This past weekend we took a little trip down to one of my favorite cities and ate ALL of the food. Literally, all of it.
New Orleans is like the geographical incarnation of Too Full for School. I’ve been uncomfortably full for the past 4 days straight, and its been glorious.
Nothing exceeds like excess, and New Orleans is excess at its finest. I’m fairly certain the only vegetables I ate the entire time were those that garnished my bloody marys. In this city, you have to surrender and just laissez les bon temps roulez.
It’s a YOLO kind of town.
Eating vacations are my favorite kind of vacations, and New Orleans is easily one of the best places in the world to take one.
The key to an eating vacation is to stop into lots of different spots, but only have a little nibble at each. This takes extreme discipline, as it’s very easy to sit down at one place and eat enough to keep you satiated all week. But this way you get to try so many different things, and if you like something enough you can always go back for more.
We arrived early Halloween morning, and started off by trecking down to Café Du Monde for some café au laits and beignets, the pillowy mounds of fried dough showered with powdered sugar made famous here. Wen we got there, there was a line wrapped around the corner. Nope, sorry. We’re not patient enough to wait in long lines for food, especially after having woken up at 3am to catch a flight.
We walked about a block down Decatur and stumbled upon a place that looked deceptively similar to Du Monde, likely to fool innocent tourists into thinking they’re getting the real deal. It was called “New Orleans Famous Beignets and Coffee,” and I was skeptical. But we were desperate, so we ducked in and ordered two au laits and an order of beignets. The coffee was strong and milky with heavy notes of chicory, and the beignets were super light, crisp and flaky. Different from the beignets I remember eating in college, but really, really good. Arguably better. I don’t care if this place is being deceptive or not, they make a bangin’ beignet, and I’m glad we stopped in.
Next we met up with friends Chelsea and Roger at Mr. B’s bar for their weekday special of $1.50 bloody Mary’s (which is crazy and awesome). While there, I insisted we share a few plates of BBQ shrimp. It’s tough to choose, but BBQ shrimp might just be my favorite New Orleans dish, and they’re spot-on perfect here. Sweet, spicy, tangy, buttery, luxurious. To get the full experience, you must wear the bib, get your hands dirty, suck the heads, and sop up every last bit of sauce with the airy light french bread.
We spent the next few hours trolling around the quarter, ducking into bars and shops, and watching street musicians perform. Halloween is a serious holiday here, and the city was alive with tricks and treats alike.
We had a 7 o’clock reservation at Atchafalaya, Chef Christopher Lynch‘s restaurant. You might remember him from a little show called Food Network Star. But first we needed a little snack to hold us over, so we took a pit stop into Central Grocery for a muffaletta, the ginourmous round salt bomb of a sandwich filled with cured meats, provolone, olives and pickled vegetables.
We ordered a half, had them whack it into 4 pieces, then walked down to Jackson Square to eat it picnic style (highly recommended). There was live music playing in the street, and we all agreed that the muffaletta is one of the world’s greatest sandwiches. Better than a White House sub? Maybe. I’m not playin’. Y’all need to try this sandwich, from this place, at least once in your life before you die.
Dinner at Atchafalaya was fantastic, and I was hitting the table yelling “uncle” before the meat course even came out. Christopher and owners Tony and Rachel really took care of us. Some of my favorites were the fried green tomatoes with crab and remoulade, shaved brussels sprout salad with fried goat cheese and bacon vinaigrette, shrimp and grits with andouille, and the duck fat sazerac – one of the best and most unique cocktails I’ve ever tasted.
While we muscled down dessert, Christopher ran off and changed into the creepiest clown costume ever, then we all cabbed it over to Frenchmen Street for a few more hours of Halloween debauchery.
Saturday morning we stumbled down to Cafe Beignet, about a block from our hotel, to grab coffee and try what some people call the best beignets in town. After waiting in a line that took longer than it should have, we thought the coffee was mediocre and the beignets were dense, chewy and not very satisfying. We didn’t even finish them.
We saved our appetites for an early lunch at Cochon Butcher, and the food was as solid as I expected. The most mind-blowing part of the meal was this bottle of sweet potato habanero hot sauce on the table, that after tasting, I smothered on everything we ordered. It was perfectly balanced, with great habanero flavor but not too much heat. I asked the server how I could buy a bottle (or 12) to bring home.
To my extreme disappointment, he said its currently not for sale, and they barely have enough to stock the tables. For a very brief moment, the idea of casually dropping the bottle into my purse entered my head.. but NO COLEY. You cannot steal hot sauce no matter how bad you want to pour it onto everything, all the time, forever.
Luckily, they said it will be available for purchase in about a month on their website. HALLELUJAH! All I want for Christmas this year is a case of this stuff, just in case anyone asks. Please and thank you.
Later that afternoon, we met up with Chels and Rog and went to see if we could snag a spot at the bar at Peche, the recent James Beard award winning sister restaurant to Cochon. We figured if we got there early enough we might just have a shot, and luckily we were right. We sat on the side of the bar and were treated to some great cocktails, apps, and especially great service.
Our bartender, who’s name I of course forget, made one hell of a dirty martini and meshed well with our sarcastic, often inappropriate humor. His recommendation for the Dauphin Island Alabama oysters was spot on. I’ve always appreciated east and west coast oysters a little more than those from the gulf, but these babies really held their own – super bright, briny and sweet. Some other highlights were the marinated crab claws and the salted caramel cake, which surprisingly, was not too cloyingly sweet.
On Sunday we trecked all the way uptown to a dive bar called Cooter Browns, since we’d been tipped off that it was THE place to watch the Eagles game. It was the truth, this place was packed with Philly fans.
After a while, we left to meet up with some of my old friends and coworkers for brunch at La Petite Grocery. It was a great little reunion with some people I hadn’t seen since I graduated from LSU. It was so nice to catch up, laugh, and of course eat and drink. I ordered a bloody mary that included crab meat and poached shrimp as part of its many garnishes. Fun, excessive, and totally New Orleans. Other highlights included the insaaaanely delicious blue crab beignets – crispy fritters filled with a creamy oozy crab filling, dipped in malt vinegar aioli. The burger was also to die for.
From there we met for cocktails at the beautiful Columns Hotel in the Garden District. Their drink menu reflected the decor, totally classic but executed impeccably well. The brandy milk punch was a stand out for sure.
By Monday, Chaser and I were already starting to feel the effects of the weekend, but knew there were still so many stones left unturned. We had a less than stellar breakfast at The Old Coffee Pot (had to try the callas cakes – wasn’t a fan), and left to do a little more shopping and strolling through the quarter. We wanted more oysters, so around lunch time we walked by Acme Oyster House and saw a line waiting outside. Nope.
Instead, we turned the corner and opted and sit up on the balcony of Royal House. We ordered some Abita beers, oyster shooters and the chargrilled oysters. The beers were cold, the shooters were eh, but the chargrilled oysters were fire. Super salty, fresh, and rich, we gobbled them up. I could tell they were made with margarine, but they were too tasty to care.
A lot of these old southern recipes are traditionally made with margarine, because it was cheaper and considered healthier than butter back in the 1950s when they originated. I appreciate it for history’s sake, but dang, these things would be even better made with actual butter.
I wasn’t about to leave New Orleans without putting a Po’Boy in my belly. After all, we named our old dog after this iconic sandwich, and we owed it to him to have at least one while we were here.
We walked into Johnny’s right before close and split one with half oyster / half shrimp. This husband of mine loves raw oysters but hates em fried. Some things in life I’ll just never understand. It was good and satisfying, but not quite as amaaaazing as I remembered.
After a little more walking and shopping, we knew we needed one more nosh before heading back to the hotel to pack. We decided on another mufaletta, but when we arrived we saw Central Grocery is closed on Mondays. LAME.
Then I remembered a nearby cocktail bar called Cane and Table that was recommended by my friend Anyah who recently visited. We looked up the address and must have walked down the block 8 times looking for it. We almost gave up, when we looked up and saw the name written in small letters on a dark inconspicuous door.
We walked inside to find a rad, dimly-lit speakeasy type bar, with hip bartenders and mellow tunes. We took a seat and began reading their super eclectic novel of a cocktail menu, which drew heavy inspiration from 1950’s tiki drinks. We loved the daiquiri, which happened to be on happy hour special, and the milk punch with its splash of sherry and fresh grated nutmeg that hit your nose the second you took a sip. We ordered some bar bites: the jerk fried pork skins (YES), grouper ceviche, and fried pickled vegetables.
I thought this was plenty, but the couple next to us said we must try the ribs. When someone recommends we try the ribs, there’s a good chance we’re going to listen. OH LAWD was I glad we did. In the 8 years I’ve known my husband, I’ve never seen him show this much excitement over something he ate. I’m often the one geeking out over food, but he was so smitten for these things he insisted on getting another order.
We were already too full for school, but managed to devour the second plate with no problem, licking each bone clean. They were slow braised in rum, lightly floured and deep fried, then slathered in a sweet tangy sauce with chunks of papaya and sambal. It was an incredible play of textures and flavors, and truly one of the best things either of us had ever eaten.
They happened to be filming a special for the Travel Channel while we were there. I forget what its called and when its airing, but if you happen to catch it, be sure to look for my greasy haired, unshowered self in the background.
We could have stayed there all night, but we knew we needed to head back to the hotel to start packing. On our stroll back, we passed by Café Du Monde and noticed for the first time there was no line and tons of open tables. We walked right up to the counter, ordered a café au lait and a bag of beignets to share on our walk back. By the time we got home, we were covered in powdered sugar, it was like a scene out of Scarface.
These beignets were softer with a more delicate crumb than Café Beignet’s, more substantial than New Orleans Famous’, but not as flaky and crisp. A happy medium between the two, and a must-try for sure. I couldn’t think of a better way to close out our trip.
That being said, the next time I visit the Big Easy, I’m sticking with New Orleans Famous as my beignet of choice. Shorter lines, great coffee, lighter, crispier, more irresistible beignets.
There’s an old Tennessee Williams quote that says, “America only has three cities: New York, San Francisco, and New Orleans. Everywhere else is Cleveland.” I might throw LA and Miami in there for good measure, but otherwise I’d say it’s pretty spot on.
There’s no where on earth quite like New Orleans, and every time I leave, a little piece of my heart gets left behind.
Till next time.