Breakfast: The Old Coffee Pot

For breakfast today we sought out a well-recommended location in the French Quarter called The Old Coffee Pot – an original restaurant of old New Orleans established in 1696. The establishment’s history was evident in the historical paintings and objects located throughout the restaurant.

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Maureen and I ordered “the Plantation Breakfast” — two eggs any style, ham steak, grits, biscuit and something called “Calla Cakes” — deep-fried sweet rice balls seasoned with vanilla and almond flavourings and dusted with powdered sugar.

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On the plus side, the eggs were cooked a perfect over medium and the grits were buttery and well seasoned. The “ham steak” was tasty but was clearly a slice of processed, pressed ham which is kind of a sacrilege in the South. We were expecting a slice of off-the-bone ham. The biscuit was warm, light, fluffy and delicious – among the best we’ve had.

The calla cakes were, like the beignets of Cafe Du Monde, submerged under a tiny mountain of icing sugar. Once the cake was shaken off enough to get a bite without wearing some, the crispy treat was a warm, homey delicacy with dominant almond flavouring. Our server made it seem like it was a “secret ingredient” and looked crestfallen when we identified it immediately. They were good to try, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to order them.

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The ham was wonderfully rescued by placing it between two halves of this amazing biscuit. All is forgiven.

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NOLA Local FoodFest 2013

One of the reasons we came to New Orleans this Spring was to attend Local FoodFest, a food festival that’s put on by It’s unique in that while it features many New Orleans eateries and their signature dishes, it all also features local specialities from around the USA, such as tamales from Tucson, or BBQ from Memphis. We wandered the Fest today and sampled a number of delicious dishes and enjoyed the party vibe. Here are some photos from the event. There’s more information in the captions.

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Crawfish Broil -- Yum.
Crawfish Broil — Yum.
Applying butter to grilling oysters.
Applying butter to grilling oysters.

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Here’s what we ate:

Crawfish Pie. Rich and full of crawfish flavour.
Crawfish Pie. Rich and full of crawfish flavour.
Creamy Shrimp over matchstick potatoes.
Creamy Shrimp over matchstick potatoes.
Amazing Spicy-fried chicken from Gus's in New Orleans.
Amazing Spicy-fried chicken from Gus’s in New Orleans.
Hot tamale with beef and cheesy grits.
Hot tamale with beef and cheesy grits.
Boneless pork spare rib sandwich from the Hominy Grille in Charleston, SC
Boneless pork spare rib sandwich from the Hominy Grille in Charleston, SC
Alligator Sausage from Dat Dog.
Alligator Sausage from Dat Dog.

And lastly a pic of the police man on duty at Foodfest. I’m calling this photo, “Two Weeks to Retirement”.

Two Weeks To Retirement
Two Weeks To Retirement






The 2013 Sazerac Crawl

You really can’t go long when reading about New Orleans before you come across the Sazerac. It has a long history and has evolved through the generations to become the drink it is today. It’s very hard to get one outside of New Orleans  and get a good one.

The trick is in the ingredients. The purported tradition is to use Sazerac Rye Whiskey and Peychaud Bitters, both New Orleans inventions and products. This no doubt being due to the the promotion departments of these local products. Like any local specialty, people are passionate about a good sazerac. Who has the best? What is the correct way to make it? What are the perfect ingredients? Lots of opinions and none are fully right or wrong. When reading the online foodie boards (Chow, Yelp,  etc.) there seems to be a regular question about who has the best in New Orleans, and as always with these sites the answers reflect the responder’s experience and taste (or lack thereof). But sometimes you can find thoughtful, well-researched responses that influence your decisions.

We decided to settle this question for ourselves with a Sazerac Crawl. We picked 6 places from these “best of” lists that were close enough together to walk a route between them. They represented a mixture of the traditional and the new, the places that are famous for doing it one way for decades and the new bars who are riding the wave of the current haute cocktail culture. Some of them served food, a necessity to keep us able to work through the night with clear heads. We’ll also add a bonus Sazerac from dinner the night before, making a total of 7 to review.

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Here’s a link to the map route in Google Maps.

There was a fairly wide variation in ingredients and techniques across the bars we visited. The type of Rye Whiskey, the use of Cognac in addition to, or instead of the Rye, whether the class was seasoned with Pernod, Herbsaint or Absinthe, and whether Peychaud bitters or other bitters were used. Here is our rundown of each one we sampled. We’re rating the drink, the experience and the service.

1. SoBou – New, high end cocktail Bar in the W Hotel, French Quarter.
Their drink was called Taylor Bird Sazerac. SoBou uses a combination of Sazerac Rye and Cognoc,  seasoned the glass with an Herbsaint spray, and finished the drink with their own blackberry and walnut bitters, crowned by a twist of lemon peel. The cocktail was very smooth, and the ingredients were all very present.

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The mixologists, Andrew and Abigail (who writes and excellent blog called RyeGirl) are knowledgeable and engaging on a variety of topics but their passions about cocktails are clearly evident. We chatted with other patrons, a couple from Alabama who were sampling a variety of cocktails, so it was excellent to see these bartenders in action.

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No good crawl starts on any empty stomach so we ordered some cracked, spiced olives and a blue crab mousse with a mix of blackberry and caviar, with long spiced crackers. All was delicious.

Sazerac: 5    Service: 5   Experience: 5

2. Old Absinthe House, Bourbon Street
Upon entry it was evident that this establishment had sacrificed its history (opened in the 1700s) for the party-hearty Bourbon street tourist dollar. The walls were covered in stapled-on business cards and NFL helmets were hanging from the ceiling.

The Sazeracs were made with a Pernod swirl, Sazerac Rye and Peychaud bitters. Half-way through, the bartender decided to re-tie her ponytail and get right back to making them. The glasses were wet when we got them. Were they rinsed clean? The cocktail was thin tasting. The whiskey was barely there — watered down maybe? The other ingredients were prevalent, but the drink was pale and disappointing.  We left  un-finished drinks on the bar.

Sazerac: 1    Service: 1   Experience: 2

3. Arnaud’s French 75
We were accosted by Cigar smoke as we entered the bar. I recalled reading that this was a cigar bar, but it wasn’t bad at all once inside. It actually set an ambient tone that was helped by the dark walnut panelling and the bow-tied and business-like bartenders.

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Arnaud’s Sazerac was the real deal: Old Overholt Rye (a popular substitute), a Pernod swirl and Peychaud bitters, made in the classic style. It had a nice citrus nose from the lemon peel rubbed on the glass rim, and the bitters came through. This was a very, very good Sazerac.

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We talked with a nearby couple who visit the city every month and took dinner recommendations, which we definitely needed by this time.

Sazerac: 5    Service: 3   Experience: 4

It was half-time in our crawl and we definitely need to take a break and eat something. GW Fins had been recommended at our previous stop. They posted a great fish-oriented menu, so in we went.

As we sat down, hot sweet biscuits were brought by our table and were served to us directly off the baking sheet. They were crumbly and delicious. We started with grilled shrimp with a smoky onion relish.

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Maureen had a grilled scallops and mushroom risotto. I had grilled grouper with a red pepper and sweet potato hash. It was rich and succulent. Both our serving sizes were perfect. By American standards, they were skimpy, but the fish was fresh and the dishes were complete.

With full bellies were were ready to get back to the crawl:

4. The Sazerac Bar, Roosevelt Hotel
This is purported to be THE place for Sazeracs. Hell, they named the whole bar after the drink. What you find out, of course, is that it’s a licensed name and the claim to tradition is somewhat suspect. But that’s fine. It was a elegant bar in a fine hotel with history all of its own. The biggest thing it had going against it was a bar load of hollering frat boys and shrieking 20-something girls making the place very loud. Ugh.

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This was the first bar to offer a choice of Sazeracs, one based on cognac and one using Sazerac rye. I tend to see a Sazerac as a whiskey drink, the other ingredients there to soften the rye and to add to the experience. I found their rye-based sazerac to have an good partnership between the whiskey and the other ingredients. It had the most whiskey burn of all the Sazeracs we tried.

The Cognac-based drink is a thing unto itself. It doesn’t compare and doesn’t stand up to the whiskey version. I am happy to chalk this up to personal preference, and it shows the wiggle room there is in choosing ingredients for this classic cocktail.

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The spoiler for the evening was that the bill for the two drinks came to $29. The Cognac version was $17. In other locations, the price averaged, $7-10 per drink. The bar was clearly milking any association they had to the history of the cocktail, but the price was unwarranted.

Sazerac: 4 (Rye) 2 (Cognac)    Service: 3   Experience: 2

5. Mr. B’s Bistro
This drink was shaken into glasses, so its ingredients had a different impact on one other. The other ingredients were the star here. You could taste the Pernod, Peychaud bitters and lemon distinctly. The whiskey was barely present, however the drink was pleasant and unique among the ones we tried.

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We were sitting at the bar and all of the food being delivered to our neighbours looked spectacular. In our pre-crawl research we noted that Mr. B’s BBQ Shrimp were a must-have. Who were we to argue. We ordered a serving each not quite knowing what to expect. The bar staff were moving a mile a minute and while harried, they were friendly and helpful.

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This dish’s relationship to BBQ as we know it is in name only. Sautéed head-on shrimp were finished with a sauce that was rich with butter, black pepper and Worchestershire. It came with a small load of good French bread because there would be much sopping to do. We were both quite surprised at how good this dish is. It may just be the best thing I have put in my mouth, and that’s not just the sazeracs talking. We’re going back for these before we leave, AND we’ll be recreating them at home to be sure.

Sazerac: 4    Service: 4   Experience: 5

6. The Carousel Bar at the Hotel Monteleone
Our final stop on tonight’s crawl brings us to the famous bar in the Monteleone Hotel. The Carousel is a beautifully appointed space, but very loud this evening. We find a small table, the only available, at the very outskirts of the bar, near the dining area. This does nothing for ambiance or the experience. Sazeracs seem best enjoyed belly up to a bar with fellow patrons to strike up conversations with.

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The sazerac at the Carousel is dominated by the whiskey. It is less strong than the cocktail at Roosevelt but more so than at Mr. B’s. We sip our drinks for a bit and quietly leave. It’s fair to say that by this time in the evening, remaining objective becomes difficult. Having 6 of any drink will create an uphill battle for whoever is 6th in line, but we did attempt earnestness in our appraisal.

All in all, it’s been a terrific evening, not just for the Sazeracs, but for experiencing the establishments and the people you meet on the way.

Bonus Sazerac: K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen
We tried the Sazerac at K-Paul’s the night before our crawl. Having done so, I should warn against ordering the Sazerac there as a before-dinner drink. By definition you have an empty stomach, and their Sazerac is easily a double, maybe even a triple.

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It was a very good one, with evident whiskey, and bitters notes and smooth, yet with s slight whiskey burn, but there was way too much and it hampered the enjoyment of the meal, which was notably very good

Sazerac: 3.5   Service: 5  Experience: 4

To experience a Sazerac closer to home in Ottawa, we’ve found that Absinthe, Town and Union (albeit with a cognac variation) all make cocktails that hit the mark. To make it ourselves, we found it was next to impossible to source the Peychaud Bitters in Ottawa but finally were able to order some online from an American Bartending Supply company, and next time we make one, we’ll be applying some of the techniques we learned on this trip.

Lunch at Butcher

it’s a cloudy, muggy day in the Big Easy. The forecast threatened rain at any time, but has held off for the most part. We decide to go a little further afield and change it up a little from the New Orleans cuisine we’ve been exploring up until now.

We head to Butcher. It’s an annex of sort to Cochon, a very popular snout-to-tail place that’s getting terrific reviews and is showing up on lists of top new places to try in NOLA. Butcher is around the corner and is its more casual cousin. It’s open from 10AM to 10PM, but it being Friday, we want to get there before the workday lunch crowd and arrive in time to score a parking space right in front and a prime window table.

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Inside, it really is a butcher shop, selling home-made sausages, prepared foods and sauces as well as artfully butchered cuts of pork and beef. At the back of the shop there is a set of 3 blackboard panels with today’s menus — small plates, sandwiches and beverages (it has a full bar). The decor is industrial chic with simple surfaces and raised tables and stools.

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We order a number of items to split — from the small plates menu, some spicy brisket sliders, potato salad, boudin sausage with pickles and grainy mustard and a mac and cheese with pancetta. From the sandwich menu we order a Cubano to split — a pressed Cuban sandwich. We’re given a table marker (Dr. Morgus from the 1962 sci-fi classic, “The Wacky World of Dr. Morgus“, and in two blinks our food arrives.  Here’s a run down of each dish:

The Brisket Sliders – Sweet with a BBQ sauce but rich and meaty. Perfect brisket and complimented by sweet pickles and a soft bakery slider bun. These are outstanding.

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The Potato Salad – Nice, creamy with celery, chives and a little heat from hot sauce.

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The Boudin Sausage – It was white boudin, made with rice, pork, liver and spices. Perfect with the pickle and mustard. Maureen’s not a huge fan of liver, so I had this all to myself, as if it wasn’t planned that way. It was rich, mildly spiced and the strong grainy mustard and pickle worked well with it. Butcher knows about pickles and how to use them. I counted three different kinds among our dishes.

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The Mac and Cheese — Creamy and tangy. Maureen and I though it was possible that pimento cheese was used in the recipe because it had that colour and tang.

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The Cubano – Although the bread wasn’t classic Cubano fare, it had a less chewy texture, but it was flat and crisp from the pressing and was great anyway. The roasted pork and ham on the sandwich were very flavourful and carried the day.

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We picked up some of the jarred delicacies that Butcher sells to bring home and headed out for a day of exploring. Maureen was going to walk around and take some photos of the gardens, alleys and oddities of the French Quarter and I was bound for a little guitar shopping.