As a food blogger who travels with some frequency, I love getting recommendations for “must-try” restaurants and “gotta have” specialties from locals and people in the know. I usually get three or four recommendations, maybe six at a stretch. But when people learned that I was going to New Orleans for a week, the suggestions started pouring in from friends, neighbors, readers and even strangers. I knew the food in New Orleans would be special, but when I started getting dozens and dozens of recommendations, I knew we were in for something extraordinary.
At one of the first meals we had at GW Fins, the owner said, “We’ve got four seasons here in Louisiana: oyster, shrimp, crab and crawfish.” With just 24 hours in New Orleans under my belt, I thought that was just a cute saying for tourists. But by the end of the week, I realized he wasn’t kidding. They really do live and breathe seafood in Louisiana. It’s a way of life. And we were lucky to taste all – – and I do mean all – – that New Orleans has to offer in the way of seafood (and non-seafood).
Here are some food highlights from The Big Easy.
The food all looked so good that no one was very opinionated about our order. Finally Chi Chi said to the waiter, “I like things that are fatty and bad for you.” Ask and ye shall receive. They brought us an omelet with French fries and corned beef in it, and pecan pancakes with…wait for it…wait for it…pourable margarine.
The place was packed with locals and tourists alike, a testament to the quality food and delightful staff. I’d love to have gone back, but by day two, we realized that you don’t need to eat breakfast in New Orleans.
Louisiana Seafood Festival
That afternoon we went to the Seafood Festival where we watched top Louisiana chefs demo recipes and tried such delicacies such as gator-on-a-stick, Shrimp Po Boy and the most delicious heirloom tomato salad, perfect in its sun-soaked simplicity, from Covey Rise Farms.
Stanley’s Ice Cream
After a day in the sun and walking around the Seafood Festival we were feeling a bit bushwhacked and peckish. At the suggestion of a local, we went to Napoleon House where we had a Pimms Cup and a muffaletta and followed that up with a trip to Stanley’s where we indulged in a few scoops of ice cream and one of their homemade ice cream sandwiches. Both were close-your-eyes-be-silent-and-savor-for-a-second good.
On Sunday we went to Commander’s Palace for their renowned ‘Jazz Brunch.’ There were balloons on every table, a jazz trio serenading us and waiters who changed out your water for a glass with fresh ice half way through the meal. Their sense of showmanship and the pride they took in the food and service was enjoyable and even know, unforgettable. We had a trio of soups (crab bisque, gumbo and turtle!), fried oysters, cochon de lait, bread pudding soufflé, chicory coffee and a Gin Fizz, of course
After thoroughly stuffing ourselves at Commander’s Palace, we were taken directly to Hansen’s Sno-Bliz (think snow cones, but more like snow than ice), a family owned and operated business for over 70 years. During the entire bus ride over to Hansen’s, we collectively groaned that we couldn’t possibly eat another thing. But when we arrived, people changed their tone quicker than it took for the owner, Ashley, to make the first snowball.
Wanting something light and refreshing, I opted for lime. But others had snowballs with coffee and condensed milk, orange creamsicle, homemade ginger syrup, satsuma, and this fabulous concoction that Adam got which was topped with marshmallow fluff and a cherry.
The New Orleans School of Cooking
In the evening, we went to The New Orleans School of Cooking for a class with Anne, a character so colorful, an entire book could be written about her. A former New Orleans tour guide turned cooking school instructor, Anne knew everything about the history of New Orleans and the rich heritage of its food: Native American, French, Italian, Spanish, African, German and Canadian.
She rattled off history, facts, dates and side-splitting stories all while effortlessly whipping up Louisiana classics like crab bisque, shrimp etouffe, bananas foster and pralines. Needless to say, we devoured both the food and her warm humor and wit.
Jambalaya and Crawfish Boil at Da Pope Launch and Tavern
For me, this may have been the best food experience of the trip. A sleepy, smoky little bar in Violet, Louisiana where locals gather to drink beer, eat good food and watch Saints games. And when there isn’t a game on, they watch a DVD of the Saints winning the Super Bowl.
We were greeted by Kristen, affectionately called “ Jambalaya Girl” whose passion and pride for the local food was tangible. Plus, I immediately like any girl who makes her own fork earrings and has them in every color.
They don’t call her “Jambalaya Girl” for nothing, hers truly was undoubtedly the best jambalaya we had on the trip, if not in our lives. While at Da Pope’s, a few local guys had a crawfish boil for us too. It was fun to watch and even more fun to eat (but only if you don’t mind eating with your hands and gettin’ dirty).
But the best part of the trip was meeting great new people, both bloggers and people we met along the way. We had a ball. In addition to great food, there was fantastic music, mediocre cocktails, great beer and lots of laughs.
More to come! Particularly about our deep-sea fishing experience (including my close encounter with a shark) and meeting the good folks from the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.