, which also happened to be around the corner from our hotel.
Beignets. Is there anything more to say than this? Ok, yes. With Cafe au Lait. Can you go wrong with deep-fried dough and sweet, hot, creamy coffee? I don’t think you can. Pro tip: scoop the extra icing sugar into your coffee. Buzz for a good 2-3 hours. Repeat as necessary.
If you’re seriously into spirits, New Orleans is an excellent place to visit. It’s the birthplace of the Hurricane, the Sazerac and the Vieux Carre among others. We didn’t really manage to get into the cocktails on this trip. We did have hurricanes at Pat O’Brien’s piano bar, which led to this:
But that does not mean we didn’t have our fair share of drinks. New Orleans is home of the alcoholic “to go” cup. Walk into any bar or up to a hole in the wall, order a drink, pay and walk away. You could get a gigantic vat of bud-light for $5 if you hate yourself, but there is also a great local beer, Abita, and we drank great quantities of their Amber Ale while roaming around the French Quarter.
Also, that whole “wandering around the quarter on a hot evening, drinking a lot of beer” thing is where the Lucky Dog comes in handy.
The hands-down best meal we had while in New Orleans was at Emeril’s NOLA.
I’m not a big fan of the wacky “BAM” infomercial turned food network guy, but damn, it’s clear he knows and loves his food. Everything was cooked with the care and precision needed to make its flavours really shine. And he’s a big proponent of the “farm to fork” movement to highlight local eating. I now know what my last meal on earth would be, if I had to make that call: Emeril’s fried chicken. It’s that good.
We also did a few other touristy things in the city that were fun and delightful: Took the streetcar around town and through the garden district, the ferry over to the charming village of Algiers, a carriage ride through the french quarter, a bus tour of the city and an after-dark voodoo walking tour. I’d recommend any of them. But we had the most fun, by far, roaming around eating and drinking our way through as much food & beverage as we could stuff into ourselves. The French Quarter is actually really small and where we spent most of our time. But it’s just a tiny part of the city, and there was so much more food, culture, art and shopping than the limited bit we managed to consume in the four days we were there.
Regardless, even from that limited time, New Orleans stole a piece of my heart. It’s one of the few American cities I’ve visited that I would happily move to. Everyone we met was incredibly friendly, and the city just had such a warmth to it. It was confident and sophisticated, but not afraid to just be silly, have fun and let its hair down. The “bon temps” really do “roule” there. I can’t wait until we go back.