A Gumbo of Experience

New Orleans has always been a down and dirty in your face kinda place. Debauchery, moral corruption, and a sense of danger have been at the heart of the experience for nigh on 300 years. The food, the music, the people, the culture. It’s a marmite sort of place; you either love it or you don’t, there’s no in-between.

Then, there’s Gumbo… the official Louisiana State cuisine, which essentially refers to a stew. There isn’t just one kind of gumbo… it’s what you make of the experience. Likewise, New Orleans is what you want to make of the experience… but generally, it’s an open celebration of life.

For me, on a 5th visit, it’s looking for more of the new whilst hoping some of the best of the old is still there (post-Covid)! Maybe that’s why this visit can best be summed up as chocolate alligators in search of a good cappuccino. Read on… it still probably won’t make any sense, like New Orleans… who knows? This determined looking guy had more than chocolate on his mind!

Finding a good cappuccino in the US, well… needles and haystacks come to mind. Cafe Beignet is an institution with new locations open across the city. They say certain things really should be tried before you die… then again, trying certain things may hasten on the demise. Believe me, the search for a good cappuccino doesn’t start here! And, as the powdered sugary topping of a deep fried coating of a tasteless gloop… this does take some beating. However, in the Cafe Beignet v Cafe du Monde debate (does such a challenge really trouble the world?), the latter plumbs even greater depths, in my opinion!

Surely, I could rely on my good friends at Who Dat Coffee Cafe…over in the Marigny district of the city, way off the usual tourist radar. They’ve always been my go-to place for a relatively good cappuccino, and the humorous welcome bodes well. Unfortunately for me, now they want to spoil the experience by insisting on plastic cups! What’s that about? The Rueben sandwich certainly demanded a better side.

Perhaps technology will provide the answer. Googling best cappuccino brings up the interesting sounding Streetcar Cafe on St Charles Avenue. The promise did manage to beat the standard fayre so ubiquitous of anywheresville, but that’s a low bar. Then again, the experience did offer an opportunity to sample that strange (to us foreigners) breakfast of Biscuits & Gravy! Meanwhile, the search continues…

My erstwhile native US travel companion kept up her nearly 3-decades attempt to persuade me of the tempting and strangely sweet world of desserts… my resistance to which would be something Juno would be proud of. But, unbeknownst to me, this just maybe the gateway to good coffee… who’d have thought it?

On a planned stroll around the Garden District, she witnessed what looked like a local chocolate emporium, and it just happened to come with a side of coffee making. Piety & Desire source and make their chocolate ingredients locally with loving detail. With such admirable principles, they also get their coffee from neighbouring fellow purveyors who happen to roast their own beans on site. Heaven, if it exists at all, can be found in strange and quiet quarters, and that delightful green piece of chocolate includes duck fat… but no alligator fat, apparently!!!

Fortified with chocolate… I mean a good cappuccino… I’m ready to take on a range of what this unbelievable city has to offer. I tried a few of those dreaded desserts (but the incriminating evidence that I actually enjoyed the experiences shall remain under wraps). In order to possibly satisfy my quirkier side, how about some art… galleried as only they can down in the Bywater district:

Alligators… chocolate or otherwise, on the Swamp Tour had a habit of showing as much interest in the floating can of people as we did of them:

Though, as the second photo suggests, some had already had their fill of cappuccino for the day… any later than 1.00 pm and rumour has it they don’t sleep as well at night!

Then again, peace and harmony along the Lafitte Greenway through Mid-City and Treme helps to burn off some of the inevitable calorie intake more usually associated with visiting almost anywhere in New Orleans:

Until we speak again, there was an obvious solution to any of us influenced enough by levels of alcohol consumption… at the tried and trusted Avenue Pub on the wonderful St Charles Avenue… a Coffee Stout. The problem is that at 9.3 per cent, a few of these cause mobility issues… if you catch my drift. And, yes, please do catch my drift!

P.S. No alligators were hurt or injured in the making of this production! Chocolate, on the other hand, was consumed in a range of weird flavours!

Wisdom of a stable genius

Who would have thought that the answer to the world pandemic was just sitting there in the kitchen cupboard under the sink? Thanks to the most stable genius taking a break from his Florida golf course, we now know that the message was staring us in the face all of the time… KILLS ALL KNOWN GERMS DEAD!

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Until we speak again, I suggest there is a ready and waiting cohort of people well suited to an immediate trial… it is more usually referred to as Trump’s base. WARNING: If you are not a part of this clearly defined population, do not try this at home, or anywhere else, in any form!

 

Syncopation, NOLA Style

Where else can you enjoy a Strawberry Ice Cream Daquiri on a hot afternoon with a live soundtrack of exquisite, blues and soul?

Then there is the taste of a soulful bowl of Chicken & Andouille Gumbo just before being entertained by the melifluous voice of local jazz legend Charmaine Neville.

Or, you can interrupt your picking at side plates of alligator bites, brussels & bacon, and fried green tomatoes with a session by a Kermit (Ruffins, that is)?

Or even sample a brew of Dixie while accompanied by the Dixieland sound of the Steamboat Stompers?

And does all this happen in Cardiff, you ask? Think not, I reply.

Until we speak again, New Orleans is all about off-beat and unexpected variety. A place where true Jazz legends secretively perform in what to all intents and purposes looks like a run-down shack (i.e. the Preservation Hall). And, that my friend, is syncopation!

 

Gone Fishing!

Whatever your level of budget or taste you can bet New Orleans is going to come up with something that will add to your lifetime gastronomic mind map. My relationship to fish is generally one of appreciating their grace and beauty rather than their taste; but there is a small range of the critters that had just better watch out when I am around!

When the company is right for a spot of the fine dining I recently found that there is no better place in the French Quarter than GW Fins (aptly named for a seafood joint).

Okay, maybe I did cheat a bit with a Crispy Belly Pork & Watermelon appetiser; but you would to if you had the chance! In any case, my companions were diving straight into the pond after the Fried Snapper Belly (complete with fin)…

Fried Snapper Belly and Crispy Pork Belly

However, it didn’t take me long to cross swords with the finest tasting Blackened Swordfish with Fried Shrimp, whilst viewing my companions Spearfished Cobia across the table.

Spearfished Cobia and Swordfish dishes

And, just for variety, there was also an example of the house speciality Scalibut

Scalibut

Until we speak again, feel free to suggest further gastronomic challenges you would like me to take on your behalf… there is no end to the level of personal sacrifice I am prepared top make on your behalf. In the meantime check out GW Fins menu and wine list for salivation (definitely not salvation) purposes…

 

 

Deja Vu

Coming back to New Orleans again is one thing, but the irresistible pull of brunch at the Palace Cafe on Canal Street comes down to one thing. It’s not the neatly tailored waiting staff, or even the delicate combination of dark wood panelling, white linen tablecloths and shiny floor coverings. It’s not the coffee; far better can be found with a little bit of intrepid searching.

No, it simply comes down to their signature dish… a savoury take on a sweet idea, topped off with a creole muniere sauce of just enough spice. Yes, for my regular reader, I’m once again introducing you to the Crabmeat Cheesecake that is every bit as good to the taste as it is stunning on the eye…

Until we speak again, this cat is simply going to continue suffering in order to bring you these magic morsels!

Going French in the Quarter

Liberte, Equalite, Fraternite… who cares when you are on vacation looking for a fine brunch without a heart attack inducing smothering of eggs and cheese? Well ladies, at least here you get your own entrance…

Croissant D’Or Patisserie on Ursulines is a must for anyone in the French Quarter of New Orleans looking for a small piece of France… American style (i.e. by not needing to go to France!… or even anywhere outside of America!).

The Brioche French Toast is to die for… well, perhaps not something so dramatic… so add the fruit bowl if you need a life support…

Until we speak again, there are better ways to go, apparently; but in Nou Awlings, who cares, as long as you’re indulging in what life has to offer…

Feast of New Orleans

Is it really 20 years since Jeff Bridges uttered the memorable words in his role as Jeff LebowskiThe Dude Abides! Well, I don’t know about you, but when in New Orleans your taste buds will be on a collision course for which that phrase is definitely the most apt response.

Lets start with a stroll along Dauphine Street calling into EAT for a dish to truly baffle the likes of Juno and BellaBlackened Catfish… a lightly crusty outer skin with soft meaty fish. Just add cups of gumbo, rice, and generous portions of gherkin and tomato to provide an introduction to the coming days of what is likely to be a culinary explosion.

Meanwhile, at Joey K’s over on Magazine Street I stumble across a NOLA staple of Red Beans and Rice. A slice of Andouille Sausage brings out some spicy flavour. Not exactly the best accompaniment to a full on Californian Cabernet Sauvignon, so my recommendation is to sample the free water with the food, and then gently sip the wine.

For an introduction to the definitive ‘Taste of the BayouThe Creole House on Canal Street offers a trio of cups to tantalise the taste buds, as the gastronomic Louisiana trilogy of Gumbo, Crawfish Etouffee and Jambalaya are presented for inspection. If you know what you want, dive in, but if you are unsure this option helps you decide what next to dive in to…

Strolling further along Canal Street why not try the Palace Cafe for a hint of Shrimp & Grits with a Creole Muniere, or maybe Turtle Soup followed by their signature dish of Crabmeat Cheesecake. The creole munière is a gravy with just the right level of spice to give an amazing dish extra oomph. As for the cheesecake… you have probably never tried anything like this before, and will then probably want to spend whatever it costs on returning to NOLA to check out what you just tasted! As for the poor turtles, well, you just have to when the opportunity arises… don’t you?

But, not everything here is about visiting restaurants. In between the dining establishments that provide great drinks there are, you guessed it, the drinking establishments providing amazing food. Try Vacherie on Toulouse Street, and while sitting at the bar sipping a range of local beers why not wrestle some Alligator Bites, Collard Greens, Bacon & Brussels Sprouts, oh, and a House Salad for balance…

And New Orleans may just have a welcome and forthright message for any youngsters dreaming of eating their usual fayre… take a hike Colonel Sanders! For the real taste of Fried Chicken check out the Treme based institution of Dooky Chase, particularly with a side order of Candied Yams (and that’s a Shrimp Creole that my friend is choosing, in case your concentration was drifting across the table!)…

Talking of Treme based institutions, a Shrimp Po-Boy slides down well, even with Tabasco Sauce, at Li’l Dizzy’s on Esplanade Avenue, but as a Brit I note that not even NOLA can hold a candle to our chips (that’s proper chips, not the fries nonsense inherited from somewhere in the basement of French cuisine)…

By now you are probably wondering how your health is coping with all of this gastronomic fabulousness. So, if it’s something a little lighter your looking for, but, being America no less enormous… try a salad or two, or more! Starting with the sumptuously named Satsuma Cafe on Maple Street the recommendation would be a boiled egg and avocado surrounded by the funky leaves of a Kale Salad washed down with a Beet Lemonade

Or, drop in to Luke on St Charles Avenue for Fried Oyster Salad accompanied by something distinctively fabulous that they do with Crispy Brussels Sprouts

Then again, if it’s music you like with your salad, try BB Kings on Decatur Street. The Spinach Salad with Blackened Chicken is a terrific accompaniment for the Blues, man!

BB King's Club Spinach Salad with Blackened Chicken

Did you say fine dining? Bayona on Dauphine Street provides a more delicate option than the soulful sounds of a blues club; but, starting with a Fig Salad or Quail Salad, the need for a deeper wallet will be more than compensated for on the tantalised taste buds…

Ultimately, thinking about all of this food, Envie is a place you may well be contemplating at this stage. Well it exists on Decatur Street and provides just the right accompaniment to a start of the day large cappuccino and OJ in the form of an Asparagus and Prosciutto Omelette with a side Biscuit (US rather than UK style of biscuit, that is)…

Until we speak again, not all institutions are necessarily good! NOLA is just waiting to ensnare you with a distinctive plate of their trademark Beignet. An avalanche of sugar covering a doughy case to a gloopy mess; think doughnuts ramped up to warp factor 10, this is something Juno and Bella would definitely turn noses up at and simply walk away… you may be well advised to do likewise, but when in New Orleans sometimes you simply have too dive in and hope!

Alka-Seltzer anyone!?

Meal of the year!

Okay, so Christmas festivities are enveloping our gastronomic juices at these very moments; but for me, nothing is going to quite equal the most breathtaking of many experiences of New Orleans back in October.

Crabmeat Cheesecake… yes, you read that correctly! The Palace Cafe on Canal Street have developed a signature brunch dish for those who can’t quite make their mind up… is it going to be shellfish or a desert that will provide the best kick start to yet another day of sensory overload?

Until we speak again, why not spice up your start to the day the NOLA way!

Palace Cafe Crabmeat Cheesecake [3]