While writing the original blog post – New Orleans: City of Vice [& Virtue] – about our trip to New Orleans in January, 2018, I struggled to condense my thoughts and feelings about the Food. So, I didn’t. Here is a post dedicated entirely to New Orleans Food (and beer).
As a crossroads of culinary cultures from France to the Caribbean, from Spain to the American South and even Italy, New Orleans boasts some of the highest quality food in the world. Chefs make pilgrimages here the same way they to do Paris or Tuscany. Cajun and Creole are the two most distinct cuisines born out of the sea and swamp. Gumbo, jambalaya, red beans and rice, beignets, chicory coffee, these are all famously associated with New Orleans. Don’t forget the alligator andouille sausage, muffuletta, bread pudding, pralines, fried chicken, oysters, and po’boys. With so many incredible options and original dishes, it can be overwhelming for the traveling Foodie. Remember to enjoy the meal in front of you! “The Best” is an illusive beast and if you’re in New Orleans, whatever you’re eating is probably The Best of something.
I believe a po’boy-a-day is the best way to live your New Orleans life. There’s nothing like fresh fried-shrimp, dressed, on crusty po’boy bread and I’m still salivating over Mahony’s roast beef, dressed, with crispy onion straws and debris… “Poor-boy” lore is almost as important as ghost lore in New Orleans, so tread carefully and eat heartily. Everyone has their own opinion on where you can find The Best po’boy in NOLA. We were told that locals really enjoy a meatball or roast beef po’boy, but there isn’t a wrong way to have a po’boy.
For those that really love food and aren’t afraid to try something new, I highly recommend taking a Foodie tour. Kyle and I did a tour down Magazine Street through New Orleans Secrets and it we really got to experience all different styles of New Orleans cuisine, without the pressure of hunting it down ourselves. On Magazine Street, we were introduced to a psychedelically decorated diner called Dat Dog. A local post-Katrina chain, Dat Dog serves up every kind of sausage from alligator to duck with any topping you could want on a steamed-grilled-sweet-melt-in-your-mouth bun. You might not think “hot dog,” when you think of New Orleans, but what pairs better with a walking-beer than a Dat Dog?
Moving to the opposite side of the culinary spectrum, we had a thoroughly opulent meal in a beautiful 19th century building at Restaurant August. If you go and they have it on the menu, order at least three rounds of the parmesan truffle gnocchi. The little pillows of dough were so fresh that they broke open at the seams. Gnocchi is often too heavy and dense but these were soft, creamy, smooth, and melted in your mouth. Truffle was shaved on top without overpowering the delicate, creamy sauce. It was perfect.
At Restaurant August, ambiance is King. We sat in the wood-paneled and romantic wine-room, had a team of waiters, were treated to amuse bouche, and ordered a flight of sherry in honor of Niles and Frasier Crane. The main course was an exquisitely presented pork shoulder, loin, and belly with apples and Brussels sprouts. Altogether, it was a perfectly balanced meal, but we regretted not just doubling down on the parmesan gnocchi.
For our last meal in New Orleans, we had another five-star-dining experience. St. Lucia chef Nina Compton opened her restaurant in New Orleans, Compère Lapin, where she has developed a Creole-Caribbean menu with French culinary precision. The cocktails are good, the biscuits are better, and the curried goat sweet potato gnocchi makes you feel that you’re at home, on an island. We also tried the hamachi with curried papaya, which is a good example of the island ingredients incorporated at Compère Lapin.
The best cup of coffee I had was probably at Sucré but all the coffee I had was extremely good. New Orleans is famous for putting chicory in their coffee, due to at some point in history when that was necessary because shipments of coffee to New Orleans were embargoed. I didn’t have any coffee with chicory, because I thought it was standard when you ordered. It’s not. If you want to try chicory coffee, make sure you specify. Locals really love it, because they grew up with it, but I was told it’s definitely an acquired taste.
For breakfast and a quick bite to eat, we really enjoyed Pulp & Grind. They have that quintessential hip coffee-shop vibe without too much pretense and their brioche breakfast pastries are delicious. For a bigger breakfast or boozy brunch The Ruby Slipper Café serves up some incredible spins on Southern classics. We both particularly enjoyed the fried-green tomato and the sugared bacon that came atop our biscuits.
Bottom line: eat your heart out. Don’t feel ashamed to go to Café Du Monde: they fry their dough just like everyone else! Try the alligator or the oysters, give bread pudding a shot. Whatever you eat, you won’t be disappointed.
The same cannot be said, unfortunately, for beer.
Craft beer is newer to the Big Easy than it is to other parts of the country. Really, when your city is known for inventing a quintillion original cocktails, I can see why beer would be on the back-burner. As Kyle and I have a very “Midwest Does It Best” mentality when it comes to beer, we were not surprised but nonetheless disappointed by the first brewery we tried. Aptly named Crescent City Brewhouse, the French Quarter beer left a lot to be desired: mostly, flavor. Like most buildings in the Quarter the brewery is Old and Beautiful. The beer, however, was lackluster and each style shared a similar coppery aftertaste which no amount of dry-hopping could hide.
After talking to the Curio restaurant manager after having been to Crescent City Brewing, he recommended we try three breweries on Tchoupitoulas [chop-a-too-las] Street. We set off the next afternoon in search of the Perfect Pint. An hour street-car ride, bus transfer, and thirty minute walk later, we had made it to NOLA Brewing. The warehouse sized space was much bigger than we anticipated and looked big enough to hold parade floats, which it did. We sidled up to the bar and, having just stuffed our faces at Parkway Tavern and Bakery with po’boys, ignored the barbecue window. Two T.V. screens boasted at least twenty beers on tap. We promptly ordered two flights in a range of styles. Some of the beer fell flat – like the Lemon Basil Street Wheat, which just tasted like a fine wheat beer. Others, though, like the Irish Channel Stout were dimensional and full-bodied and smooth, wonderfully flavorful. There were even some curveball sours for the really adventurous Beer Nerds.
We decided to hike it to the next brewery, about twenty minutes north on Tchop (I’m a local now) through the Irish Channel. New Orleans has A Vibe and you will definitely feel that Vibe walking up Rousseau Street to Urban South Brewing. We ordered our flights, sat down at the picnic tables set up in a big warehouse and beer production and canning factory, and were overcome by the incredible quality of the beer. With no stout or porter on tap that day, we had a golden array of beers and they were almost all spot on in quality and flavor. Drinkable and friendly, but distinct from one another, we had found the best beer in New Orleans. I was especially impressed with the Blackberry Tart sour, which was a beautiful fuchsia and maintained a powerful blackberry flavor paired with a drinkable tartness. The White Oak IPA blew us both out of the water as delicious both for Hop lovers and for IPA newbies.
It must be said that Abita Brewing was by and far the most recommended to us in New Orleans, but it was an hour or so across the lake and it’s nationally distributed, so we didn’t visit. We did have a few Abita Ambers on tap, however, and can attest that it is a Very Good Beer.
Whatever you’re eating and drinking in New Orleans, don’t get overwhelmed. Enjoy the beignet as it melts in your mouth, whether it was from Café Beignet or Café du Monde. Try a po’boy from a bodega or a po’boy from a restaurant with white tablecloths. Get a duck hotdog with blackberry compote! Eat anything and everything and wash it down with a Sazerac!
Just don’t get the pizza.