Tag: Creole food

A Taste of the South: Notes from a Trip to Louisiana

Magnificent oak trees. Melancholic cypresses dressed in Spanish moss. Alligators peeking out from swampy waters. Magnificent, decaying plantations. Quaint accents. Humidity. Iced tea.

Those are just some of the images that dotted my brain about the South, a region of America I only know from books and movies – and culinary adventures. I’d never specially wanted to go to the South, with the exception of New Orleans and Savannah, which were inscribed on my imaginary bucket list decades ago, and left to grow cobwebs there.

Now, when I think about our so-very-brief trip to Louisiana, I actually thirst for more. Sights. Experiences. I want to drink a sweet lemonade (I don’t like iced tea) while sitting on a rocking chair, on the front porch of some achingly quaint Southern home, in a close-to-scorching summer. I want to succumb to the romance of all those books and movies brought together. I just want to go back to those swamps.

This trip to Louisiana came out of nowhere. Well, it came out of the Eclipse and our friends Eddie and Arthur, who suddenly reached out to Mike a few weeks before the sun was scheduled to be covered by the moon for all of four minutes and asked us to join them in watching the spectacle. Mike wanted to go. He had wanted to go for years. I had looked at the hotel prices a year before and written it off. Witnessing a total eclipse is a one-in-a-lifetime experience – we’d had ours a few years before in Oregon (sitting on the rocks in a quiet stream, commuting with nature, perfection). I didn’t need another one. But Mike insisted. We could stay with Eddie and Arthur in Dallas. He’d go by himself if I refused.

Air tickets to Dallas – and any surrounding airports – were ridiculously expensive. Surge pricing. What you’d expect. I’m cheap. Thrifty. I’d seen an eclipse. He insisted. So I looked further in the map, looking for airports where we could drive for a reasonable amount. New Orleans popped out. An eight hour drive from Dallas, but New Orleans was in my bucket list. From that perspective, it’d be shooting two birds with one stone. And Mike was insisting.

So we went. We spent two glorious days in New Orleans, another driving to Texas, a day and a play in Dallas, another seeing the eclipse, and then got a glimpse of a portion of Southern Louisiana. It felt like enough, even if now I want more.

The trip, of course, was a culinary experience. I already wrote about our culinary adventures in New Orleans. There isn’t much to tell about the Texas part of our trip – I wrote about a chicken restaurant, Eddie and Arthur took us to, but I was too busy enjoying seeing our old friends to take enough mental notes of our other meals there. What’s left is the rest of the food we enjoyed (or not) in Louisiana. Here it is:

Louisiana Eats: Restaurant 1868!

A Taste of the South: Notes from a Trip to Louisiana

If you had asked me before we went to Louisiana where the Tabasco sauce company was located, I might have made a couple of wild guesses but never, in a million years, would I have guessed in a beautiful “island” in southern Louisiana. Not that I ever paid much attention to Tabasco sauce myself, not being a fan of spicy food.

Still, I’d read that 1868! was actually a pretty good Cajun food restaurant, so after touring the amazingly beautiful Avery island, seeing nesting egrets by the hundreds, and even trying some Tabasco flavored ice cream at the gift shop, we headed to 1868! for some lunch.

The restaurant’s menu is very seafood heavy and reflects the Cajun and Creole influences of the area. There are also a couple of specialties of the day. You order and pay at the counter and then find a table. The room is pretty informal, but I liked the old fashioned look with wooden tables and chairs. It’s quite popular with visitors, as the food is solid and not overly expensive for being a tourist attraction.

I had the fish po’boy ($17), which was a breaded fish filet with lettuce on a bun. The fish was really good, it was lightly breaded and nicely spiced. Alas, I didn’t see the point of eating this as a sandwich, so I mostly just ate the fish. It was large enough that the bun or even the accompanied fries weren’t needed.

Mike had me order for him while he went to park or something, and I decided on one of the specials of the day which was crawfish etouffee topped with friend crawfish. Mike liked the fried crawfish, but once again he was disappointed on the rice-heavy etouffee. He really much preferred it at Prejean’s, where the etouffee was served with the rice on the side. Still, he enjoyed it well enough.

For dessert I had an unremarkable bread pudding ($6.25).

In all, 1868! is a convenient restaurant to stop at if you’re visiting Avery island around lunch time, though I wouldn’t make a special trip to eat there.

Avery Island, LA
M-Su: 10:30 AM-2:30 PM

New Orleans Food Tour: Broussard’s

A Taste of the South: Notes from a Trip to Louisiana

Delicious Creole food in a historical restaurant

Creole cuisine was developed in the kitchens of innumerable Creoles during the French and Spanish period, who combined European techniques with native and African ingredients, but it was popularized and brought to its zenith in the kitchens of a handful of now classic restaurants in New Orleans. Several of them still exist today, both in and out of the French Quarter, and no visit to the City is complete without dining at least one of them.

That said, I had not intended to go to Broussard’s for lunch the second and last day of our New Orleans trip. I had previously made and then cancelled reservations to Galatoire’s, another of these classic restaurants, whose Friday lunch is legendary, thinking that we’d want lighter fare for lunch. But it was a beautiful day, and after eating beignets in the courtyard of our hotel, I thought lunch in the courtyard of a nearby restaurant would be just lovely. Broussard not only fit the bill, but it had reservations available. And reservations are a must if you want to sit in the courtyard – walk ins are seated indoors, which is also lovely, but not what I wanted that day.

Broussard’s traces its history back to 1920 when Joseph Broussard, a Creole with French culinary training, opened the restaurant in the childhood home of his wife, Rosalie. After the couple died in the 1960’s, the restaurant was sold and has changed hands a number of times, but still occupies the same lovely building with a comfortable, casual and very sunny patio.

A jazz band plays during brunch, Fridays to Sundays, though that day they were mostly visiting individual tables and playing “Happy Birthday” – the trumpet player was amazing. Given how warm it was that early April day, I feel for them during New Orleans summers.

Broussard’s brunch menu offers Creole, Southern and French classics and I really wish I had been hungrier to try more of them – the baked Camembert, in particular, sounded wonderful. Mike, who hadn’t eaten as many beignets as I had, ordered the Duck And Alligator Sausage Gumbo, with Louisiana popcorn rice ($12) as an appetizer. This was our second gumbo of the trip, and we both agreed that it was the superior one. The soup was very flavorful, only slightly spicy and achieved that umami quality that is essential for any soup. The shredded duck, in particular, was delicious, while the alligator sausage was interesting but not as flavorful as Andouille. We’d definitely order this dish again.

I ordered the Short Ribs & Eggs ($34) which came with brabant potatoes and hollandaise sauce (I asked fo it to be on the side). The short rib was delicious, perfectly cooked, with the absolutely right texture and devoid of extra fat. The kitchen knows how to prepare a short rib. The potatoes were good as well, particularly with the hollandaise. While the dish didn’t appear huge, I was stuffed.

Mike had the Bbq Gulf Shrimp & Grits ($29) and he was in heaven. The “New Orleans style” barbecue sauce didn’t taste like any barbecue sauce I’m acquainted with, but was absolutely delicious. He usually hates grits, but he enjoyed these mascarpone grits swimming in them. If you are going to eat shrimp and grits in New Orleans – and if you like shrimp, you sort of have to -, this is where you should get them.

Neither of us had any room for dessert, but I did have bottomless mimosas ($18) with brunch. I liked that they make them for you at the table, bringing you a small carafe with orange juice to add to the flutes they keep filling with champagne. This way I was able to get the perfect mimosa for my taste – about 2/3rds champagne, 1/3 orange juice. These weren’t the best mimosas in the world, the orange juice wasn’t freshly squeezed, but they were definitely a fun drink to have in a warm day like that one.

Service was great. Our waiter was genial and efficient, even when he had to also take over the mimosa duty when the drink waiter became unavailable.

In all, this was one of the best meals we had in New Orleans, and it very much overshadowed the breakfast we had the next day at Brennan’s. If you are going to one restaurant for brunch, this is the place.

819 Conti Street
New Orleans, LA
M & Th: 5:00 pm - 9:00 pm
F & Sa: 10:00 am - 4:00 pm & 5:00 pm - 9:00 pm
Su: 10:00 am - 3:00 pm
Tu-W: closed

New Orleans Food Tour

New Orleans Food Tour: Cafe du Monde

A Taste of the South: Notes from a Trip to Louisiana

Wherein we confirm that beignets are just not our thing.

The Cafe du Monde is one of the America’s oldest – and most famous – cafes, serving chicory coffee and beignets since 1862. This open air cafe is located at one end of the French market in the French quarter and attracts endless lines of tourists. While our visit to Cafe Beignet had pretty much convinced us that we didn’t like beignets, any visit to New Orleans demands a visit to Cafe du Monde. Alas, rather than face the crowds myself, I sent Mike to get us beignets. I didn’t burden him with getting chicory coffee, as I was pretty sure I would not like it. Chicory has been used as a coffee extender for ages, and while it has become quite popular in New Orleans, there is a reason why that popularity hasn’t travelled (I guess this is just as true for beignets). Plus our hotel had normal coffee available for guests.

The beignets come in paper bags, three to an order ($3.85)

They had irregular shapes, they were probably rectangular to being with but they deformed in the hot oil. I liked them better than those at Cafe Beignet because they were slightly lighter and less dense, but only slightly. These were still heavy, chewy and just not that tasty. Again, regular doughnuts are far superior.

Still, I’m glad we tried them.

Besides its location at the French Market, Café du Monde has several locations throughout New Orleans, including one at the airport. So, if unlike us, you do like beignets, you can pick some up right before you fly back home.

Cafe du Monde
800 Decatur St
New Orleans, LA
(504) 587-0833
Su-Th: 7:15AM-11PM
F-Sa: 7:15AM-12AM

New Orleans Food Tour

New Orleans Food Tour: Brigtsen’s

A Taste of the South: Notes from a Trip to Louisiana

Classic Creole food by a disciple of the great Paul Prudhomme

Brigtsen’s is one of those Chef owned restaurants that you just want to love because you know they are a labor of love themselves. Chef Frank Brigtsen started his culinary career as a pantry apprentice at New Orleans famed restaurant Commander’s Palace back in 1978. There, legendary chef Paul Prudhomme took him under his wing, teaching him how to cook traditional Creole cuisine. In 1986, Prudhomme helped Brigtsen open his own restaurant, and he has been cooking and serving sophisticated Creole cuisine ever since. In these almost forty years he has won numerous awards, including a James Beard, and has become an ambassador for Creole cuisine nationwide. He is also mentoring the next generation of Creole cuisine chefs.

The restaurant itself is located in a cottage in the Riverbend neighborhood of New Orleans. It’s only a couple of blocks away from a cable car stop, and the ride from the French Quarter takes you through the Garden District and by Tulane university. The ride in the airy wooden carriage was long but romantic in that balmy spring New Orleans evening, and a perfect preface to a Creole meal.

I’ve eaten at a handful of restaurants located in old homes, and I like the intimacy of the small dining rooms. This was the case at Brigtsen’s, where we were seated in what once might have been a small dining room itself. There wasn’t much in the way of decoration, but it wasn’t needed.

Brigtsen’s is a smart casual sort of place, like most of the nicer restaurants we went to in New Orleans. What this means in practicality is that collared shirts are a must for men.

Brigtsen’s menu is centered in Creole cuisine, though it travels beyond it by incorporating dishes and ingredients that show international influences – what you would expect from a lower-case, ever evolving creole cuisine.

The menu was heavy on seafood and not particularly friendly to vegetarians – fortunately, we didn’t have one along. It’s relatively short, fitting a small kitchen.

I wasn’t extremely hungry so I decided to forgo an appetizer and get dessert instead, though Mike went for the full three courses.

We started dinner with bread. Now, this is true at most American restaurants, but at Brigtsen’s they actually charge you for the bread ($3.50). This wouldn’t necessarily be a problem – when I grew up in Argentina, most restaurants charged for bread -, if the bread was particularly good. This one wasn’t. It was just a typical French loaf, distinct only by how extraordinarily airy it was inside. Basically, it was all crust and the crust wasn’t particularly tasty. The salted butter was not particularly noteworthy either.

Mike had a cup of their Filé Gumbo with Chicken and Andouille Sausage ($9). It was my first experience with gumbo and I was surprised at how much I liked it. I’d always been reluctant to try gumbo because I thought all gumbos included okra. That turns out not to be true – they can also be thickened with filé, as was the case here, or even with a dark roux. It’s a pity I hadn’t tried them before, because the gumbo here was very good. Now, it wasn’t out of this world good – the filé, I think, gave it an awkward undertone – but it was tasty and satisfying. This being our first gumbo, we couldn’t really compare it to others when we ate it, but we liked the one we had at Broussard’s the following day more.

Mike had the Seafood Platter ($48), which came which consisted of seafood prepared in five different ways. He was very happy with it. He felt that the grilled redfish with crawfish and pistachio lime sauce sauce was perfectly cooked and delicious. The sauce was “yummy” and the crawfish added a nice texture. He liked both scallop preparations just as much. The baked scallop with Herbsaint creamed spinach and Gruyere was scrumptious and the cheese was mild enough to not overwhelm the scallop. He liked the sauce in the seared sea scallop with Fontina cream cheese grits and mojo sauce that he didn’t mind the grits, though the Fontina cream cheese helped. Mike doesn’t like oysters in general, but here the baked oyster with shrimp and crabmeat was chopped and mixed with the other seafood and he liked the overall dish as well as its presentation on an oyster shell. Finally, he loved the crawfish cornbread with jalapeño smoked corn butter. The cornbread had a kick without being too spicy and the crawfish gave it a subtle flavor. The bread has a nice, standard texture. In all, he was very happy.

Not being a seafood lover, I was more limited on my choices and decided to go with the Grilled Beef Filet with Marchand du Vin sauce ($45), despite it sounding more French than Creole. The filet was described as grilled, but I could have sworn it was sous vide given how incredibly tender it was and how consistent it was its texture. I don’t think I’ve had a more tender steak in my life, though I also don’t think I’ve had sous vide steak before, so I’m only speculating as to what its texture might be. It was also impressively free of any grit. The sauce was as delicious as expected. The mashed potatoes had good flavor, and this was overall a good, solid dish.

For dessert, I couldn’t resist the Tres Leches Cake with Ponchatoula Strawberries and Chocolate whipped Cream ($14) despite its less than Creole origin. It was a big mistake. The cake was crumbly and lacked both moisture and flavor. A shortcake or biscuit would at least have been able to absorb the sauce and gain it from it, but this one didn’t have the necessary consistency. The chocolate cream provided a discordant flavor that overwhelmed both the cake and the strawberries, and had a heavy consistency, closer to buttercream. Finally, the strawberries were just not sweet. In all, this dessert was a complete failure and should not have been served. Someone should have tasted the strawberries, determined they weren’t ready and taken it off the menu.

Mike had the Lemon Ice Box Creme Brulée ($10) and that was much better. There was nothing remarkable to it, but it had a nice flavor and consistency. It was, at least, what you expected it to be.

I had sparkling water with dinner ($3), but Mike had a Bayou Bonfire cocktail ($13). Unfortunately, he can’t remember it at all – and all I remember is that it was way too alcoholic for me to try more than a sip, but that is true with most cocktails.

Service was competent thought not extremely attentive – for example, no one inquired about how we felt about dessert.

In all, given everything I’d read about the restaurant before we went, I expected more – of the three full fledged meals we had at New Orleans restaurants, this was my least favorite – though that may just speak about the quality of the others. Still, we did have a lovely dinner in a lovely restaurant after a lovely cable car ride, and enjoyed the experience very much. I’d return.

723 Dante Street
New Orleans, LA
T-Sa: 5:00 pm - 8:30 pm

New Orleans Food Tour

New Orleans Food Tour: Pat O’Brien’s Courtyard Restaurant

A Taste of the South: Notes from a Trip to Louisiana

Good Food at the Birthplace of The Hurricane

Pat O’Brien’s is one of New Orleans institutions. The bar has operated in one form or another since 1933 and it famed as the originator of the Hurricane, New Orleans’s signature drink. It’s also famed for its beautiful central courtyard, which you can access through both of Pat O’Brien’s locations, on St. Peter and Bourbon streets. Despite the restaurant’s name, when we went the central courtyard was reserved for people who were drinking and not eating, and was not available for anyone under 21.

We sat instead on a side patio – probably the one that came with the house on Bourbon St. – in a roofed but open area. It wasn’t as nice as the courtyard, but it had less foot traffic. The restaurant/bar has a very casual atmosphere, with plastic tablecloths.

The food menu is pretty limited and as I still wasn’t too hungry, I went with a small cup of jambalaya (chicken and sausage – $8). I was surprised that it consisted of a stew with a lump of rice in the middle. When I’ve made Creole jambalaya myself, I’ve cooked the rice in the stew. Still, I noted this method of cooking stews and rice separately show up at several restaurants we went to. I wonder if it’s just a way of saving time in the kitchen. While this jambalaya was quite flavorful, I think I prefer cooking them together.

I had heard somewhere that Pat O’Brien had a good bread pudding ($8) and they were right. It was delicious, so good that my husband liked it. The whisky sauce didn’t taste alcoholic and reminded me, instead, of toffee. The pudding was light and the pecan on top gave it the necessary crunch.

You can’t go to Pat O’Brien and not have a Hurricane ($8.50), of course, so we ordered one to share. As the story goes, O’Brien invented this drink in the 1940’s when whiskey was in short supply. Rum was plentiful, however, and O’Brien experimented until he invented a rum-based cocktail that his customers liked. The cocktail is made with passion fruit pureé, citrus juices and grenadine – or at least, it was originally. Nowadays, Pat O’Brien sells a Hurricane mix made with sugar or high fructose corn syrup, citric acid and natural and artificial flavors. Given that this was the first time we had a hurricane, I couldn’t tell if the drink we got had the real ingredients or the mix. I rather think that it was the latter, as the drink was overwhelmingly sweet and one-toned and not particularly fruity and way too red to not contain at least dye. Think tropical punch with added sugar and alcohol.

While the sweetness does a good job of hiding the alcohol, it was still pretty strong for me – at least at the beginning. While the glass is impressively large, it’s filled with ice, so there is a relatively small amount of alcohol in it – so by the time some of it melted away, the drink was mild enough for me to enjoy.

In all, we had a pretty good time at Pat O’Brien’s, and I’m glad we went. I am curious about trying a Hurricane made from real ingredients one day – I might just do that.

Pat O'Brien's
624 Bourbon St
New Orleans, LA
W-Th,Su: 12 PM - 12 AM
F-Sa: 12 PM - 2 AM

New Orleans Food Tour

New Orleans Food Tour: Café Beignet

A Taste of the South: Notes from a Trip to Louisiana

It turns out beignets are not for us.

New Orleans is famous many dishes, with savory and sweet, but among the latter beignets reign supreme – at least, among tourists. I can only imagine that it’s the fun of eating a pastry that is guaranteed to cover you and everything around you with powdered sugar that makes them so appealing. And fun they are, even if they otherwise were rather disappointing.

Among the establishments serving beignets in the French Quarter, the two most prominent ones are Cafe du Monde, which has been selling beignets since 1862, and Café Beignet, a mere 30 year old restaurant which makes up for its youth by having actually four different branches in the city. We visited the one on Decatur St. for breakfast our first morning in New Orleans, though we twice stopped at the one on Bourbon Street to rest our feet and listen to some live Jazz. The garden at the latter site is glorious.

The Café Beignet branch on Decatur Street has a fun dining room, somewhat evocative of la Belle  Époque. The wooden bar is beautiful. Outdoors, there are only a couple of tables on the sidewalk by the restaurant. It’s not particularly picturesque, but it allows you to people watch as you eat.

You order at the counter, and food is brought to your table. The menu consists of omelettes, sandwiches, breakfast items and Creole specialties like jambalaya and crawfish etouffee. And, of course, beignets and other pastries. They have a bunch of coffee dishes, but not fresh orange juice.

I’m not a breakfast eater myself, so I ordered the beignets ($4.50 for 3). These were relatively large squares of fried dough covered with powdered sugar. As the powdered sugar is the same everywhere, it was all about the fried dough. And this fried dough was not great. It was dense and chewy and not particularly flavorful on its own (thus the need for powdered sugar). Basically, they were heavy – and the last thing you want in the morning is a heavy piece of fried dough. I ate a beignet and sort of nibbled on the second one. Mike took a bite, and was done.

Apparently, the problem with New Orleans beignets is that they are made from a leavened dough instead of the choux pastry used in France. The latter makes them far lighter and enjoyable.

Mike ordered the Andouille sausage omelette ($12), which came with grits and a slice of French bread. Miked liked it. The sausage was very tasty, spicy and flavorful, and it was well mixed with the omelette. The omelette was on the small side, but it wasn’t very expensive. The grits and herbed toasted bread was a disconcerting choice – Mike would have preferred a biscuit.

Café Beignet
600 Decatur Street
New Orleans, Louisiana
M-Th 8am-6pm
F-Su 8am-8pm

New Orleans Food Tour

New Orleans Food Tour: Napoleon House

A Taste of the South: Notes from a Trip to Louisiana

The Muffulettas are as good as you heard.

Napoleon House is one of those “must go to” restaurants when you visit the French Quarter. Not only is it famous for its muffulettas – a sandwich invented in New Orleans, albeit at an Italian deli, not here -, but it’s located in a beautiful, historical home that convenes in one place the whole spirit of the French Quarter, itself a magical place.

As the story goes, the house was originally built in 1797 and enlarged in 1814 for Nicholas Girod, then mayor of New Orleans. A large three story brick building with plaster covered walls, the house reflects French architectural influences with its hipped roof , dormers and French doors and Spanish ones, as shown in its internal patio and wrought iron balconies. In 1821, Girod seems to have devised a plan to rescue Napoleon, who was then on exile in the island of St. Helena after his defeat at Waterloo, and bring him to live in this home. While Napoleon died before Girod could undertake this scheme, the house inherited Napoleon’s name. In 1914, Italian immigrant Joe Impastato turned it into a bar and the business slowly evolved into the restaurant it is today.

And a beautiful restaurant it is. The smallish, dark dining rooms still display those discolored stucco plastered walls, evoking a long ago feeling. They are decorated with old pictures and Napoleon memorabilia, and you can imagine yourself plotting up a secret mission or a pirate raid on its tables. The patio, where we didn’t eat, is more conventionally beautiful and relaxing, though it still conveys an old world feeling.

Napoleon House is a casual place with a casual menu. It serves salads and sandwiches, with a few ubiquitous appetizers and sides. Like most restaurants in New Orleans, it offers beers and wines as well as local cocktails. They are particularly known for their Pimm’s No.1 drinks, though I didn’t realize that until later, so we didn’t try them.

What I did have was the muffuletta – or at least a quarter of one ($8.5). It wasn’t until we got to the restaurant that we realized we weren’t that hungry after all, and we wanted a light dinner. A quarter of a muffuletta seemed perfect – in particular, because I was very apprehensive about them. A muffuletta is a sandwich of deli meats and cheeses typically covered with a thick layer of olive salad. Neither Mike nor I are fans of olives, so we were afraid we wouldn’t like it. Watching the videos of how they’re made at Central Grocery & Deli, the place where they were invented, I still think that’s likely to be the case there, but the one at Napoleon House was just perfect. It had enough olives to give the sandwich a kick, but not enough to actually taste them individually. At Napoleon House, the muffulettas are served hot and the melted cheese deliciously brought the whole sandwich together. In all, it was a delicious sandwich and just the right size for my light hunger. I’d definitely have it again.

Mike ordered the Boudin sausage ($8) which was served with bread and mustard. I was surprised that it wasn’t a blood sausage – I usually think of that when I hear “boudin” – but in Louisiana, a “boudin” sausage typically refers to one made of pork and rice. This gives the sausage a disconcerting soft texture, but it had a pretty good flavor. Mike liked it though he wasn’t awed by it.

For dessert, I tried a New Orleans classic: chocolate Doberge Cake ($8). This consists of a multi layer chocolate cake with chocolate pudding filling. I wasn’t thrilled with it. It just tasted like your typical, overly dry chocolate cake. Warming it up and adding ice cream might have helped, but as it was, it was a waste of carbs.

As we didn’t know about the Primm’s, Mike ordered a Sazerac with absinthe ($13), another traditional New Orleans cocktail. Alas, he didn’t really enjoy it, and it was too strong and bitter for me to do anything more than taste it. This doesn’t mean it wasn’t a great Sazerac, but it was enough to make it our first and last experience with the drink.

We had no complaints about service, and we didn’t feel any pressure to leave even though I think we stayed until closing time. In all, I’d recommend Napoleon House to anyone visiting the French Quarter.

Napoleon House
500 Chartres Street
New Orleans, LA
(504) 524-9752
Su-Th 11am-10pm
F-Sa: 11am-11pm

New Orleans Food Tour

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