Happy Mouth Blog

Red Wagon Cafe

Posted by on Sep 1, 2013 in Featured Slider, Restaurants, Road Trip, Travel | 0 comments

Red Wagon Cafe

Today, our last day in Vancouver, also happens to be our 29th wedding anniversary. The sun is glorious and we plan on spending the day sightseeing and checking out a few more neighborhoods, notably Davie Village.

Gotta fuel up first. Rob decided on another Triple D joint…on East Hastings! We visited this “quaint” neighborhood last night because we had tickets to see a comedian at the Rickshaw Theatre. Yikes! We made a hasty exit after the show, hoped to find a cab and swore never to return. But alas that all went out the window as we decided to check out Red Wagon Cafe in the light of day. A Streetview Google confirmed it was many blocks from the war zone we walked into last night.

We have been really lucky with parking in the city and scored a spot right in front of the restaurant where we could see the car. I do think our hubcaps were safe here but one never knows. A small crowd was gathered around outside waiting for tables. A young staffer came out and offered around fresh, warm, sugared doughnut holes. This may have kept the crowd from defecting to the absolutely empty Asian restaurant next door (also could have been the no public restrooms, no phones, cash only welcoming sign in the window) but I expect it was more likely the expectation of great food that lay within.

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Red Wagon Cafe is one of only 6 Triple D joints in the entire city. We have been fortunate to get to two on this whirlwind tour. After a ten minute wait we are seated. It appears that Red Wagon does not seat two at a four top so a wait can be unpredictable. When we left there were people who had arrived before us still waiting.

Decorated mostly in vintage coca cola chic, the ambiance is punctuated by a few quirky objects d’art such as an industrial sized whisk with a plastic shark caught up in it for added interest. A tiny red Radio Flyer wagon has a home in a corner near the kitchen. Overall the cafe feels homey, well worn and welcoming.

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Coffee and water arrive quickly with menus. There are four things at least that attract me immediately, but I settle for the Super Trucker with pulled pork pancakes, pork belly, sourdough toast (rye toast for Rob), home fries and 2 eggs. For an additional charge you can have your maple syrup spiked with JD. Well worth it. Two notes here: I am not a huge fan of pulled pork. Quite often I find it bland, pasty in texture and over sauced. Secondly I rarely order sweet stuff such as pancakes for breakfast. It was more the eggs and pork belly I was after here. Yes I could have had them separately. Not sure what I was thinking. I was, perhaps, blindsided by the prospect of spiked maple syrup.

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Food arrives in about ten to twelve minutes. Wow! Looks amazing. The pork belly, thick, not all fat, is crisped up perfectly. My eggs are a perfect over medium as requested.

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The home fries are excellent, perfectly tender new potatoes dressed with a little bacon and green onion. A hallmark for a breakfast place for Rob and I are the potatoes. Deep frying cubes of potatoes casts suspicion on everything else the kitchen does — an unacceptable shortcut. Red Wagon’s potatoes are among the best we have had. It’s the little things that show a kitchen’s passion for what they serve.

I taste the pulled pork which is piled on top of the buttermilk inch-thick pancakes before dousing them in spiked syrup. This is the best pulled pork I have ever had, knocking Rob’s into second place. The texture is perfect. Not pasty. A little crisped up on the flat top maybe. Tender, sweet, salty and garlicky with some definite chili heat. This pulled pork needs no sauce. It stands alone. The pancakes are a perfect bed for the pork. Light and fluffy, quite amazing on their own, but raised to another dimension when soaked with JD spiked maple syrup.

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This was one of the best breakfast/brunch experiences we have had on the road since Jam in Portland, Oregon.

Off we go into the famous Vancouver sunshine for our final day of exploring. Next up: The Rocky Mountaineer through the Rockies to Calgary!




Vancouver Spots

Posted by on Aug 30, 2013 in Featured Slider, Restaurants, Travel | 0 comments

Vancouver Spots

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We spent the first half of the day checking out a couple Vancouver neighbourhoods, Granville Island and Chinatown. Breakfast was a smoked meat-filled bagel from Siegel’s Bagels at the Granville Island market. The market was full of offerings from local providers including amazing produce from the area’s farmers. It was exotic to our eyes and utterly beautiful.

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After breakfast, we continued on outside the market and checked out a cute dog and cat place that specializes in home made, baked on the premises dog goodies. Yes, everybody is getting spoiled!.

Chinatown is next in our tooling about. Friday finds the streets full and bustling with shoppers. We soak up the streets as we move towards the Chinese Cultural Center where the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen  Gardens are housed in an old, tile topped, walled courtyard. The gardens are lush and mossy. Silent and peaceful. Magnolias, bamboo, Japanese maples shade pathways and over hang a pond afloat with lilypads in flower. Koi cruise coloufully under the surface. Chinese structures artfully frame views. As we continue on, we are asked to pay a small fee to center a more manicured garden, hung with classic red lanterns, paved with intricate stone tiles and home to several bonsai treasures. The Gardens are truly memorable.

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A Diners, Drive-ins and Dives recommendation, Peaceful Restaurant, is on tap for lunch after an amazing morning strolling through the Granville Public Market and The Chinese Gardens in Chinatown.

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Peaceful is an unassuming, Northern Chinese hallway of a joint on Broadway. Not technically Chinatown, but Guy Fieri has enticed us away with his ravings over the beef roll here. We find street parking and forget to drop a twoonie in the meter, for which we will pay handsomely later. The restaurant is jam packed at 1 pm this Friday. We are lucky to be seated right away. Hot complimentary red and green blended tea lands immediately on the table. The place oozes 1970 Chinese restaurant ambiance, that is to say, none whatsoever. Clearly, they focus on really good food, not decor. The menu has 49 items on it including soup, noodle dishes and a variety of steamed and pan fried goodies. We would like to try a few things and as we gaze around at other tables, we note that portion sizes are quite generous. We settle on three things to share: Peaceful House Noodles, Beef Rolls and Steamed Pan-Fried Pork Bao Buns. Peaceful has no diet soda so we ask for ice water, which arrives quickly sans ice.

Our noodles arrive first. Delicious handmade noodles bathed in a sweet soy chili sauce, just hot enough for a slow burn and complimentary enough not to drown out the delicate seafood and pork in the dish. The noodles are the star of this dish and are quite unmanageable without cutting up or doing a rendition of Lady and the Tramp if sharing.

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Pacing of the dishes at Peaceful is very well done. About a minute after finishing our noodles, the beef rolls are presented. Flaky, pan-fried scallion pancakes are spread with a hoisin and sweet bean paste and then covered with house made roast beef shank which has been braised with star anise, hunan chili, bay leaf, cinnamon, fennel, cardamom, green onion, rock sugar salt, pepper, dark and light soy and cooking wine, and then rolled jelly roll style. They are everything Guy said they would be – crispy, sweet and delectable. They were like beefy, savoury cinnamon rolls — layers of anise-laden beef and sweet hoisin and crispy, scallion-laced pancake. Shortly another couple was seated beside us and asked us a few questions about our meal. Turns out they were also from Ottawa and had come specifically for the beef rolls.

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Our final dish arrived. The bao was fine but not spectacular. Heavy on the dough with minced pork inside, served with a soy dip. Minced pork tends to be a little pasty and I’m not fond of the texture. The pan-fried bottom was a tad tough. They were perfectly okay, but not nearly as wonderful as our other two dishes.

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With full belly and happy mouth we head back to the hotel to relax before an evening of comedy. And to pay a parking ticket.


Vancouver Arrival!

Posted by on Aug 30, 2013 in Restaurants, Road Trip, Travel | 0 comments

Vancouver Arrival!

Early morning today. Up well before the sun, but not before Scout. Fed the kitties, snuck past a groggy dog and headed to the the airport. We breeze through the long line at security because Rob was the lucky random selection for an explosives swipe. Flights on time, no immigration. Except for the hour, this is painless. Flying within Canada and not crossing into the United States is so much more pleasant. Felt less like cattle and more like a crated dog. We arrive in Van on time, get our rental and we are here! The drive into downtown along Granville Road is pleasant with cedar-lined properties, pretty homes and little shops. Can’t wait to explore the city.

This evening after a little nap we are meeting up with a high school chum, Donna, who has been living out here for twenty-one years now. She has suggested Joe Forte‘s a Vancouver establishment, for drinks.

We arrive at Joe’s a little before 6:00. The place is lively with an after work crowd. An old school oyster and chop house, Joe’s is exactly the perfect place to relax after a long day and catching up with a friend. We luck into three seats at the oyster bar, settle in to watch the shuckers in action, while two cold local Granville Island Cypress Honey Lagers are placed in front of us. The beer is crisp, smooth with a nice bit of body. Perfect compliment for fresh oysters. While we wait for Donna, we check out the menu and the plates being ferried from table to table by white coated waitstaff. If looks are anything, choosing will be difficult. Sticking to local west coast seafood will help. Our waitress informs us that Halibut and Dungeness crab are in season, as is wild Pacific salmon.

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Donna arrives and it’s like thirty some years never passed. Conversation is easy and we catch up. I have lots of questions about life on the coast. Winter is coming to Ontario in the next few months and I’m already looking at an exit strategy. Vancouver is really appealing with its fresh seafood and year round farmers markets, excellent Asian food and mild climate. And ocean. And Mountains. And Hockey. And it is in Canada. Van has it all it seems. Now I just have to convince Rob that he wants to live on a boat.

Tonight Rob and I decide to share fresh oysters (because why wouldn’t you?), the Dungeness Crab Cake, Iceberg Wedge Salad and Tempura Alaskan King Crab. We also decided on a half bottle of  Kettle Valley 2010 Pinot Noir Reserve. BC wines are harder to come by in Ontario because of unfathomable trade restrictions so we will enjoy them as much as possible while we are here.

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The oysters at Joe’s are sublime. Perfectly shucked, sweet, briny. Served with fresh horseradish, cocktail sauce, champagne mignonette and a soy sesame ponzu sauce. The dungeness crab cake came with a fresh slaw and a generous spicy basil-lemon aioli swipe. The cake was lightly fried and heavy with crab. It was for all intents and purposes an excellent cake but I prefer large lumps of crab not shredded pieces so it was not to my liking.

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The wedge salad came divided on two plates for us. Cool, crisp and delicious with diced tomato, crumbled bacon and excellent blue cheese, lightly dressed with a mild creamy blue cheese dressing and green onion. This is an old-school item that we are seeing more these days. Rob orders it whenever he sees it on a menu.

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The tempura Alaska king crab was probably my favorite offering.  Served with an avocado guacamole and a sweet soy syrup, tempura battered and fried, the crab had a nice crunchy exterior – hardly a tempura, but excellent nevertheless – and a sweet, delicate crab interior.

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Too bad there are so many excellent places to try in Vancouver and so little time. I would come back to Joe Forte’s in  heartbeat.

Long-Awaited Bao Cart

Posted by on Aug 16, 2013 in Featured Slider, Local, Restaurants | 1 comment

Long-Awaited Bao Cart

2013 is the year Ottawa finally jumped on the exciting food truck bandwagon that most major cities have already embraced. Offerings include BBQ, Texan, Korean and Indian among others. Rob and I have been awaiting the opening of the Gongfu Bao food cart for some time. When Ottawa announced the introduction of these new restos on wheels back in May, we headed to the corner of Elgin and Slater for a quick lunch. Alas the cart was not to be found. I started stalking them on Facebook and learned that they were not operational, working out kinks, waiting for the cart and on and on.  I soon forgot about them. Then finally in August they are up and running.

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Today the dog and I walked over, braving threatening weather. Rob was meeting us there between meetings. When I arrive at 11:30 there is a small line up. I’m eighth in line. They are a half hour late getting started. The young man taking orders in line says the steamer takes at least 10 minutes to get to temperature and then it has to cook the buns. Gonfu offered up two steamed buns today, Maple Charsiu Pork Bao and a Tofu Spinach Curry bun. Those of you who know me know I wrote tofu off last year after many failed attempts to like it, and so I ordered us two of the pork buns with the Killer Slaw. I actually ordered twice, because when the line was only 10, the young man asked us what we wanted so they could get going. He then came around 15 minutes later with a pen and paper and did the same thing over again. When all was said and in my hand to be gobbled, I had waited in line for 40 minutes. I’m glad I do not have the office job most people in line were trying to get back to.

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We settled down on a nearby bench with fellow bao dinners and dug in. The Killer Slaw is well, …killer. Excellent. Tangy with a bit of heat, crunchy with paper thin mandolined vegetables, peanuts and crispy fried onion. The bao itself was decent. I would prefer a little thinner, stickier dough. The bbq pork interior was plentiful, tasty and sweet. Did not detect any discernible maple,  but it was quite flavorful. $20 for two buns, slaw and two locally made ginger beers.

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The Gongfu cart offers good value and pretty good fare. Would I wait 40 minutes in line for it again? No. I was really waiting for this particular rolling resto to get up and running. I sincerely hope the young guys putting their heart and souls into this enterprise succeed, but they really need to get organized and open on time. People are fairly patient in this city but they, for the most part have to eat and return to work and other options are plentiful. Located at Confederation Park, corner of Slater and Elgin Streets

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Texas in a Bowl

Posted by on Aug 16, 2013 in Featured Slider, Products | 0 comments

Texas in a Bowl

I’m not a huge fan of bottled salsas. Something is lost in the translation from fresh. They are often too hot or too sweet with no real depth of flavour. I can barely tell one commercial brand from the next. Even smaller boutique varieties with their mango and corn entries, tend to miss the mark. In a word they are …boring. Recently one of my neighbours brought by a bottle of locally made Texas salsa. I was skeptical as I am with all bottled salsas now. I have since tried both the regular and smoky varieties and can affirm that both are excellent. I won’t buy any other salsa. My search is over. Texas salsa combines the right textures, a rich, smoky, roasted tomato puree with small chunks of onion, jalepeno and avocado, brightened with lime, cilantro, cumin and some back heat. Pairs well with ultra thin tortilla chips (we like Xochitl) without breaking. Not being super chunky makes it a perfect taco topper as well. Available at corner stores in Sandy Hill in Ottawa and at some farmers’ markets. A portion of sales benefit the homeless which is indeed very nice but should in no way affect your reason to buy this product. It stands on it’s own as the best bottled salsa I have tried to date.

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N’awlin’s BBQ Shrimp

Posted by on Aug 5, 2013 in BBQ, Featured Slider, HM Kitchen, Travel | 0 comments

N’awlin’s BBQ Shrimp

BBQ shrimp is a dish that has little to do with BBQ as most people know it. We first experienced the dish at Mr. B’s in New Orleans’s after a night prowling the French Quarter for the best sazerac. Bellied up to the bar and bebibbed (?), we dipped amazing fresh, crusty, chewy, bread into a divine, rich, buttery, black pepper-laced, sauce with six plump, head-on, shell-on, gulf shrimp, simmered in said divine sauce waiting to be devoured. Elbows up! Do not wear white. Naked would work best.

We were so enamored with this simple dish that we wanted to recreate it at home. Mr. B’s provides the recipe willingly and it’s spot on. This dish can almost certainly be made with ingredients on hand except for the shrimp and fresh baguette. Make sure you read the recipe through and have your ingredients ready to go. It cooks up fast, in about 3-4 minutes. The shrimp, having a starring role, absolutely must be wild-caught Gulf shrimp. Pelican in Ottawa always has them, but unfortunately they cannot be had anywhere in Ottawa with their heads on for authenticity.  Beer pairs really well with the sauce and cuts its richness. Yes — that really does say three sticks of butter! Don’t skimp. Go to the gym.

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Breakfast: The Old Coffee Pot

Posted by on Mar 26, 2013 in Featured Slider, Restaurants, Travel | 0 comments

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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Real Deal Cajun Crawfish Boil

Posted by on Mar 24, 2013 in Featured Slider, Restaurants, Road Trip, Travel | 0 comments

Real Deal Cajun Crawfish Boil

Crawfish, crawdads, mudbugs… whatever y’all call ‘em, they are in season here in Louisiana, and they are delicious. Rob and I have had crawfish, often frozen, in effoutees and fish pies, but have never been in the south when they are fresh in season. Roadfood’s Foodfest Crawfish boil was the main reason for this trip to New Orleans. Last night’s real-deal Cajun “Fait Dos-Dos” crawfish boil at Bayou Barn did not disappoint.

We lined up for the 30 minute bus trip to the bayou. As we waited we discovered all of our fellow nearby patrons were not just from Canada, but from various towns in Ontario. We also lucked out and had Michael Stern riding shotgun on our bus and chatting over the PA system. Michael Stern is the Founder of Roadfood.com and author of many books and magazine articles on road food and special food finds along America’s highways and byways.

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Disembarking at the Barn, we hear the strains of a zydeco band pumping out some lively tunes and head inside to the rustic, wood-hewn, open-air  space. White strings of Christmas lights lend a festive party atmosphere. We immediately find a table with two other St. Louis-based roadfood festers that we had met earlier in the day at the street fair. They invite us to sit and shortly a Canadian couple we met on the bus joins us. It was like being with old friends so far from home and made the evening really enjoyable.

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Abita Amber beer and light beers are flowing freely. The band is in full swing. We are being called to join the line. Crawfish is in the house! Actually its in a canoe. Hundreds of pounds of steamed, bright red crustaceans are being dumped into a canoe along with steam trays of corn on the cob. Boiled red-skinned potatoes occupy one end of the boat. Large cardboard containers are on hand to scoop up as many mudbugs as you can carry. A second container was needed for corn and potatoes. We stuffed plastic forks and napkins into pockets.

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Back at our table, we were all anxious to dive in. But how? Rob gave us an impromptu demonstration on how to deal with a crawfish that he had seen on a video. “Twist the tail off, remove first section of carapace, straighten tail, gently tug meat out with teeth, suck on head.” I was a little leery about the head part but it turns out that there is really nothing inside except a little of the boil liquid which offers a nice hit of spice. Our table continued to plow through what must have been thirty pounds of the little guys. It’s a lot of effort for a little piece of sweet meat, but the beer, music and company make it a party.

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The Cajun “Fait Dos-Dos” is not complete without a whole pig barbequing out back and pounds of shrimp on a boil. Wow. The pork was moist, succulent. Some of the meat had been mixed with a sweet, dark bbq sauce. Other meat had been set aside naked with a sweet honey mustard on the side.

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Later in the evening the shrimp finally arrived. Sweet, Gulf peel-and-eat shrimp boiled in spice. Dessert was a lovely, hot, steamed bread pudding with a sweet, sticky, warm bourbon whole pecan topping.

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By now most people had eaten their fill and more, and taken to the dance floor. The band provided some crude instruments such as washboards and spoons to the revellers and amped up the party a bit.

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Where is that bus now? Fait dos-dos…


NOLA Local FoodFest 2013

Posted by on Mar 23, 2013 in Featured Slider, Travel | 0 comments

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 RoadFood.com. 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 form 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

Posted by on Mar 23, 2013 in Cocktails, Featured Slider, Restaurants, Travel | 1 comment

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.

All content and photography copyright (c) 2010-2013 by Robert and Maureen Rose. All rights reserved.