Nashville - NOLA - Vicksburg - Clarksdale - Memphis - Louisville
I just returned from a too short southern road trip. Since I received much of my research here, and from friends while driving, I wanted to share my thoughts on our food stops. Outside of NOLA we only spent one night or just drove through these locations so our food eating was sparse, but definitely some highlights worth mentioning if you make it around to these parts...
Rottier's. The food was okay, it was more the atmosphere/ people that make this place special. I got the cheeseburger on french bread and my partner ordered fried chicken which they were out of (so he went with the burger on french). The place does have a cool 1940's/1950's dark eatery vibe with wood panels and some great items on the wall and our waiter was hilarious: "is the sugar cane cola good?" "it's bad for you-- all that sugar!" "good call! just the burger."
Patterson House. We went here trying to bypass the usual beer in favor of some classy cocktails. We absolutely loved this place. The cocktails were unique and delicious and the bartenders put on a great show and are super nice. They're going for the speakeasy vibe here (dark wood, dark lights, bartenders in vests and suspenders) with some classic oldies but goodies as well as some newbie cocktails. They're known for having 7 kinds of ice shapes so each cocktail can have the perfect cube-- or not. They also have bar food which all looked great, but we didn't get any.
Bluebird Cafe. We actually went for music but since we had a bar minimum we got some hummus with our beers. I was surprised it was actually good-- tho small (or maybe we just needed something to fill our stomachs after Patterson House!).
Pancake Pantry. Both my cousin living in Nashville and a woman at a store said this place was great. Eh, it was okay. Again, I think more the experience. You wait at least 30 minutes in a line that wraps around the block, but service is fast. Large dishes, so your money goes far, but is really just your standard pancake and eggs place IMO. I kept my order simple-- 2 eggs, 2 pancakes and sausage. The sausage was actually a huge disappointment-- they were pretty bad (how do you make sausage that tastes bad?!). My partner had one of their larger platters-- eggs, potato hash, pancakes. His was much better and the hash was very nicely seasoned and spicy. The other place on our list was Loveless and wish we had gone there instead.
Dante's Kitchen. This place is in the Garden district. Local NOLA crowd. They had some delicious local food on the menu too. There was a braised chicken dish that was amazing and a local bean trio with fennel that was great. Cocktails were okay.
Cure. We were told this is one of the newest cocktail lounges in the city. The place has sort of a hip modern warehouse vibe. They have an awesome selection of liquor, make their own bitters, and mix an excellent cocktail. They know the classics but highlight their own creations. They also have bar food, but we didn't get any.
Parkway Bakery. Po'Boys. Sooo good. We waited about 45 minutes to get our po'boys and it was worth it. This place is well worth the trip (it's slightly outside NOLA central, but there is a nearby park you can grab your po'boys and picnic in). Alligator sausage, surf n' turf (fried oysters and roast beef) and mixed seafood (fried oysters and fried shrimp). The surf n' turf was amazingly delicious, highly recommended, and the alligator was a surprise. It was cut with pork and smoked, more like kielbasa.
Snake n' Jake's. Recommended for the hardcore dive bar seekers. This place doesn't get kickin until 2am I'm told. Low ceilings, dark, stuffy, smoky, graffiti everywhere and cheap.
August. We didn't actually eat there but ended up at a party that was catered by August. Whole suckling pig, stewed greens, jumbalaya and bread pudding. Everyone thought the jumbalaya was under seasoned, but the pig was amazing, succulent. Apparently the pigs are raised at John Besh's farm outside NOLA.
Iris. This bar/restaurant is in a boutique hotel just off the French Quarter. The cocktails were amazingly inventive-- think beet juice, scotch and countreau. This is another place that makes their own bitters and more. The food menu, both bar and seated, also looked amazing with lots of local food and French influences-- think chicken liver pate, escargot and duck confit.
Cochon. I think this is a must go. Reasonably priced delicious BBQ. It's written about to no ends on this list already. We actually ended up just sharing a bunch of apps and it was totally amazing.
Don's Specialty Meats. Boudin! If you make it to Acadiana, boudin is a must. It's a pork heavy jumbalaya stuffed into a casing (most places use synthetic these days). You order it by the pound and get it hot and steamy wrapped in butcher paper here. We were told some of the best boudin comes hot from gas stations, but this was amazing. We also bout some cracklins here which were plump and well seasoned. If you can get over eating boudin as the locals do-- putting that casing in your mouth, biting down and sucking it out, it's delicious!
New Orleans Famous Drive Thru Daiquiri's. Not that these were delicious, or even good, but seriously, a drive-thru daiquiri?! The flavor will bring you to Cancun with the cheap rum and generic flavors that are all vaguely the same. They come in 16 ounce (when you just need a little kick while driving) to the whopping gallon-size-- you know, for that 2-hour drive back to NOLA.
Cajun Claws. (Abbeville, LA) Talk about amazing crawfish. The bar opens at 4pm, restaurant at 5pm. We arrived at 4:30 and were given a 7:30pm seating time. We didn't get seated until 8:30pm! Moral: get there at 4pm. Kitchen closes at 9pm and they stop taking names around 5pm. Most people run down the street and get oysters after putting their name down. It seems like everyone goes here. Everyone at the bar knew each other and when you're waiting that long for a table, purchasing (amazing) bloody marys, beer, and the largest, plumpest, juiciest fried shrimp I've ever tasted, you soon get to know everyone as well. We were told the owner/ chef used to raise crawfish but was disappointed with the way everyone was steaming them. So he stopped raising them and started steaming them. He is super picky about the crawfish he purchases and he knows his stuff. They come in 3lb or 5lb trays and you can get a range of spiciness with their own Cajun Claw's spice mix. The hot was definitely lip burning hot (someone at our table even donned plastic gloves so the heat wouldn't penetrate her skin!). Two at our table ordered the not-on-the-menu extra hot. They were crying while they ate.
Solly's Tamales. We figured since Johns Edge's Southern Belly recommends this place (and tamales in general should you find yourself in MS) we should try it. And when you're driving up Highway 61 there aren't many options. We got a plate of 4 and a tamale burrito. The tamales only come in beef. They were okay, but as I live in NYC and can get some pretty amazing tamales down my street, maybe I'm too picky.
Madidi. Not much was open in town, in fact, this was the only eatery beyond a bar we noticed with lights on. (It was Jan 7 and in the 20's which the locals aren't used to perhaps.) Only when we sat at the bar and started looking around at the pics on the walls did we realize this was Morgan Freeman's restaurant, just down the block from his club, Ground Zero. The food was good and sort of pulled us out of our Southern haze without getting us all the way out. Shrimp and grits were delicious, baked oysters were great and not overly salted and the butternut squash soup was nice and thick. Also, the pecan pie was great. A thick butter crust, great gooey filling that wasn't too cloying and nice big pecans.
Heaton Pecans. A shout out to these men who were so nice. Pecan season was over (but apparently you can still buy these online). The men here were so nice, giving us a tour of the nut cracking machines and toasters. The pecans were to die for. We left with some roasted and salted and they were amazing-- tasted like caramel all on their own.
Cozy Corner. Another rec from John Edge (as well as my friend down in NOLA). This place had amazing BBQ. They smoke ribs and shoulders in the restaurant and you know you made it when you see a billow of smoke coming out of a corner building. The sauce was delicious. We got the cornish hen and rib tips smothered in hot BBQ sauce. Sooo good.
The Cove. Great deal on oysters (though I'm told in/around NOLA you can find some places that serve them 25 cents a piece). Thursday night special is 18 oysters for the price of 12 ($12). Coming from NYC where oysters are $2 + a piece I'll take it. These were Louisiana oysters though, which are different than those delicate Long Island or west coast oysters you slurp on down. As our friend from Memphis said, they're more of a "whatever" oyster. Meaning... they arrive covered in barnacles and not something you exactly want to pick up. Mix up your cocktail sauce to your liking, stick a fork in the oyster, throw them onto a saltine, add some cocktail sauce and eat. There is no sea brine on these babies, but they're cheap and great with a glass of beer.
Scott's BBQ. This place is another John Edge rec. Delicious. Highly recommended. It's about halfway between Memphis and Nashville, just off the highway about 10 minutes. Whole hog BBQ and there aren't many who do it this way anymore. Served up on sandwiches with slaw, or you can just buy the meat by the pound. If you go, just know what part of the animal you want-- tenderloin, shoulder, belly, rib, midland, etc... It's all about knowing your meat and knowing what you want. Delicious smoked flavor, fall apart good from 24 hours + of smoking out back.
732 Social. This is a newer restaurant I was told. Lots of local food and again, excellent cocktails (notice a theme of the trip). We split 3 apps-- brussel sprouts with hazelnuts (I think it was). The sauce was sweet, Asian influenced. Really good. The sprouts were perfectly cooked. I swore I tasted a touch of sambal hot sauce in there, but the waitress said no. I should have asked the chef myself. Shrimp mac n' cheese. Have to say this was actually a disappointment they will fix. The cheese base was great and the dish came with a great crust but the shrimp were so overcooked they were rock hard. It was like the dish had been reheated one too many times. Arugula salad with preserved apples. The apples were totally unique and delicious. Cocktails were delicious. They do the classics here, even putting the year they were invented, or at least first put into ink.
Proof on Main. I have to say the cocktails were a bit of a disappointment, but the atmosphere is killer. I think the idea is that you just get a glass of wine or a bourbon flight here, or maybe the bartender was off/ new. This bar is in hotel 21C. Apparently a bourbon heiress who always dreamed of opening a hotel with all her contemporary art. Seriously, like walking into the Whitney in NYC. Amazing art everywhere-- lobby, bar, restaurant, bathrooms! I'm told each hotel room even has art so if you have the fundage, def stay here-- or just grab a drink and oggle the art like we did.