Nearly Everything I Ate in New Orleans (Minus $1 Soft Tacos)
Despite this being my fourth visit to New Orleans, I’ve never been during crawfish season. Oddly, the Brooklyn crawfish boils began in earnest the same day I headed out of town. That’s ok. I doubt you get $15 for three pounds. I suppose the optimal experience is in someone’s backyard and it’s wonderful and social, but I don’t know anyone in New Orleans. Warehouse Grille happened to be doing a Sunday afternoon boil and was just a few blocks from my hotel. Crawfish is really more fun than filling (and the garlicky cayenne coating can overtake the what little meat you extract) so it’s an optimal meal if you want to do a “Bang-Bang” in Louis C.K. parlance.
I’m not sure why oysters are so cheap in New Orleans–$13 a dozen even in the French Quarter–or if it’s that they are pricey in NYC (nothing can probably top the $8 oysters in Copenhagen, though). Acme is a classic and tourist fave that I’d never tried either, mostly because of the permanent line out front. So, both a dozen raw and half as many charbroiled, i.e. smothered in butter, garlic and Parmesan, before the crowds descended.
Po boy banh mi mashups are totally logical and the closest I came to eating Vietnamese food. (I’ll probably catch flack but I didn’t get what the big deal with Vietnamese food in New Orleans is–I even rented a car and headed to Gretna and everything just seemed like what you’d find in NYC, i.e. pho, banh mi, bun, when I was hoping for something more unique like making use of local seafood or who knows what, or at least some concentrated cluster like Eden Center in northern Virginia.). Killer Poboys was a pop up, now permanent, in the back of an Irish Bar, the Erin Rose. The end cap to a Bang-Bang-Bang, these sandwiches were pretty impressive. The coriander lime gulf shrimp po boy was exactly what I was looking for, incorporating fresh super-saline (not sure if this was a natural state or just salted) shrimp presented like an extra minty and fishy banh mi. The “dark and stormy” pork belly poboy was as hefty as the shrimp one was light. The fatty squares of pork were coated in a very gingery cane syrup and rum glaze, balanced with a limey slaw and made even richer with a layer of aioli.
Traditional po boys can’t be ignored, of course. I consider Domilise’s, Liuzza’s by the Track and Parkway to be the big three. Maybe you agree? Domilise’s was closed on a normal business day with no explanation other than the hand-written sign on the door saying “closed today,” which felt appropriately New Orleans-y. Nearby Frankie & Johnny’s came through with shrimp po boys, thankfully, which served as breakfast. I never eat until noon on vacation, which is why I always try to cram in so much food in the evening. Po boys tend to be deceptively light for their looks, the bread crackly on top and almost airy inside, and the shrimp, despite being battered and fried, are greaseless and crisp. Oh, and there were debris, a.k.a. roast beef bits coated in drippings, nachos because it was Cinco de Mayo. I spied diners, who appeared to be locals, putting ketchup on both red beans and rice and po boys, which reminded me that Domilise’s adds ketchup in addition to the usual mayonnaise, tomato, pickle and lettuce that constitutes a “dressed” sandwich. Who am I to judge?
Deanie’s was also closed (I wanted to try the original Bucktown location not the one in the French Quarter) so nearby New Orleans Food and Spirits, the name I can never remember because it’s so nondescript, sufficed. If you find yourself in the same predicament and don’t need a place to sit and eat, seafood market, Schaefer & Rusich, is also tucked into this suburban dining cluster where bright red carapaces litter the parking lots. More charbroiled oysters were had, as well as the gut-busting shrimp feast. Everyone seemed really into the breaded shrimp stuffed with crab meat–the neighboring table ordered an extra one–but I could barely eat one without dying so I brought it back to the hotel, stored it in the fridge and then ate it for dinner two nights later back in Brooklyn, which is kind of gross but I don’t care.
I always associate Coop’s Place with seafood gumbo, but the fried chicken isn’t bad, plus it comes with jambalaya. I also don’t recall Coop’s having lines out the door, despite never exactly being under the radar. One of the waitresses was complaining about people calling for reservations and asking if there was valet parking, so someone somewhere must have hyped it up.
Maybe you’ve already done Cochon yet still want piles of pork and a Cajun influence? Get yourself to Toups’ Meatery. From the sweet-and-spicy pork belly cracklings amuse (so to speak) to the handsome slice of peanut butter, salted caramel and bacon Doberge cake, everything is sufficiently bold yet not excessive. The meatery board contains pretty much everything you could dream of, including a boudin ball, hog’s head cheese, chicken liver mousse and terrines. Bites of pickled pineapple paired with a crackling created the ultimate Hawaiian-Cajun mash-up snack. The bbq goat with a citrus slaw and gingery cornbread that was more like crusty cake also played with sweet and savory (my favorite), as did the root beer-glazed short ribs with heirloom carrots. You’ll also find many well-priced bottles wine (I was surprised at how many restaurants tipped the scales in favor of under-$45 selections) and cocktails like the Dr. Rouge (rye, ginger, amaro meletti).
There was a restaurant called Palette in my hotel, though I’m sure they really meant palette since it was located in the so called Arts District. Plus, there was palatable-to-some Dale Chihuly art in the lobby.