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Saturday, March 10, 2012

New Orleans - If I Have to Hear How Good the Food is One More Time, I Might Actually Have to Just Go

Happy Spring, Snackers!

Spring is almost here, isn't it?  Sadly, that means Mardi Gras season is over.  It's too warm for Red Beans and Rice, King's Cakes can no longer be bought on a whim in duplicate from Porto's Bakery, and middle aged women all over the country are wondering what to do with 29 sets of plastic purple beads.

Now I'm from the South, and think I know a bit about Southern cooking, but from everything I've ever heard, New Orleans takes everything think you know about good food to a whole new level of internationally inspired yumminess.  And no, sadly, I've never actually been to NOLA, despite having been born right across the pond.

Coolio for me though, The Food Bitch actually received a totally unsolicited guest review from her good buddy and world traveler, BAC, who was cool enough to pen out his culinary experiences in Thailand for me a few months back.  He actually went during Mardi Gras, but I'm kind of a lazy a-hole sometimes and I've been sitting on this for a couple of weeks.

So my apologies for the delay, and without any further ado, I give you BAC's New Orleans:

Fried Soft-Shell Crab
Irene's Cuisine
Hey Food Bitch - Another guest review coming at ya.  I just got back from back from a 4-day food/booze fest in New Orleans.  Let me just start by saying this, New Orleans' reputation as a culinary haven is well-deserved, and not at all exaggerated.  The food was simply amazing.  French food....creole/cajun recipes....little sandwich spots....New Orleans had it all.  We didn't have even a single disappointing meal.  
Our first big meal was at Irene's Cuisine.  Out party of 14 took over one of the few small dining rooms at Irene's.  The service was friendly, including the pianist playing "rag-time" versions of some classic jams.  Standouts here included the meatballs, the oysters Irene, and the fried soft-shell crab.  
La Petite Grocery
The next day, we were turned onto a local market called Verti Marte on the east side of the French Quarter. (In fact, all of these establishments were in the French Quarter.)  Verti Marte is nondescript from the outside.....just a door to a market.  In the back however, the deli-counter is where the magic happens.  They have a host of entrees, sandwiches, and sides on the menu.  Go for a sandwich....skip the smaller "roll" portion and step up to the big po' boy on a french roll.  The hands-down champion of the menu was the "All that Jazz."  Don't ask what's in it (we didn't).....just order it and welcome to flavor country.  Other standouts included the chicken-fried steak po' boy and the "Big Ernie."   

The next evening, we made an adventure across the parade routes on Canal Street, and headed to La Petite Grocery in the Uptown section of town.
  (Our only culinary stop outside of the French Quarter).  This place is fancy.  So fancy, in fact, that when we thought we'd have to cancel our reservation due to parade road closures, they politely informed us that there would be a steep cancellation charge per person.  They told us not to worry about traffic, just take our time and they'd hold our table for us.  As it turned out, we were only about 20 minutes late for our reservation. 
La Petite Grocery

La Petite Grocery is the latest eatery led by Chef Justin Devillier, a Dana Point, CA native.  The food here was local, fresh, and fantastic.  We tried it all.....crab beignets, rootbeer glazed braised short rib, fried rabbit, oysters, and my favorite, the local shrimp and grits.  This place was rich....and not for the faint-stomached.  We closed this place down just before midnight.  They never rushed us, and even arranged taxis for our large party.  Like I said.....every meal we had was amazing. 

Shrimp and Grits
La Petite Grocery

But I saved the best for last.  There's a little divey hole-in-the-wall spot called Coop's Place.  No reservations....just a line forming out front.  We were a little hesitant given the line outside, but one of the locals in line told us that "whatever you've eaten so far in New Orleans.....this will be the best."  So with that ringing endorsement, we had to check it out.  Regardless of how long the wait is.....IT'S WORTH IT!  Just get in line, and have one of your friends bring out a couple drinks from the bar next door.

Coop's Taste Plate

 Coop's is a legit local cajun restaurant.  No frills....just lots of delectable thrills.  Ordering here is easy.....just get the "Coop's Taste Plate."  It comes with a cup of gumbo, shrimp creole, red beans and rice, cajun-fried chicken, and rabbit & sausage jambalaya.  Words just don't express enough how much I loved this meal.  And here's the bonus prize:  they sell a cookbook with their best recipes.  I'm waiting to try my hand at the jambalaya.  One thing to note about this place is that they have a few video poker machines inside; so you have to be at least 21 y/o to enter.

Without doubt, you will wake up hungover at least one morning in New Orelans. (And if you don't, you're not doing New Orleans correctly.)   And what better way to shake off that hangover than with a proper bloody mary from Magnolia Grill.Super tasty bloody mary's, and the food was on-point as well.  My friends ordered a mix of breakfast and lunch items....all of it looked and smelled delish.  But you know me.....I went for the cajun lunch buffet.  The buffet offered a host of items including gumbo, jambalaya, green beans, red beans and rice, fried catfish, fried chicken, mac n cheese, and more.  The fried catfish and chicken were noteworthy, and required me going back to the buffet line 2 or 3 times to reload.  Pretty much the best fried chicken I've ever eaten.  Oh....and did I mention the bloody mary's  ;o) 
Finally, a stop should be made by Cafe du Monde.  Cafe du Monde originally opened in 1862.  They sell coffee and beignets 24 hours/day.  Not a bad way to shake out those cobwebs from drinking on Bourbon St. all night.     
Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop Bar

No review of New Orleans would be complete without at least a few words about alcohol.  New Orleans doesn't have an open container law, so you can walk down the street openly enjoying whatever cocktail you have in-hand.  Just make sure to ditch the glass for a plastic cup on your way out the door.  Bourbon Street is the bacchanalian experience that you'd expect it to be.  And apparently, there is no "last call" either. Bars line both sides of the street; most with a second floor balcony to throw beads from.  I'm still shocked at the lows to which people will stoop simply to get their hands on a 50-cent necklace of plastic beads.....but I digress.  Most of the bars offer an all-night happy hour....either 2 for 1....or 3 for 1.  This "special" is a little misleading, as you don't actually get 2 or 3 drinks for the price of one.  What you do get, is a "super-sized" plastic cup filled with well-over 3 shots of your favorite libation.  Drink one at the bar....and then get one "for the road."  No visit to New Orleans would be complete without sipping down at least one hurricane.  They're sold from dispensers at almost every bar.  But skip the pre-mixed sugarfest, and go to the place the started it all.   This bar is huge, with several side rooms, and a nice large outdoor patio in the back.  Also, make sure to stop by Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop Bar.  True to its name, Lafitte's is clearly an old blacksmith shop built between 1722-1732.  It is rumored to be the oldest structure being used as a bar in the entire United States.  It's dark and dank, and just oozes history.

BAC, we here at The Food Bitch can't thank you enough for your awesome review and photos, and we are all enviously waiting for you to take your next culinary walkabout so we can get all the details.  

Happy Snacking, 

The Food Bitch