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31 Mar 2003
Last week, Leslie and I visited some good friends in New Orleans. For those of you not familiar with that city, here’s a little secret: it’s not in the United States. Technically, of course, it was thrown in as part of the Louisiana Purchase a few years back. But don’t tell the folks there. They have got to have one of the most unique blends of culture to be found in this country. New Orleans is, frankly, more a part of the Northern Caribbean than the Deep South.
Our gracious host is not only one of the best cooks I know, but has more knowledge of food and restaurants crammed into his head than virtually anyone. He took us on a culinary tour the likes of which I won’t soon forget. If you’re visiting the area, here’s a quick overview for you:
Breakfast: Eat three beignets with a steaming cup of cafe ole. The pastries (pronounced “ben-YAY”) are square pieces of dough deep fried and served hot with powdered sugar. And if you get them, do so right in the French Quarter, amid the thick cloud of confused tourists at Cafe Du Monde.
Lunch: Spend two hours on a three-course extravaganza at Commander’s Palace. It’s the place where Emeril got his start, in addition to countless other Louisiana chefs. If the the food doesn’t simply knock you over, the 25c Martinis certainly will. Keep ‘em coming!
Dinner, casual: R & O’s Restaurant in Metairie, just outside NO, makes the prototypical poboy – a regional variety of the hero/grinder/sub sandwich. My companions had an oyster and shrimp sandwich, and talked about the french fry version in which a handful of fried potatoes are served on a roll with gravy. I had an amazing roast beef, but that fails to do it justice. The meat had been roasting all day, and was served with debris – caramelized drippings from the pan cooked up into a sublime gravy. This was all scooped onto a toasted roll and served dressed, or smothered in lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise. I left with tears in my eyes.
Dinner, fancy: I had given a lecture at Tulane University and the library department was kind enough to take me out for dinner at Herbsaint. There, I ate an astonishingly well spiced gumbo, complete with tasso. Leslie enjoyed the pork belly immensely (though who in their right mind wouldn’t enjoy a plate of bacon and lentils?) I also experienced what is considered to be the first ever cocktail – the sazerac. It’s a delightful combination of bitters, simple syrup, and rye whiskey.
To Drink: The local beer is Abita. Drink a lot of it, preferably at the Circle Bar. If you find yourself in The Quarter, have one at Molly’s, where jukebox is full of punk, and presided over by a large poster of the Pope.