The Big Greasy

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My waitress takes a break on the Cafe du Monde patio.

Oh, the food in New Orleans! I knew eating would be a highlight and read up in my Lonely Planet guidebook and in Jane and Michael Stern’s “Road Food” for tips on where to go so I’d be prepared.

The afternoon I arrived, there was a Creole Tomato Fest, a Zydeco Fest and a Seafood Fest all winding down simultaneously in the French Quarter. Best food item I tried was a crawfish pie, a little 3-inch diameter pie with filling like a crab cake.

One evening I had crawfish etoufee at the Bon Ton Cafe, a 1950s-era spot with exposed-brick walls on Magazine Street in the Central Business District. In etoufee, the meat is served with rice, whereas in jambalaya, the meat is cooked with the rice. The crawfish was like tiny little shrimp except more tender. Mmmm.

(Food, by the way, automatically improves at any restaurant one can reach by antique streetcar, and many of the places I ate at qualified.)

I had po-boy sandwiches at several places. Johnny’s in the French Quarter is almost like a deli, with red-checked tablecloths; there I had the oyster po-boy. Mother’s, on Canal Street, is reminiscent of L.A.’s Philippe the Original, a great social leveler in which we all line up at a counter, businessmen and laborers alike. Mother’s Ferdi Special (roast beef and ham) was very good, and its bread pudding was delicious too. And I had a catfish po-boy at the Trolley Stop.

Tried to go to Domilise’s, reputed to be the best po-boy restaurant, but it was closed the day I went, darn the luck. And Casamento’s, recommended for oyster loaves, was closed for the season.

(Incidentally, I look forward to my next visit to the Gumbo Pot at L.A.’s Farmers Market, a favorite of mine for a dozen years, although I don’t get there often. After New Orleans I now have more of a basis for comparison. The Gumbo Pot’s catfish po-boys, served on a French roll with shredded lettuce and wafer-thin slices of lemon, rind and all, is hard to beat.)

The conference I attended — for the National Association of Newspaper Columnists — included two buffet meals with multiple Big Easy specialties. One was at Dookie Chase’s, one of the most beloved restaurants in town, located in the Treme district. That meal and the other included blackened catfish, red beans and rice, jambalaya and gumbo.

I had beignets at Cafe du Monde, the famous 24-hour coffee house in the French Quarter, but no cafe au lait, having never developed a taste for coffee. (What sort of journalist am I??) Beignets are square donuts without a hole, puffy and dusted with powdered sugar.

Napoleon House had a gloriously ancient bar area but my seafood gumbo was only so-so. I splurged for one fine meal at K-Paul’s, the restaurant founded by Chef Paul Prudhomme, where I had blackened beef tenders in debris gravy, plus a cup of turtle soup, which proved to be like a thin chili, with a turtle-like snap to it.

At Central Grocery, the self-proclaimed inventor of the muffuletta, I ordered a half-sandwich, knowing from my research that one is big enough for two people. It’s on a big round loaf of bread, sliced lengthwise and stocked with ham, salami, provolone and an olive salad. With a bottle of Barq’s root beer in hand, I walked a block to the riverfront to dine al fresco in the late afternoon sun on the banks of the muddy Mississippi.

Ah, New Orleans!

If you’ve been there yourself, you’re encouraged to post about your dining experiences.

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  • John Clifford

    Love N’awlins. However, you didn’t do the beignets justice. We’d pick up beignets each morning to have for breakfast and bring them back to the condo we were staying at. To say they’re “dusted” with powdered sugar is a major understatement. I used the powdered sugar for my cafe au lait (the cafe has chicory and is dark and strong, with the au lait (milk) softening it up only a little), then shook some off because it’s reallllly mounded on, and then used it the rest of the day for any other cafe I’d have and still had some left over (not sure what I ended up doing with that).

    Next time you go there you’ve got to partake of Bananas Foster at Breakfast at Brennans, a meal at the Three Sisters, and the best meal I’ve ever had was at the Commander’s Palace (across the street from the cemetery in the Garden District –they say you have to serve good food when you’re next to the cemetery), a short block from the St. Charles Streetcar.

    Too bad you don’t drink as walking around Bourbon St. with a Hurricane in your hand is the way to go.

    Welcome Back!!

    [You're right, "heaped with powdered sugar" is more like it. I knocked each beignet against the basket to dislodge 2/3 of the sugar before eating. Shucks, I forgot to mention my dinner at Brennan's, topped off with bananas foster. Didn't make it to Three Sisters or to Commander's Palace, although between meals I visited Lafayette Cemetery across the street. -- DA]

  • Ramona

    Gosh, I wish I could eat like you seem to. I have to watch my girlish figure. That’s why I don’t comment on your restaurant reviews. I don’t eat out much. Only when someone else is paying and those pickings are currently slim.

    While I don’t plan on visiting New Orleans any time soon (see above referencing someone else paying) I’ve drooled over the food served there. The closest I’ve come around here is Lucille’s. Any comparison? Don’t s’pose so.

    Is it difficult to find authentic Louisiana food that isn’t seasoned to eye-watering goodness? Highly spiced food and I have agreed to disagree.

    I’m glad you had a good time. How come no one warned you about the grifters?

    Welcome home,

    Ramona

    [What surprised me about the food was that with the exception of the blackened catfish, the spices were very subtle. I have a sensitive tongue for spicy food yet none of it bothered me. Apparently most of the pseudo-New Orleans food just isn't done very well. A server at K-Paul's explained to the table next to mine that "blackened" has gotten a bad name. -- DA]

  • RK

    I would second John’s recommendation of the Commander’s Palace. Simply one of the best meals I have ever had! (Really, I think you found out that having a bad meal in New Orleans is pretty hard to do!)

    And one other thing to consider the next time you go: Check out the Mardi Gras School of Cooking. It is located across the river in the warehouse where they store the Mardi Gras floats. It is a little expensive (around $90) but it is a hands-on cooking school where you make gumbo, etouffee and bread pudding. And then you get to eat it! Yummo!