Having been to New Orleans, and San Francisco, while living in NYC, I’m starting to believe it. He was talking about food, right? I believe so. As I’ve said before, I always compare the excitement of going to NOLA to that of Italy. Amazing, in a way somewhat foreign cuisine in one heck of a unique setting. Without further ado, here are our top NOLA bites during a recent trip.
(Note: For the Dessert list, click here)
BBQ Shrimp at Bevi – I’ll start with the no-brainer. Perhaps our top eat came from a little shack in Metairie about 30 minutes out from the quarter, close to the airport. We came for the Crawfish boil and got that and so much more. Huge, plump fresh perfectly cooked head-on gulf shrimp complimented by what I can only describe as Sauce of Dreams. Or maybe it was the beer talking, as in Canebrake beer, the sauce main ingredient. Move over Mr B’s, and say hello to Mr B!
Savory Bread Pudding at Atchafalaya – Funny how this trip turned out. After eating our way through eight sweet Bread Puddings on the previous trip and therefore aiming for more of the same this time, it was actually a savory one that won top marks. Filled with Mushroom, Sundried tomatoes and topped with tomato sauce, this was addictive stuff to say the least. A joy with every morsel at this popular neighborhood brunch spot. Bonus: Try the Eggs Atchafalaya and Shrimp and Grits
Blue Crab Beignets at La Petite Grocery – This is an absolute must at LPG. Those little suckers are packed with fresh crab and explosive flavors. For my TCI readers these are like Conch Fritters on crack! Bonus: Get the Ricotta Dumplings, Hand-Made Spaghetti and Turtle Bolognese
Chargrilled Oysters at Felix’s – Last trip we enjoyed them at Drago’s who invented the Chargrilled Oysters, but now we have a new favorite looks like. They are not as cheesey and buttery at Felix’s but lightly breaded, some lemon, oil and a little bit of cheese just enough to bring out the flavors of the oysters without overpowering.
Gnocchi Bolognese at Herbsaint. So much for the “Lets avoid all things Italian since we enjoy great Italian where we live and in Italy” — We not only managed to eat a lot of interesting pastas pretty much daily, but somehow 3 Bolognese dishes. Expertly done pillowy goodness with a fine lamb ragu. But the thing that took it to another level was the herby notes from the Mint Gremolata. Get this. Bonus: Spaghetti with Guanciale and Fried-Poached Egg, Lamb Neck. Pastas here are superb
Whole Grilled Redfish at Peche – Another no brainer. This one is quickly becoming one of the most celebrated dishes in town. Expertly cooked Redfish, perfectly complimented with first-rate minty oily Salsa Verde. You dont mess around too much with greatness. This little guy can easily be shared by 3, 4 at this multiple James Beard award recipient. Bonus: Crawfish Pasta (Top Picture) and too many to mention. Read the post
BBQ Shrimp at Mr B’s – Yes, two BBQ Shrimp dishes on the list this time, which prompted to ask on Chowhound where can I get this in NYC. No replies so far and its been at least 5 minutes! This thing was our top eat last time and the only repeater on the list. If you cant get to Metairie, or even if you can, get this!
Beef Cheeks at Sylvain – If you never had beefy cheeks, you are in for a treat! Beef doesnt get any more tender and juicy than this, without getting all soft and mushy. Especially love the supporting cast here of potato purée and field peas. PS. New Yorkers, try Bar Bolonat’s Tagine for more cheeky goodness. Bonus: Shaved Brussels Sprouts, Chick-Syl-vain Sandwich
Seafood Platter (aka the “Shell Beach Diet”) at Brigtsen’s. Six different items on the plate including a great Drum Amandine with plenty of almond action, two different baked oysters, a terrific smoky shrimp jalapeño cornbread (really liked this) and shrimp coleslaw. The only thing I didn’t care for is the Why-So-Sweet scallop but what a fantastic jam-packed plate. Bonus: Crawfish Shortcake, Paneed Rabbit, Pecan Pie
Beignets at Café Du Monde – Yes, this is a cliché I know. But considering we ate Beignets every single morning I have no choice but give credit where credit is due. Just edging out Café Beignet, these Beignets were consistently great. Nice texture, not too daughy, not too airy, just perfectly executed Beignets. The lines for a table move quick, and don’t forget to look inside for the best views of the action and history
Opulence! they dont has it. No chandeliers, no white gloves, no benches for your man-purse can be found in little Bevi in Metairie. What you got here instead is some outstanding seafood. This small shack off the main road close to the airport delivered quite possibly the most memorable meal of a trip that included some pretty nasty eats (Peche for one). It took just one bite of a BBQ Shrimp dish to confirm we are not in Kansas anymore. We are in New Orleans, Louisiana – Seafood country!
Fresh Seafood that is. The “if not fresh, we dont have it” kind. When I ordered the BBQ Shrimp, the nice girl at the counter said “Let me see if we still have fresh Shrimp”. She might as well have said “Let me go check in the back if you can get the best thing you will ever eat in this town”. Who knew so much was at stake. Ok, I may be a tad melodramatic here but this BBQ Shrimp instantly beat the BBQ Shrimp at Mr B’s Silly. What it was lacking in butter, the addictive sauce more than made up for it in Canebrake beer and spices. The ultra plump, ultra fresh head-on Gulf Shrimp swimming in that bright, flavor packed sauce can only be described by this quote from Seinfed “They are real, and they are spectacular”. I just couldn’t get enough of this dish. An unexpected gem that was not the main reason we came here. That honor belonged to the boiled crawfish which we absolutely smothered. There was plenty of meat in those little tails that day. We also shared a smokey Oyster Po-Boy with smoked Gouda and pastrami bacon, dressed in delicious toasty bread. I imagine long lines for this thing at the next Po-Boy festival uptown.
After the meal a nice chat with chef/owner Justin LeBlanc revealed the passion and motivation behind this project. Bevi may be new but Justin is no stranger to cooking, and it shows in the attention to details in those dishes. I must have looked at their menu over 20 times before the trip, trying to remember the reason for schlepping the family up there. You know its far when the name of the street is Airline Drive, and those cab rides can get as comfortable as a Donald Sterling interview sometimes. But its all about the end results. Counter order food has never tasted this good. If only they had those little benches for your purse.
4701 Airline Dr
Reccommended Dishes: BBQ Shrimp, Smoked Oyster Poboy, Crawfish (in season)
No, you didn’t accidentally stumble upon another health site. I’m talking about the other “Healthy”, as in “of a satisfactory size or amount”. How to eat well in one of the greatest food cities in America. It took me a few trips to come up with the secret formula and now I am ready to pass this on to you dear reader(s). Its all about what you eating for Breakfast that will set you free to fly with the Kale munching foodies of today (ok not sure what it means either, but I think you get the idea). So grab a pen and pencil (because you know the lone pencil you have in the house is never sharpened) and write down the following recommended breakfast schedule…
Day 1: Beignets
Day 2: Beignets
Day 3: Beignets
Day 4: You guessed it… … Crackers! (Preferably with honey… to cure the hangover accumulated from the past 3 days)
If there’s one thing I learned from all those trips to Italy is this… Eat like an Italian. A croissant, pastry, coffee for breakfast and you are on your way to enjoy the two main things you came here to enjoy: Lunch and Dinner. I approach travelling to New Orleans the same way now, but it wasn’t clear to me at first. On my first trip as I would normally do, I researched the heck out of the city including the towns best breakfast spots, and had solid plans for the usual 3 meals per day. The result was coming to dinner fairly full. I recall hours before dinner I would wish that by the time dinner came I’d be hungrier than I was at that moment. I was fantasizing about “Hunger Pills”, not pills that reduce hunger, but the ones that increase it. But of course, in our backward society our scientists keep concentrating on the former!
Its very simple my friends. New Orleans cuisine is fairly rich. And even big eaters like Ziggy here will have trouble fitting in three full meals. Something has to give, and that something is breakfast, which is why Beignets is the perfect breakfast choice. Here are the obvious and not so obvious options you have in/near the French Quarter and my feelings on who is better.
Café Du Monde – As much as I like the underdogs, CDM won the Beignet war by a small margin. Great texture, not too daughy, not too airy, just perfectly executed Beignets. The lines for seats look longer than they actually are. The lines for takeout look exactly as they are. Get a table, order the amazing Café au lait, Beignets (the only thing they have) and take your time to enjoy this one. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, or trying to pass a town not supported by Chris Christie, you probably already know about Café Du Monde, one of the greatest American institutions. BTW, once you are in looking for a table take a peak inside the building and try to grab seats there. Even while sitting out, take a look at the scene inside.
Café Beignet – Two convenient locations and very solid Beignets. The reason I wouldn’t rank them higher is that some beignets were a bit more dense and chewier than others. Both locations are very popular and the lines can get painful at times, but the Beignets (below) are top notch
Morning Call – We tried the one at City Park and while I was expecting something that would at least rival the other two due to its extensive history, it did not. These were simply not as fresh and not as great, but still a decent convenient option at the park
Betony, Carbone and Estela, three new powerhouses from NYC lost to Peche in the coveted James Beard awards as America’s Best New Restaurant. The event, held earlier this month, also awarded Ryan Prewitt, Peche’s chef and co-owner, Best Chef in the South (tie with fellow New Orleanean Sue Zemanick). As much as we cherished our meal at the more elegant and refined Betony, James Beard got this one right. Simply put, in all my years of travel and eating, Peche is like nothing we’ve ever experienced on our mainland.
When I first started looking into what to eat on this particular trip, it didnt take long before this latest Donald Link (part owner) establishment became the front-runner. Link’s Herbsaint was the top meal of the previous trip and the Peche menu was a “screaming buy” and a delight for the ants living in my keyboard (living off my drool). More often than not, high expectation arent met and things fall sometimes annoyingly short. So Its almost refreshing to not only have the most anticipated meal deliver, but also the most anticipated dish rock in such a big way
When you first step in, it feels like you accidentally walked inside a fancy rustic crab shack, but with just enough neighbor separation and comforting noise level. We dont need penguin suits and benches for our purses to enjoy fine dining in its purest. A nice booth in the back, and an eager waiter that was especially enthusiastic about my order as if he was enjoying this meal himself was all what we needed for a truly memorable meal. I’m in danger of overhyping this one, so let me stop right now and dive to the food
Fried Bread – Remember kids, anytime you see bread on the menu, get it. This one was salted, honeyed, fried and tasted much better than it sounds
Crawfish Bisque – Dark roux, not too thick or thin. Didnt have enough of it to pass proper judgement partially because my youngest totally destroyed this thing.
Hushpuppies – Dont remember the last time I had this falafel of the south. Get this!
Crawfish Capellini – Outstanding! Capellini pasta, a bit thicker than angel hair with plenty of meaty, sweet crawfish meat. Terrific broth made with shrimp and crawfish stock, with hints of jalapeño. Highly recommend this one
Curried Mussels – More like a salad with potatoes, other veggies mixed in with the mussels and covered with light homemade curry sauce. I was a little nervous about this one with my mussel obsessed family used to plain ol’ mussels in red or white sauce but it turned out to be another winner
Smothered Catfish – Smothered in deliciousness! We aren’t the biggest fans of the catfish, but this was light, flaky, and quite good
Whole Grilled Redfish – A Revelation! Expertly cooked Redfish, perfectly complimented with first-rate minty oily salsa verde. You dont mess around too much with greatness. One of the best things I ate all year.
Top notch Chocolate/Raspberry Cake and an even better Pineapple Rum Cake. Not the usual soggy mess you normally expect out of a rum cake but a drier delicious pineapple flavored cake with Dolce de Leche ice cream. Well done!
Reason #37 to visit New Orleans
Tucked deep inside the Irish Channel neighborhood is New Orleans’ first and only five “A” dining establishment, Atchafalaya! An On and Off neighborhood gem that changed hands a few times to become On again, offers one of the most sought after jazz brunches in town. Its no coincidence that some of the best meals we had in all our travels are off the beaten path, away from the tourists (those damn pesky tourists!) and this one was definitely not an exception. Reaching Atchafalaya after a long walk in the star studded Garden District/Lafayette cemetery area with 3 women wearing new “but I swear they are so comfortable” shoes, requires a five “A” award in itself.
Due to the blister action, we opted to be served the bloody Marys instead of making our own in their popular Bloody Mary bar. The BM was on the spicier side, loaded with all the usual veggie suspects including broccoli and okra, along with nuts, bacon, car keys, and god knows what else they put there. Bread Pudding, Bloody Mary, drinking in public are some of the things New Yorkers need to experience in NOLA. Every time I try any of these in NYC I’m either disappointed or arrested.
Speaking of Bread Pudding, the savory bread pudding in Atchafalaya is outrageously good. Filled with Mushroom, Sundried tomatoes and topped with tomato sauce, addictive stuff to say the list. A solid top 10 dish of the trip contender. Shrimp and Grits were probably the best shrimp and grits I ever had. Huge plump gulf shrimp with a tangier darker looking sauce. Another fantastic dish is the Eggs Atchafalaya, sort of an Egg Benedict but with fried green tomatoes and crab. Fried green tomatoes is one of the specials here, adding much needed tartness to some dishes. Crab and poached eggs are featured all over the brunch menu. Another winner was the Oyster Rockefeller special. There was beautiful bacon, creamy spinach, more delicious grits, meaty glorious fried oysters, and yet another poached egg tying everything together.
So put your old shoes, some bandages just in case, go for a little stroll to Atchafalaya, and get rewarded. Highly recommend this one
901 Louisiana Ave.
Recommended Dishes: Savory Bread Pudding, Eggs Atchafalaya, Shrimp and Grits, Oyster Rockefeller (special)
Banana Brown Butter Tart at Herbsaint. So good we have to have it on every trip. Rhonda Ruckman the young looking pastry chef is reaching legendary status according to various blogs/publications. Add their terrific homemade vanilla ice cream and call me in the morning. (Its just an expression – dont call me)
Pecan Pie at Brigtsen’s. I love love Pecan Pie, and this was probably the best I’ve had. The pecans are cut so fine that when they fill the top layer it results in a crunchy cookie like texture. And the inside isn’t as jelly like and gooey as you find in your ordinary pecan pies
White Chocolate Bread Pudding at GW Fins. We’ve had some amazing bread pudding in NOLA from the great Cherry Jubilee at SoBou to the funky Krispy Kreme at Boucherie, to the classics of Mr B’s and Commander’s Palace. But GW’s prevailed and not so much for the white chocolate, but the use of the dark stuff (chocolate) that did it for me
How did we function before Google? How did you go about reserving at a place like Brigtsen’s? Did you do it via those large yellow books I sometimes find by my doorsteps, which normally means I have to do an unexpected trip to the garbage cans (after work, its a trip. I prefer by appointment). I’m only in my late 30’s (44 to be exact!) but I dont recall ever using these little yellow behemoths for dining. I wonder because Brigtsen’s probably broke the record for the number of times I Googled a restaurant (previously held by Atchafalaya). Mostly because I could never really get the spelling right. I spelled it every wrong way possible including “Frank’s”, and sticking H’s where they dont belong. Even now I had to Google it for the purpose of this post. Copy and Paste – best invention since Ctl-Alt-Del IMO.
Its not a coincidence that this was our first night’s meal. Frank (Ctl-V) Brigtsen’s, a James Beard award winner is one of NOLA’s great Creole ambassadors. A long stint under the great Paul Prudhomme at K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen after starting with chef Paul at Commander’s Palace didnt hurt. I was in fact debating between K-Paul’s and Brigtsen’s for this trip and very happy with the choice. The restaurant itself is inside a Victorian Cottage and just about as homey as it gets. It felt like eating at uncle’s house except that (a bonus normally in my family) the uncle never comes out of the kitchen.
Started with a terrific duo of soups. A very dark and satisfying seafood gumbo, and an even better butternut shrimp bisque that turned my little one into a bisque junkie/critic the rest of the trip. The bisque was creamy, not too sweet, and had just enough pleasant heat to balance things out. Shrimp Remoulade with Guacamole, Deviled Eggs and a surprisingly scrumptious corn relish was a nice medley of flavors and textures with the mustardy Remoulade at the helm. The crawfish shortcake with peppery étouffée and corn was equally enjoyable.
As for the mains we shared the Paneed Rabbit with mustard sauce. We attacked this perfectly executed Schnitzel-like thing with full force. And we had to have the famous Seafood Platter (aka the “Shell Beach Diet”). Six different items on the plate including a great Drum Amandine with plenty of almond action, two different baked oysters (too full to enjoy and critic), a terrific smoky shrimp jalapeño cornbread (really liked this) and shrimp coleslaw. The only thing I didn’t care for is the Why-So-Sweet scallop. Fantastic dish overall though.
The dessert was perhaps the highlight. The banana bread pudding was top notch but it was as expected the pecan pie that stole the show. The pecans are cut so fine that when they fill the top layer it results in a crunchy cookie like texture. And the inside isn’t as jelly like and gooey as you find in your ordinary pecan pies. Now I get it. Coffee I should say was surprisingly undrinkable here, but a solid meal overall at uncle’s house
723 Dante St, New Orleans
Recommended Dishes: Butternut Shrimp Bisque, Crawfish Shortcake, Paneed Rabbit, Seafood Platter, Pecan Pie
Some people visit their relatives. Some visit a childhood friend or someone who owes them money. Other folks take a stroll in the quarter while some take a nap. Everybody has their own ritual as far as their first activity in New Orleans. Mine? Mr B’s BBQ Shrimp. Nothing says welcome to foodie heaven New Orleans more than putting on a bib in this semi fancy local institution for these beautiful legendary crustaceans. I said no to that bib once, and paid the price (The dreaded wife look). Never again!
Mr B’s Bistro is one of the jewels in the French Quarters. Although it opened in 1979, in a town filled with institutions such as Commanders Palace, Galatoires, this is one of the new kid on the block. Hurricane Katrina did enough damage to shut it down for 2 years until it was rebuilt to look exactly the same as before. The alumni list that includes Paul Prudhomme and Emeril Lagasse, the owner (a Brennan family member), its history and look and feel make it seem more ancient than it is.
You take out the legendary prawns from the equation and the signature dish becomes the rich Gumbo Ya Ya. A dark buttery roux with chunks of chicken and Andouille sausages. “Pretty pretty pretty good”. But this is merely the warm-up act to the main event.
The recipe hasn’t changed since its inception. A buttery, peppery dark roux you want to dip anything into. Their terrific bread, shrimp, fingers, room keys (make sure you have a spare), anything. Unpeeling the huge plump gulf shrimp requires some major finger work, which is why its so crucial to have a bib on. Its almost strange to wear a bib in a place like this, but things can get messy. This is as mouthwatering as a dish can get.
But not everything we’ve had here was nearly as satisfying. A somewhat bland blackened redfish, and a less than stellar pasta jambalaya we had in the prior visit, begs the question. What else is good here. Get the prawns!
And finish the deal with the classic bread pudding with Irish whisky. In NYC, the closest I got to the classic NOLA bread pudding is in an Israeli restaurant called Balaboosta. I don’t know why its so hard to get a decent Bread Pudding in NYC. Everyone is trying to be too cute. Another winner was the Chocolate molten cup cake with raspberry sauce.