Eater Comes to New Orleans
Instead of posting a bunch of questions before my trip.I read the NOLA board for a few hours noting the writers who mirrored my stance on eating.Thanks for all the valuable information to hazelhurst,uptown librarian,hungry celeste,edible complex et al.
Y'all made my trip
When I was but a young food-ist my parents best friends moved to New Orleans setting in motion a deep and long love affair with the city of my dreams.
I've visited dozens of times over the years eating like a man who would be king if only for a week or two.My favorite time to come is the Summer when the city slumbers a bit and the good folks from parts unknown stay away from the sticky swelter of the long days.
Racing across Western Louisiana just before dawn I begin plotting my days feed.I conjure visions of Domilise....dream of Elizabeths....fantasize about Casamentos.It's thrilling enough to distract me from the beauty of Atchafalaya and a gorgeous Louisiana daybreak.Is any state's dawn as pretty as this?
Arriving at the inn on Royal Street after 9 hours in the saddle I take a quick shower and hit the street running.It's my companions first ever visit and her excitement is palpable.She's peppering me with questions as we walk down Frenchman St to our first stop:Checkpoint Charleys is an iconic punk bar on the fringe of the quarter,we're in need of some ice cold dirt cheap beer to start the day and this is as good a place as any to start.Ice cold Millers in hand we take to the streets and walk a half block or so to the Creole Tomato festival at the US Mint.We're here to eat so we take careful measure of each vendor before settling on Fleur De Lis' catering booth[big men are fiercely shucking oysters right there].At 2 bucks apiece the grilled oysters are quite dear but man the flavor is absolutely delicious.Only Bud products are sold in the beer dept so we hit the trail and wind up at Aunt Tikki's a block or so away.The party is rolling hard when we walk in.A big crowd is at the bar singing along to Journey on the jukebox and whooping it up....it's about 10:45am may I add.We join in and have the time of our lives.Everybody's really friendly,the beer is ice cold and the pricing is quiet fair.We stroll through the city for a couple hours talking about food and finally decide it's time for some Soft Shell Crab.
Jack Dempseys is as old school as it gets.Nicely weathered ,the old house on Poland Ave appears to've been built around the time of Moses.the Soft Shell comes and she's a beauty.Fried to perfection,huge and needing only a squeeze of lemon to take it straight to ethereal.A small cup of Baked macaroni and cheese comes with and it's outlandishly rich,cheesy and creamy.We hoof it back a few blocks to the Inn and run into a little rough and tumble click of wayward youth on bicycles who appear to be amazed by tourists on foot.Hard stares not withstanding we make it back just fine.
Our big night out starts at Herbsaint which has been my favorite NOLA restaurant for the last 3 years.We're determined to do some heavy drinking later so we keep it light.The Shrimp and Grits was formerly my favorite dish in town til they decided to tinker with the recipe a couple years ago.The ethereal Tasso Cream is a thing of the past and has been replaced with a pedestrian Okra based sauce.It's ok but not even in the league of the old version.The Bleu Cheese salad is decent.The greens are not crisp,the bacon cooked at some point in the afternoon.The bleu cheese is good quality and almost saves the dish.Redemption is offered in the way of the Brown Butter Banana tart,a banana outburst.It's amazing and one of the best desserts I've ever had in new Orleans.
After many drinks at Old Absinthe House we slowly make our way back to the room and plot our course for tomorrow.
This is the morning when NOLA gets 6" of rain in about an hour.The hour we decide to walk to Cafe Du Monde.The umbrella does little to abate the downpour and we walk in like two drowned badgers.CDM is always good and gets better when the sun makes an appearance.We hike it over to the Mint for day 2 of the Creole Tomato festival.the Vidalia Grill company is offering Barbecue shrimp so we order a bowl.It's ok.I've never had such a literal interpretation of this NOLA classic.8 big plump shrimp are drenched in barbecue sauce.Texas style,sweet barbecue sauce.It'll eat but the flavor really throws me for a loop.Stick to grill manufacturing Vidalia and you'll do just fine.We spend the next couple hours walking through the Quarter drinking[The Alpine is a nice little spot to tipple with a small,deserted sunny patio,the bartender is making plans to leave New Orleans for Austin,her husband is recovering from a beatdown suffered on the street]We mull over our dining options before deciding upon..
I walk out of Mandina's feeling like a young Dick The Bruiser strutting out of the Milwaukee Civic center.Barrel chested as all hell,full of good food and camaraderie.I love old school New Orleans waitresses.If you call me baybeh I'm yours,you own me.I'll do anything to hear a 55 year old woman say"you need some more ice tea over here Baybeh?".The food is homey and delicious.I get the Soft Shell Crab Lafitte which is an enormous Crab drenched in Crawfish Etoufee.It would feed 3 hungry people easily.My companion goes for the Wop Salad and it's intense;house cured olives["honey the lady in the back's been back there curing olives for 40 years,they're the best in town"]tons of greens,shredded cheese,onions,anchovies and some of the best Italian dressing I've ever put in my mouth.I'm in love with Mandinas.The bread pudding is a tribute to the power of stale bread.Rich,buttery and soul satisfying.
8 hours later.
At some point in every New Orleans adventure I always get hungry for a big juicy burger.I've been meaning to get by Buffa's the last couple visits so we make our way from Checkpoint Charlies up Esplanade a couple blocks to this humble little neighborhood bar.Open since 1939 Buffa's is a cool blast of air on a hot day.She's dark inside and smells like grilling meat right when you walk in.With an internet jukebox[Nortec Collective!] and ice cold beer she just feels good and natural.The burger is a beauty with a heavy char sitting on a grilled Kaiser roll.She rolls out medium rare and topped with delicious sweet onion and mayonnaise.Much better than the more lauded Yo Mamas.French Fries come with and they're fine,commercial but hot and salty.
The next morning finds us at Cafe Rose Nicaud for morning coffee on Frenchmen Street.A few stragglers from the night before are walking home all haggard with tucked tails...a streetcleaner comes along spraying and scrubbing his way.The coffee is fine and it's a glorious morning.The perfect prelude to our final meal at Commanders Palace.
The service at Commanders is green as grass.The lads are like a pack of Beagles all tumbling over themselves.Timing is off[taking plates too quickly,leaving plates too long]but things generally run smoothly.Food highlight:Barbecue Shrimp and Grits are good.The Grits super rich and thickened with Brie make a nice bed for the Shrimp which are for real spicy.African pepper in the Commander kitchen?This was surprisingly the spiciest dish I had the whole trip.
After making my way north through the Deep South I return to New Orleans a few days later:
One of my goals on this visit is to eat like a local.I really want to get out into the neighborhoods and hit the little corner joints that've been around forever.Parkway Bakery and Tavern qualifies.Open in 1922 it has plenty history and walking in you can feel it.I seat myself at the bar and have a beer and a glass of water put in front of me within 45 or so seconds.I'm always looking for a place that can hang with Domilise in the Po Boy category so I go for the Fried Oyster and Shrimp fully dressed.10 or so minutes pass and a behemoth in butcher paper is tossed in front of me.It's a good foot or so long and weighs a pound or two...I mow down like a starving hound and lay wreck to the beauty.She's very good,Domilise good?No but who is?Service is fine.I love eating at the bar and the girl on duty is fast and efficient.And charming.Ambience is ok.Local music[Soul Rebels!] is played,flat panels are showing some sport or other and a constant stream of locals roll in for food to go.
I'd planned on doing more eating but decide to take the calories via alcohol at DBA.Y'all are lucky to have such a great bar.Big beer selection[Chimay on Tap]Lots of good liquors and well skilled bartenders.A nightcap at Mimi's and it's time to hit the sack.
Somebody needs to kick the back door in over at Dante's Kitchen and set free the elderly southern woman they have whipping up their buttermilk biscuits and Plum Preserves.They're that good.Not that the Shrimp and Grits weren't phenomenal,they just happened to get upstaged on this particular visit.Walking into the sunny little cottage I'm greeted warmly,sign the waiting list,gather up my coffee and my ice water[and given my very own serving tray which I hoist and then sort of swan my way onto the porch].The wait is a brief 15 or so minutes so I busy myself chatting with the other guests and enjoying the morning.Inside my food arrives and it's delicious.The presentation suggests a harried kitchen[bowl with big splashes up the side]but who cares when the food is this good.The Grits are rich and creamy and the shrimp plays nicely with plenty salt and a bit of heat.But the Buttermilk biscuits are the real deal here.In Kentucky they're called catsheads and are much sought after.The Plum preserves are housemade and on point,Smiths Creamery butter sort of ties the whole thing together.Outstanding.Service is adequate,the icewater girl makes many forays to the table and the waiter inquires regularly[and inquires as to whether I need change when I pay"Yeah you'll get a nice portion but not the full 84 bucks I got coming"].Dante's really deserves its' own post.I feel it compares favorably to Herbsaint which gets 10 times the publicity.
Next up it's time to watch Euro Cup and drink tequila.Viva Spain.I chat with my innkeep and he recommends Tomatillos on Esplanade.Not disappointed.Beautiful waitresses,strong,well executed margaritas and nice hi res televisions.What a great place to while away a sunny afternoon.'
It's inevitable when you do this much eating you're going to run into some bad food.I know the reviews on Adolfos are mixed but I've wanted to eat here for awhile.Walking in on a Sunday night the smells are great.Lots of garlic frying,dim lighting and good atmosphere.
I wish the food was good but everything is a note off.
The Linguine is not properly drained and ruins the delicious marinara straddling it.Salad is sold out.The bread is straight up awful.Stale beyond even bread pudding redemption.Ugh.I order Sauteed Grouper with Ocean Sauce and it looks great but the Ocean[Shrimp,Crab and Crawfish in Cream]has been overcooked and is so preternaturally hot it suggests a microwave at use.Not good.Service is great.He's a rookie but friendly and trying really hard.Did I mention the Peroni is skunked?A digestif of bourbon at R Bar,another great dark bar on Royal and I'm done for the night.
My final day in New Orleans finds me bearing down good and hard.Liuzza's By The Tracks receives lots of good words on their Garlic Butter Fried Oyster Po Boy so I stroll in eager to get down to business.Liuzza's is a busy little corner bar filled with neighborhood folk drinking cold beer and hunkered down over fat French Loaves.My bartender starts coddling me the moment I get seated,"honey,we got the best in town"she firmly states when I explain my quest for the best Po Boy in NOLA."Better than Parkway?"a nod."Better than Domilise?"another nod.The Po-Boy comes and she's a beaut.Sadly,the flavor is only ok.In any other city in the USA Liuzza's would rule the roost but not in New Orleans.It's substantially smaller than Parkway's monster.Also,the amount of Fried Oysters is maybe 3/4s of their competition.I detect no garlic butter either,maybe their was a mixup in the back.To be fair Liuzza's is good but merely suffers by comparison.
It is a very nice scene.
Gazing out the big plate glass window along the front I watch a man stroll out of the sideyard of a nearby home with a giant flat panel tv.He then spends 10 minutes wildly crashing it off the pavement as he attempts to get it on a handtruck.It's a winceworthy effort but after the third time he bounces it off the tarmac he gets it mounted and strolls down the street television in tow.
I spend the rest of the afternoon on the balcony at the Inn listening to WWOZ,drinking tall boys of Especial and plotting my final meal in town.After an hour or so of last minute research I decide on Bozos in nearby Metairie.I need to buy an armload of Boudin for my fridge back in Austin so I plot my path to Dorignacs as well.
Dorignac's is an absolute treasure.It's enormous,clean as a whistle and stocked to the rafters with every foodstuff you could imagine.It leans towards regional Louisiana,Creole,Italian and Cajun.The Olive Section alone found me welling up like a schoolgirl.I run the table in their sausage department and buy Chaurice,Tasso,Boudin and Andouille.I snag a premade half Muffaletta and hit Veterans wide open.
Bozo's is closed but a very nice lady comes out of the building and inquires if she can help me.I'm vexed for a backup plan but like her idea of Dragos which is a Metairie legend.
For good reason.
Dragos is the real deal.A stout combination of food and service.I seat myself at the bar and my bartender has brought her A game.Funny,unobtrusive and gifted with ESP.By the end of my hang she's practically finishing my sentences.The food is unreal.I opt for a dozen chargrilled oysters,some of which are 4 bite behemoths.The platter groans under the pint or so of Garlic Butter the husky shellfish are trenched in.I could start each day with a warm pint glass of this sauce and die[4 months later]a happy man.
I saddle up outside and chat it up with a nice police officer.He sees me shrugging into my long distance gear and inquires as to where I'm heading.When I tell him Austin he whips out his Blackberry and dials up some regional weather radar.You would never EVER get that kind of service from an Austin cop.The business end of a Taser maybe but certainly no friendly assist for a long bike ride.
I leave Metairie on the late fringe of dusk.Big beams of purple and yellow shoot the clouds.Traffic is light and my heart is heavy to be returning to Texas.
I loved your report, and I will probably print it out and take it with my on my trip there this October. I am pleased to say that my experiences at Adolfo's were better than yours and I hope you'll give it another try sometime.
Dick the Bruiser, indeed! But dont forget his cousin, The Crusher, the Wrestler who made Milwaukee famous!
whew! what a funny & terrific read. i might not agree w/everything but it doesn't matter. this was just a great ride through the delicious chaos & revelry that IS new orleans, esp when you're an out-of-towner w/a terminal departure date. what's amazing to me is that we were there at the same time(tomato festival)& i probably sat next to you at the bar at buffa's. buffa's was a place i fell immediately in love w/& i read my morning paper there every morning for two weeks while drinking several abitas. a great local place w/very good burgers & their breakfasts were good too. thanks for the great report.
Love the story. Sounds like a great trip. My only beef with it is that I just moved to N.O. from Austin two months ago (from here but away for 10 years). The cops in Austin are ridiculously nicer than the cops in this area. Then again, they have a whole lot less to deal with.