Skip to content

Posts from the ‘Cajun/Creole’ Category

Nearly Everything I Ate in New Orleans (Minus $1 Soft Tacos)

warehouse grille crawfish boilDespite 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.

acme duo

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.

killer po boys

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.

frankie & johnny's duo

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?

new orleans food and drink duo

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.

coop's fried chicken, jambalaya, gumbo

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.

toups' meatery 6

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).

palettes new orleans

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.

 

New Orleans Between Bread: Muffalettas & Po’ Boys

Despite the plethora of sandwiches in NYC–these types of round-ups and columns make me cry–I rarely eat them out of some misguided carb-shunning measure that just gets bested by overeating multigrain crispbreads or corn tortillas instead. Both old-timer and newcomer favorites, Defonte's and Court Street Grocers are mere blocks from my apartment, yet I've never been to either.

On vacations, though, sadness wanes and sandwiches are fair game. And in New Orleans you'd be crazy to pass up two classics: the muffaletta, a very specific sandwich, and po' boys, a genre that can include nearly any type of filling.

Whereas a first-timer could easily skip Mother's for po' boys (though I would never disparage the choice–a Facebook friend posted a Mother's pic just days after I returned from New Orleans and I kept comments to myself) the same isn't true of Central Grocery. The much lauded mufaletta is worth experiencing–it is the original, after all. It's just that after trying it on our past three visits, it felt like time to branch out.

Napoleon house muffaletta whole

Napoleon house muffaletta insides

Everyone else seems to do a warm version.  In addition to its Pimm's Cup, Napoleon House is also known for its mufaletta (and I wouldn't stray beyond those two items). A whole one is good-sized and plenty for two to share, but not as massive as the original. Less oily and dense with a lighter, fluffy bread and enough melted provolone to create strings when pulling apart the quarters, this style draws less attention to the cold cuts.  The chopped green olive condiment, cheese, and bread dominate.

Cochon butcher muffaletta

Cochon Butcher, who also presents its version heated, is all about the charcuterie–ham, salami, mortadella– as implied by the name of the establishment. Clearly, it's the more artisanal of the two. This style, too, uses a springier sesame-seed-studded bread than the original, which makes it easier to eat without totally blowing your appetite for the day.

Cochon butcher buckboard bacon melt

The Buckboard Bacon Melt, actually impressed me more with assertive and unexpected flavors. Essentially, it's a grilled cheese with Swiss, meaty bacon, a mess of tangy stewed collard greens for contrast, and  spiced aioli for extra richness. I want to swap lettuce for greens on all of my sandwiches, now.

Cochon butcher sweet potato habanero sauceWhether or not they were meant to be eaten with hot sauce, the house sweet potato, habanero blend added a sweet-hot kick that was irresistible. I ended up buying a bottle of the thick orange condiment to take home, as well as a bacon praline, which worked a little better as a spin on that candy than the Aunt Sally's version using Tabasco. I had no idea that the sweet potato was such as part of the region's identity. Over four days I saw the tuber's presence in a drink called the Casserole Cocktail (it tasted like Thanksgiving) at the Swizzle Stick, pickled in an amuse bouche at Sweet Olive, and mentioned in an ad for an upcoming beer dinner where one course was paired with Lazy Magnolia's Sweet Potato Cream Stout (I never found it in a bar, but their Southern Pecan Ale is very good).

(As an aside, I would recommend both  Cochon Butcher and Cochon, but didn't get the big deal with Herbsaint where we only went because I had heard gumbo recommendations. Normally, I find service complaints to verge on nitpicky and Yelpy and I wasn't even going to blog about this, but the recent Pete Wells/Roberta's post made me think more on the issue. We were scolded for calling to make a same-day-reservation on a Monday, not an unheard of practice in NYC, then were seated in a corner next to drafty window [which wouldn't have been an problem two days later when the weather radically shifted from blustery to tropical]. Minor issues, I guess. But being brought the check before asking seemed off for a place that presents itself as the caliber of restaurant where you shouldn't think you could make a morning reservation for that evening. When we left, the hostess podium was unmanned and neither a thanks or good-bye was offered by anyone on site. The food was average–small plates were better than mains–but the overall experience clouded that impression. Maybe it was better than average, but my opinion was tainted by the end of the meal?)

Ok, po' boys.  They can really be crammed with anything like a hero/sub/hoagie. For me, the differentiator is that you can almost always get fried seafood, which I don't typically associate with sandwiches of this type in other regions. Of course, roast beef with gravy and "debris" a.k.a. bits of gravy-soaked-meat that have fallen off in the cooking process, is also very popular and has nothing to do with the sea.

Parkway tavern shrimp po boy

Mother's (my food diary, not blog, from the early '00s was far less verbose and photo-reliant–now I'm just being old and sentimental because my first and most recent visits to New Orleans were the exact same week ten years apart) and Domilise's have been done before, and now Parkway Tavern and Liuzza's By the Track can finally be added to my repertoire (these barely scratch the surface, but are probably the most popular four). Of the two excursions on this trip, my favorite po' boy was at Parkway (which they actually spell poor boy, which is the only sane way to pronounce it unless you genuinely don't enunciate R's at the ends of your words) but just by a hair. They do make their own bread, which is a soft baguette with a crackly top, soft enough to not cut up your mouth but with enough chew to give it character. I may have also been influenced by the double bloody mary.  Stuffed with little breaded, fried shrimp and dressed with the requisite mayonnaise, tomato, pickles and shredded lettuce, this was a near perfect rendition, a blend of hot and cold, both pillowy and firm. 

Parkway tavern roast beef po boyInstead of ordering the surf and turf, which is roast beef and fried shrimp, we ordered both components as separate po' boys. I'm biased against insanely messy sandwiches, so the roast beef oozing with gravy wasn't my friend, and I can't imagine what a beast the surf and turf would be to wrangle. Since we were swapping halves (these are larges, by the way, not regulars) and I started with my favorite, by the time I got to this sandwich the bread was a disintegrated mess and the top slice wouldn't stay in synch with the bottom, each bite sliding the two farther apart. James, however, preferred this over the shrimp, so it's just a matter of taste. He also insisted on taking the photo and it kept blurring and we got into a tiff–roast beef po' boys cause problems, that's all I'm saying.

Liuzza's by the track shrimp po' boy & gumbo

It's always about personal biases, though. The only reason why Liuzza's By the Track (not the same as Liuzza's that's not by the racetrack and is more of a sit-down restaurant that stays open past 7pm) was minutely less winsome to me was because the mayo was applied with a heavy hand and instead of melding into a soup with the vegetables, it remained thick and blobby, a psychological culinary barrier. With that said, this was a very good po' boy.

Liuzza's by the track interior
As was the rendition with fried, garlicky oysters (kind of like that other New Orleans specialty, charbroiled oysters, in sandwich form) that wasn't photographed. I didn't notice the soft-shell crab special on the wall until after I'd ordered–I would've loved to try that one.

Liuzza's by the track exteriorI'm also afraid we didn't give Liuzza's the same attention as Parkway because we'd already eaten a lunch buffet at Dooky Chase's (we really just wanted to sample the fried chicken but got sucked into trying more). Without a car, and limited number of meals, we had to cram in restaurants that were relatively near each other (actually Parkway is also walkable from Liuzza's, if you wanted to do a same-day taste test) to maximize foot journeys once off the streetcar. Luckily, I figured out that the bus that runs down Esplanade Ave., a block from Liuzza's, zigzagged and would drop us off right in front of our hotel on Poydras St. The only thing I forget is that once out of NYC, cars are the norm so public transportation tends to be a weirdo-magnet. It's hard to justify a cab, though, when fares are only $1.25. Cheapness will prevail over freaks-avoidance. (During the day, at least–we did get a bad vibe being the the only ones on foot in the desolate Central Business District one evening, and refused to engage with a woman on a bike who started following us.)

And I must also add that the thin-style gumbo filled with andouille, shrimp, and chicken was my favorite iteration of the iconic dish that's done in so many ways that I'm not even going to attempt rating or discussing it. This cup was light (or maybe didn't use it at all) on the file powder, the ground sassafras leaves that thicken and give everything that quintessential New Orleans smell  and flavor that's akin to spiced dirt, the very essence of earthiness. Cajun or Creole, I'm not sure, but a little goes a long way.

Napoleon House * 500 Chartres St., New Orleans, LA
Cochon Butcher * 930 Tchoupitoulas St., New Orleans, LA
Parkway Bakery and Tavern * 538 Hagan Ave., New Orleans, LA
Liuzza's By the Track * 1518 N. Lopez St., New Orleans, LA

Jose Tejas

What exactly is the appeal of Jose Tejas, the New Jersey Tex-Mex Cajun chain restaurant that brings a surprising amount (by which I mean one-to-two searches per day—it doesn’t take much to surprise me) of traffic to this site and commands one-hour waits after 6pm?

Jose tejas interior

Without a doubt, it’s the prices. All ending in oddball amounts, nearly every dish is under $10 and the fanciest Patron margarita tops out at $8.50. I couldn’t tell you the last time dinner for two with drinks cost under $40 (ok, that’s not counting the $5.50 house margarita at the bar).

While doing my monthly Wegmans, Costco, Target, DSW rounds in Middlesex County, Jose Tejas won out over Cheeseburger in Paradise (I mulled over Ruby Tuesday, but I have an irrational reluctance to go there after throwing up dim sum in their bathroom a few years ago).

Jose tejas chorizo mexicana

You can have your ceramic dish of melted cheese two ways: Cajun ($6.94) or Mexican ($6.83). This is the latter, an above ground pool of pepper jack with chorizo, onions, tomatoes and mushrooms sealed beneath the surface.

Jose tejas fajitas

Naively, I thought fajitas might be a minutely healthier entrée than many of the fried, dairy laden options (I don’t even consider the Cajun items because that’s just weird). Grilled meat, vegetables and tortillas, right? Sure, and a whole block of grated cheese on the side. Rice and black beans or jambalaya come with all mains. 

I ordered a combination of chicken and beef, pork is nowhere to be seen on the menu and never seems to have a presence at Tex-Mex and Americanized Mexican chains. Why is that?

Jose tejas sides

You are encouraged to wrap everything unfinished to go in Styrofoam containers, even the free flowing chips and tortillas. Even though I’ve been diligent in my carb-limiting, I still packed them all in with my untouched cup of rice because I just can’t blatantly waste food.

I also wonder if part of Jose Tejas' appeal is that it gives the illusion of being a unique restaurant. It's not until you search the name that you realize it's part of a chain whose other locations in Massachusetts and Delaware are called  Border Cafe.

Previously on Jose Tejas.

Jose Tejas * 700 Rt. 1 N., Iselin, NJ

The Old Bay Restaurant

1/2 Despite lacking any serious intentions of moving, I do everything I can to not be in New York on weekends. I should consider myself lucky to live in a spacious apartment in a coveted Brooklyn neighborhood, and I do, but that doesn't mean I get satisfaction roaming around my own environs. My surroundings are about the new, the in, the crowded, what's been written about. Being in the thick of things can be fun but frequently I want the opposite.

Others have second homes to remedy this urge. Though I scoff a the luxurious concept, I have known absolutely non-wealthy people (social workers, office assistants) who share cramped NYC apartments to afford a weekend home to flee to by train 6pm on Friday.

I'd rather approximate a comfortable nest here and escape to the suburbs every couple Saturdays, if only to sit in a car with only one other person, shop at well-stocked box stores with helpful staff and eat bad-for-you chain food. It's not only grounding, it restores my sanity and enables me to face those three painful subways Monday morning.

(I really enjoy complaining about the absurdity of living three miles from my office, a straight shot across the East River [don't go stalking me, now] yet having to take three subways five stops, or two subways four stops plus a 12-minute-walk to get there. And maybe if I get it out of my system here I won't have to go into therapy to control my anger. I've actually figured out a tolerable morning solution [it doesn't work going home because the M and R don't share a station in Manhattan]. If I buy an unlimited card I can take the F two stops to Jay St. get out of the station and walk one block to Lawrence St. to catch either the R to Whitehall St. or M to Broad St. on the same platform. If it's after about 9:40am, the M has stopped running for the rush hour and it's R only, but this route can shrimk a typical 40 minute commute into 25 minutes.)

I've tried branching out but Westchester and Long Island do not provide the nearby solace I seek. Only New Jersey will do. I don't know that I would live there, not because of its stigma—that means nothing to me because I grew on the west coast, likewise, I can't understand New Yorkers who get off on Portland—but it certainly wouldn't add any sanity to my commute and no one would ever come visit.

There was no question that if one were to see Star Trek on opening weekend it would have to be in New Jersey. I'm not a trekkie by a long shot, but it's something to do on a Saturday. I was hoping for an empty house at 11:30pm in New Brunswick and nearly got it. I don’t think there were more than ten people in the entire huge theater. And I was pleased to see human versions of the Comic Book Guy, four men had shorts, ponytails and large guts.

But first, we had to eat. New Brunswick is a happening scene (and apparently, rocking). The miniaturized downtown strip has that trying be glossy, martinis, steakhouses and dressy Italian food style (I'm also picturing grand pianos but that's probably wishful thinking), that ends up looking '90s. It's how I imagine Houston or Atlanta looking. I've never been to either city but that was exactly my impression of the area around Beale Street in Memphis. I had been expecting more grit and less casual upscaleness. Of course, this is only like a two-block stretch of New Brunswick.

Old bay chile martini The Old Bay Restaurant appears to have a lively bar scene, a scary scene, frankly but what would you expect from an establishment with the slogan, "Every day is Mardi Gras?" I didn't think the Cajun-ish food would be very promising and it wasn't really. But sometimes it's more about the experience than the food. It's not as if there is great New Orleans cuisine in Brooklyn either.

The Cajun martini was actually kind of foul, not so much because of the spice but it tasted too much like food. Pepper vodka, green Tabasco and olive juice with a chile rim.I don't mind blue cheese-stuffed olives in a martini, though, and that's definitely food.

Old bay andouille and garlic croutons

They were big into "sharing plates" i.e. appetizers. They had run out of the crab and spinach dip, which implies my taste in appetizers is on the mark and very mainstream. Instead, we had the andouille and croutons. Is that even a real dish? It was fine in a junk foody way but seemed improper somehow.

Old bay duck jambalaya

I'm not even crazy about jambalaya, gumbo and etoufee and only trust them in their natural habitat. Maybe it's terroir but they never seem to work outside of the Gulf Coast. So, I didn't see the harm in eschewing tradition for orzo (tricolored, no less) with sliced duck breast. It was ok for what it was, not terribly exciting, at least the duck wasn't overcooked and managed to retain crispy skin.

With a bit under half an hour to kill, we grabbed a pint at Tumulty's, a Germanic place decorated with dark wood beams and toy trains that I mistook for an Irish pub. Maybe it is an Irish pub, though there's Cajun shrimp on the menu, I can't figure it out. Everyone at the bar was eating some very good looking burgers. That's what we should've had for dinner.

The Old Bay Restaurant * 61-63 Church St., New Brunswick, NJ

Lucky Mojo

3/4 Cajun, Tex-Mex, bbq and sushi? Sounds like kitchen nightmare waiting to happen. The cuisine at Lucky Mojo is about as convoluted as the restaurant’s history. This cavernous bi-level, barn-like space is the current incarnation of the now-shuttered Upper West Side Jacques-Imo’s, which was an offshoot of a popular New Orleans restaurant.

Lucky mojo interior

I liked my meal on a visit to Louisiana some time ago, never heard anything good about the NYC version and was even more scared of this Long Island City mishmash. It’s not the kind of place you go out of your way for, but if the urge for sushi and etoufee strikes while you’re at the Water Taxi Beach, Lucky Mojo is your place.

Lucky mojo crawfish sushi

There’s a full on sushi bar upstairs, which churns out standard rolls in addition to specialties like this one using crawfish and Tabasco.

Lucky mojo shrimp & alligator cheesecake

I was not weirded out by the shrimp and alligator cheesecake because it’s a Jacques-Imo’s signature that I’ve had before. It only sounds creepy because they call it a cheesecake, which it is–oh, and because alligator meat doesn’t sit well with some. The alligator is in sausage form and with all of the cream and spices you would have no idea you were eating a water reptile unless someone told you. No, this is not healthy food but split among four it was reasonable.

Lucky mojo bbq shrimp

Bbq shrimp is another frighteningly rich New Orleans dish that has nothing to do with barbecue sauce or grilling. I’ve had a wonderful rendition of this buttery, Worcestershire and black pepper drenched treat, and this didn’t quite match. The rice was on the undercooked side, too. And they forgot my side of collard greens.

 Lucky mojo shrimp po boy

I did not taste this shrimp po boy.

Lucky mojo catfish sandwich

Nor the catfish sandwich.

Lucky mojo vegetarian tacos

Vegetarian taco. What more needs to be said?

As we finished our meal, my dining companions and I began discussing a movie we were about to watch, The Great Happiness Space: Tale of an Osaka Love Thief, about gender reversal host bars where young Japanese women pay good money for the attention of hired men. The Japanese propensity for fantasy indulging and role-playing gave us a brilliant idea: Beta Kappa McPaddysteins.

This would be a faux frat house where Japanese girls would shell out big bucks for a simulated American-style date rape experience. Don’t worry, no sex would actually occur, this would be a professional establishment. First, our patrons would be serenaded by Dave Mathews and sloppily wooed by gentleman in cargo shorts, flip flops and baseball caps. Beer pong would be played and jello shots would be in abundance. Good clean fun, a little cosplay never hurt anyone.

Huh, and then our waiter broke up our genius business plan when he stopped by with a tray of shots. Did he overhear? Did he want in on the action? No way, mister, Beta Kappa McPaddysteins is all mine.

Read my less date rapey take on Lucky Mojo for Nymag.com

Lucky Mojo * Long Island City, NY

Jose Tejas

I was under the impression that this nutty Tex-Mex Cajun restaurant along Route 1 was a rare independent venue. Maybe it didn’t look glossy enough or maybe I was won over by the enormous blue and white sign visible from a distance that simply reads EAT. But I was wrong; it is a chain and one that more commonly goes by Border Café. Actually, I wasn’t acquainted with Border Café either but now I know.

I can’t figure out why the receipt I received says Iselin yet their website says both Iselin and Woodbridge. New Jersey is annoying like that, every mile practically puts you in a different township and makes my pull down menu look like I’ve been all over the state when really I travel in a close radius around Middlesex and Union counties.

Speaking of the neighborhood, not too long ago a friend started dating a guy who lives about ten minutes from Jose Tejas. This is a very exciting development because New Jersey chain dining has always been a solitary activity. I mean, another and myself are involved but it’s not like we ever have company along (for good reason, certainly). Can you imagine anything sexier than a double date at Bonefish Grill? Unfortunately, I suspect a Valentine’s reservation has already been made somewhere and not likely in the garden state.

It hasn’t taken much for me to conclude that there just aren’t enough giant chain restaurants to satisfy the tri-state population (and what’s this I hear about the Cheesecake Factory being a freaking hotspot in Hartford, CT?). No matter where and when you go it’s a madhouse. And the unusually cheap prices at Jose Tejas—my $8.97 enchiladas were one of the more expensive items—certainly contribute to the popularity. But I cannot allow human obstacles to get in the way of my chain discovery missions.

Inside_jose_tejas

We went between lunch and dinner on a Saturday and were quoted a 35-minute wait. Normally, I would’ve left but trying to get on the correct side of the highway and then finding parking had already wasted twenty minutes and I couldn’t fathom a plan B. Even the large bar area was jam-packed, and a nasty old lady tried picking a fight with us for blocking her way. I have zero patience with the nice elderly so I had to restrain myself from knocking her block off.

I don’t trust margaritas from machines, not so much out of hygiene or authenticity issues but because I fear a light hand with the alcohol. A bottle of Dos Equis and a requisite basket of corn chips with salsa suited me fine while waiting. And immediately two stools opened up. It was as if the hand of god, or possibly the ghost of Jose Tejas (assuming he's a real human being and that he's no longer living), reached down and cleared a space for us.

Lotsofcheese

Eating lightly would’ve been smart in preparation for the next day’s inescapable Super Bowl gluttony. But how does one even accomplish such a thing at a restaurant with salads that come in those ‘80s fried tortilla bowls? No, we went all out and shared the chorizo flambado, which is essentially a shitload of melted cheese dotted with chorizo. I swear the chorizo was actually ground beef or Italian sausage but the grease and fat effect was still achieved. You eat this concoction with warm flour tortillas, creating scoopable quesadillas.

I wasn’t touching the Cajun side of the menu. That cuisine is hard to pull off properly even in its own element but in NYC it always tastes like dry, spiced mud. Actually, we joked that dirt might be a secret ingredient while in New Orleans a few years ago; the food all has this earthy flavor that seems to go beyond cumin and cayenne.

Saucy_enchiladas

I usually order seafood burritos or enchiladas in these types of places, which doesn’t seem intuitive. It’s just that the chicken is always dry, the beef is ground (I don’t like ground beef outside of hamburgers) and pork is rarely on the menu period. I’m also not crazy about fish tacos because battered fried seafood makes me hurl (however, battered fried candy is A-OK). And my crawfish and shrimp stuffed tortillas came sauced to the nines. At least I diligently ate half of everything and saved the rest for a late night dinner. Since this was my first meal of the day, I didn’t feel so bad about the caloric value being spread out over twelve hours.

Jose Tejas * 700 Rt. 1 N., Iselin, NJ

Mr. B’s

I'd heard about barbecued shrimp, but didn't really know what I was in for. Who knew it would end up being one of my absolute favorite New Orleans delicacies? First off, they're not barbecued as in grilled, nor barbecued as in zestily sauced. They list their recipe online, so it's no secret (though they might not want everyone knowing that one serving contains a stick and a half of butter. Jeez, no wonder it's so tasty). The giant head on shrimp come swimming in a brown buttery sauce spiked with lots of black pepper, Worcestershire sauce and assorted Creole seasonings. I could easily just eat sauce sopped up with crusty French bread. The only embarrassing part about ordering the bbq shrimp is how the waiter puts a bib on you with much fanfare. I don't like drawing attention while dining and feel self-conscious when it seems like I've ordered the manly, messy, eaten with your hands meal (James managed to choose a light, girly fish entre, so I looked particularly gluttonous). But it's worth suffering a little indignity for a bowl of rich, spicy shrimp.

Mr. B's Bistro * 201 Royal St., New Orleans, LA

Liuzza’s

On this trip, Liuzza's was our first stop in town. Not because we were
familiar with it first hand, or that it was even at the top of our list, we
simply wanted gumbo and it's the way the itinerary fell. And the gumbo,
fried seafood platter and ice cold Abita were a perfect introductory meal.
(For some irritating reason I always get sick when I eat battered, fried
seafood, and yet I couldn't help myself this time.)

The menu is a mix of regional favorites and Italian-American staples. It
reminded me of Philadelphia (not that andouille and remoulade are rampant in
Philly, it's just the atmosphere). We did poor boys elsewhere during our
trip, but I was completely fascinated by some of their unique offerings. If
time had permitted, I definitely would've tried the fried chicken liver
rendition, as well as their french fry and gravy filled one. That's totally
a Cajun chip butty–who knew?

That they seemed to have a police officer permanently planted out front,
keeping guard, made me a little uneasy (we discovered during our stay that
the city only has 1600 police officers, which is so totally insane I can't
even believe it). New Orleans really has a sporadic, ominous feel to it,
much as I'd imagine NYC used to before my arrival in the late '90s. But all
in all, the cop only added to the ambience.


Liuzza's * 3636 Bienville
Ave., New Orleans, LA

Mother’s

That Ferdi special was just too much, even for a hungry girl like me. If
I learned one thing in my mere two days in New Orleans, it's to stick with
the seafood po boys. The turtle soup was also pleasant. My only regret is
not having room for dessert–those pies looked amazing. I've never seen such
large, firm healthy slices. (2/24/02)

Yay for poor boys (or po boys, I just feel funny saying and typing po),
and only a block from our hotel. The famous Ferdi special almost killed me
last time, so I just stuck with the shrimp poor boy this time around. In
fact, I don't think I branched out from the shrimp poor boy anywhere we
sampled the sandwich. They're always just so good that I know I wont be
disappointed.

The only thing I couldn't figure out at Mother's is the middle-aged guy
called Elvis who hangs out at the restaurant. I don't think hes an employee,
though there were plenty of old photos of him gracing the walls.
 (7/11/04)


Mother's * 401 Poydras St., New Orleans, LA

Gumbo Shop

This was James' dinner choice, which was fine. I wanted to go to Jacques-Imo's
for dinner. We compromised, and he got Sat. night while I got Sun. evening.
Unfortunately my pick was closed in Sunday (we ended up at Mother's
instead).