A dangerous-eating road trip to New Orleans

Travel | October 23, 2014 | By

As much as I love to cook, sometimes it’s great not to cook. While I get excited to try something new in the kitchen, I also love my restaurants, or nice dinners at a friend’s place who may also be culinarily inclined. Of course when you have kids, these nights away from home are few and far between, because you usually need to be house-bound for tuck-in duty. So when your husband is good enough to watch the kids and encourage a bucket-list trip with your foodie girlfriend who you’ve been hanging out with since grade nine, you don’t pause for a second to ask, “are you sure?” You book a bunch of reservations at either 5:30 or 9:30 (who knew?), throw on your finest lobster bib,

 

Lobster bib

and eat the city of New Orleans with reckless abandon. Yes, the actual city. Godzilla style. (Apologies for those damn freckles. They lost our luggage, so I had to eat seafood in the face-nude for a day. More apologies for obviously cropping my friend out of the lobster bib picture. She fears the World Wide Web, and I’m totally going to hide out with her when Google builds its army and uses every detail of our waking lives to enslave us.)

Anyway. Facing this trip, I only had two big worries:

1. How quickly could I digest each meal so that I was ready for the next one?

2. Should I take advantage of this away mission to taste weird foods I wouldn’t normally have access to, or should I stick with comfortable standbys to get NOLA’s take on what I already knew I loved?

Oh, the pressure. Luckily, by carefully managing point #1, I was able to stuff my stomach with enough NOLA diversity to satisfy both options in #2. So, without further ado, here is my top ten list of interesting foodie experiences from The Big Easy.

10. Go-cups

This is when I realized that Toronto is kind of dumb when it comes to liquor. In New Orleans, if you haven’t finished your drink or if you’d rather wander than sit, you can ask for your drink in a “go-cup” and you can drink it on the street. Awesome. I’m old! If I’d rather have a beer outside, I should be old enough to decide that I’m allowed to! Of course, go-cups could be partially responsible for the puke smell that’s hard to miss each time you cross Bourbon Street. Ugh.

9. Beignets

Beignets

Beignets are square doughnuts that are completely covered in icing sugar. You eat them warm, and a famous place to get them is at Cafe du Monde, which is an open-air cafe on the Mississippi river. I’m not a huge doughnut person, but these were squishy and un-greasy. And eating them in 30 degree sunshine with a “cafe au lait,” ain’t half bad.

8. Grits

Ew. I don’t really get it. But I tried, like, a bite-and-a-half at our shoddy hotel breakfast to know what Joe Pesci was talking about in My Cousin Vinny.

7. Po-boys

A po-boy would be known here as a “sub,” although in NOLA its bread is crustier. Apparently it was traditionally made with bits of roast beef and gravy, given to striking streetcar drivers in 1929 from the back door of Clovis and Benjamin Martin’s restaurant, when they’d yell something along the lines of, “We’ve got another po-boy [poor boy] out here!” Now you can get them with just about anything on. My sandwich from Johnny’s Po-boys was ham — the only animal I ate on the whole trip that didn’t swim, I think.

Po-boys IMG_2120

6. Ooey gooey cake

So all of a sudden we found ourselves in a parade. Somehow I think that might happen in New Orleans randomly, right when you least expect it. The “first line” in a parade through the streets is the band, and then everyone follows the band in the “second line,” buying beers and snacks from folks pulling them along in coolers and carts. We felt pretty lucky to be dancing along in a second line. When we looked down at what the snack lady was pulling we noticed that some of her wares were labelled “ooey gooey cake.”

Ooey gooey cake

We were too full to snack at the time (see problem #1, above) but I just found this recipe for cake that might be similar. I need to give it a try.

5. Crawfish and oysters

There were t-shirts and kitchen paraphernalia everywhere that said “The four seasons of New Orleans: oyster, crawfish, crab, and shrimp.” I think we hit oyster season because they were dirt cheap, and they showed up in some of my nicer meals too, like in a soup. I adore oysters. If you have an oyster bar at your wedding, don’t invite me, because the gift I buy you will never cover all that I’ll consume. We were disappointed not to find fresh crawfish anywhere, but we did wolf down a crawfish po-boy that must have been prepared from frozen. Next time! And/or I’ve got to get to work at changing the seasons. Maybe global warming will do it for me?

Oysters IMG_2089

4. Snapping turtle soup

Turtle soup has been on my list to try since I missed out on it a few years ago in Washington DC. This time, I tried it right. We ate at Restaurant R’evolution, which was our fanciest dinner. That was where I learned about presentation. For this soup, they started by spooning three tiny devilled quail’s eggs into my bowl. Then they poured my soup around the eggs using a gravy boat until they were drowned. They did the same for my friend with her “death by gumbo,” although they poured hers around a full quail. Craziness. (But now that they’ve shown me how to serve up soup, you can bet I’m going to do it that impressively for guests at my own darn table!). This dish also introduced me to something else different about New Orleans cooking. They use a LOT of spices. Not so that it’s spicy-hot, but so that everything is very fully flavoured. This soup tasted strongly of clove. The turtle didn’t taste too different — just like meaty seafood. I didn’t take a picture because it was a posh place and it felt odd. But it was delicious!

3. Absinthe

A funny story about friends and trust. I knew that there was something illicit about absinthe, but I didn’t quite know what. I knew it involved chasing something — turns out it was “chasing the green fairy,” or the swirls that appear in the bottom of the glass, but I confused it with “chasing the dragon,” with images of strung-out addicts from movies nervously flitting about in my head. Of course, I tried it anyway (my friend said she served it to friends at home, so how bad could it be?). Now I know that the illicit part was that it was banned because people were afraid that the wormwood derivative in it would poison people or make them crazy, but this might have only been a smear campaign by market-protecting wine growers a hundred years ago. Oscar Wilde, Hemingway, and Van Gogh all liked it, and they seemed to do okay (I could use some “manic creativity!”). It’s served in a glass with a sugar cube on a slotted spoon over it, which is dissolved slowly by drips of cold water. Tastes delicious, if you like liquorice.

Absinthe

I also enjoyed that I drank it from a pub that was right beside a church and sign that says “Church quiet zone.” God bless New Orleans.

Quiet - church zone

2. Cobia Collar

Another incredible restaurant we tried was Peche, which was named “Best New Restaurant” at the 2014 James Beard Foundation Awards, and was listed as one of the top 50 best new restaurants by Bon Appetit. Now. You might remember when I cooked fish heads? When I saw “Cobia Collar,” aka cobia jaw on the menu, I just had to ignore my yearnings for more traditional meals and give it a go. I mean, what would a real chef do with a fish head? He’d serve it so that it looked like a bird, that’s what. (Sorry for the light, iPhone shot in the dark)

Cobia collar

That’s just crazy food creativity, is what that is. The meat was tender, dense, white meat, and of course, it was done in a perfectly herby and buttery salsa verde.

And now, last, but very far from least…

1. Emeril Lagasse’s Delmonico

I’m including the whole restaurant here, because everything I ate was my favourite. The service was incredibly friendly too — waiter escorted me to the “restroom” on his arm which made me laugh (they also filled your water glass each time you took a sip, which was slightly annoying. Sometimes service should be a little more invisible, you know? But this was a small distraction from greatness). Anyway. My friend and I felt a bit cliche choosing a celebrity chef’s restaurant as our hands-down fav, but what can you do — he might just be good for a reason. We’re talking lobster ravioli with shrimp in buttery-herbed sauce (wish I could describe it properly but it was a special and I didn’t write it down!). Every bite a delight. For dessert — sweet potato bread pudding with toasted marshmallow ice cream, brown sugar tuille, and praline sauce. I didn’t take a picture of it, but saveur.com took one that looks pretty darn similar by Emeril’s pastry chef Amy Lemon…

7-travels-pecan-pie-bread-pudding-full-width650x433

And on that note, I’ll say only one more thing. Eat the city of New Orleans. Here’s hoping the voodoo money chestnut I’m now carrying around in my purse actually does bring vast fortunes, because then I’ll go back every single year.

Comments

  1. Leave a Reply

    Marni
    October 24, 2014

    Good list. I agreeeee on the grits. I’m a Canadian living in the south and can’t stand em.

    • Leave a Reply

      Ann Allchin
      October 24, 2014

      Yup. Maybe if I was really really hungry, but that’s tough to do in NOLA. And thanks for commenting! I was about to message my blog buds with “Do you want to build a snowman…” (Frozen movie joke)

  2. Leave a Reply

    Christina
    October 24, 2014

    Hello Ann! In how many days did you consume all this food?? I think after that you’ll have to abstain from food for a couple of days! Not that I wouldn’t like to be there with you, to do the same thing, exactly! Regarding food, I can never say no! So, I just propose, next time your husband babysits why don’t you come over here to try some peculiar Greek delicacies?? I’ll take you there and it’s worth the trip!

    • Leave a Reply

      Ann Allchin
      October 27, 2014

      Ooh, I’m in!!! That would be incredible! As for how long we were there, we arrived on a Thursday night and flew out again around lunchtime on the Monday. We didn’t slow down much while we were there, though, which is how we got to see so much. I sure am missing it now with this cool fall weather.

  3. Leave a Reply

    Trevor aka The Burger Nerd
    October 27, 2014

    Did you do this trip just to make me jealous because if so, it worked. lol

    I’ve always wanted to go to New Orleans (and will some day) and your article does nothing but reinforce this desire for The Burger Nerd to meet The Big Easy. Cobia Collar sounds like an amazing restaurant…and you even made me want to try Emeril “Bam, let’s kick it up a notch!” Lagasse’s restaurant despite being drowned by his omnipotent presence in the early 2000’s.

    The only thing I gotta say is I wish ya tried the Muffaletta. Since I’ve never been to Naw’Leans before, I’ve never had the real deal Muffaletta….but I have made it at home and “The Sammy is da Mammy”. I don’t think that last catch phrase will catch on like “This is How We Do”, “Mo Money Mo Problems” or even “Stay Calm and Carry On Placing Stay Calm on every Product”…but you heard it first here – “The Sammy is da Mammy”. I have a slew of lawyers on hand to sue anyone trying to use it without my permission. 🙂

    Anywhooo, awesome post and happy you got to go on an amazing foodie trip to New Orleans. Thanks for sharing your experience there and for all the lovely food pics 🙂 Cheers!

    • Leave a Reply

      Ann Allchin
      October 27, 2014

      Great timing with your comment, Burger Nerd! I just happened to be rooting around in here replying to Christina, and then “bam,” new comment. Love those psychic coincidences.

      Anyway, I’m especially proud of you for being enough of a foodie to call me on the one NOLA delicacy I didn’t get to try. You know your nosh! My travel friend hates olives, and she’s a stellar vacay researcher, so although she mentioned that I should try it she wasn’t itching to remind me. I realized I missed it as I sat on the plane home. Now I’m going to have to find a recipe and make some just for me. This Mammy needs that Sammy! Thanks for popping by.

  4. Leave a Reply

    Trish
    October 28, 2014

    Ohhhh mouth is watering !!! It all looks sooo good. Loved this post 🙂

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