Today, Sunday is our last full day in the Big Easy. We are determined to try a N’awlins classic, the muffaletta sandwich. Research tells us that Central Grocery is the originator of this sandwich. This is highly disputed by Frank’s, an Italian eatery a couple doors down. Since Central Grocery does not feel it is necessary to open on a Sunday, we choose Franks. Who has the best Muff? This is as highly contested an issue as who has the best po’boy, but alas we have time to try just one.
Frank’s has just opened when we arrive. We are eating in and everyone else appears to be taking out. So… we are seated alone upstairs and bathed in sunlight from the 12 foot windows over looking the French Market. The walls are painted with Italianate columns and Venice canal scenes, the ceiling is a peeling, watermarked faux sky. A seventies soundtrack emanates from speakers, the clash of cutlery tinkles from the wait station where a server prepares for the day. The ambiance: think 1960’s hotel ballroom. Our sever is loud and friendly. We ask a few questions about serving sizes. We have been burned before. Southern portions tend toward the large size. In the end we decide to split a half muff…a quarter each and Rob ordered a cup of seafood gumbo and I chose a cup of crab and corn bisque.
Our cups of soup come on little plates papered with old fashioned lace doilies. Rob’s seafood gumbo was rich in flavour and spice, but was overly salty. My crab bisque on the other hand was fabulous, packed with crab, creamy to the perfect consistency, with a nice intense corn flavour. My only issue is semantic. This heavy, thick soup is a chowder, not a bisque. Seafood bisque is a flavourful broth concocted from roasting or boiling shells and harvesting the essence held within, but results in a much thinner preparation, in my experience.
Our sandwiches arrive unadorned on plates. Muffaletta is prepared on a large round sesame bun created just for this reason. The sandwich consists of thin layers of deli salami, capicolla ham and emmenthal cheese and is then finished with an olive salad. You need to be an olive lover to enjoy a muffaletta. The flavour is intense green olive. Carrots, pimentos, garlic, olive oil and wine vinegar round out the relish. This muffaletta is a wonderful savoury combination, marred only slightly by the slightly dry bun that was at least a day old — perhaps the reason why Central Grocery is not open on Sundays? I will definitely recreate this classic at home. I adore olives.
Full and satisfied, we spend an hour perusing the French Market aka Touriste Trappe Dat. If you need voodoo dolls, mardi gras beads and masks, cheap purses adorned with fleur de lis, or hot sauce, come on down. We were looking for and found Zatarains Crab boil. We intend to recreate a few memories for friends when we get home.
We decide to hop across the street to Margaritaville (warning chain restaurant alert!) for a marg before heading back to the Monteleone’s rooftop pool and bar. We seat ourselves at the bar and order margaritas. “House?” the barkeep asks and, yes, we agree. One sip and I know I have made a grievous error. I already knew by the colour that it was a sody pop marg. I pushed it aside and asked him for a Landshark. “Don’t like the marg?” he asked. “Too Sweet?” He knew. He tells me I want a Perfect Margarita – it’s not on the menu and it’s strong. I watched as he mixed tequila, fresh lime, triple sec and lime cordial, shook it and poured it over ice in a glass with a salted rim. The Perfect Margarita. It was…especially in a bar where a transplant and a true southerner were willing to talk about the only two subjects that matter: the weather…and hockey.
Dinner tonight is at the upscale The Rib Room at the Omni Hotel. I don heels at risk of life and limb. If you have ever visited New Orleans you will understand this risk. Foot cramps in hockey skates are the very least of my concerns at this point. Not breaking an ankle on a sidewalk in New Orleans will be an accomplishment.
The Rib Room is a block and a half from our hotel. We have 7 pm reservations, but on a Sunday the city is emptying out and reservations don’t seem necessary. The restaurant is old school, upscale, white linens and silver. We ask for a window seat and are seated side by side at an oversized widow over looking Royal Street in the French Quarter. Our server is awesome. A New Orleans native familiar with the food and tradition that is N’awlins. He popped in and out of our evening in colourful fashion.
I am determined to have a sazerac on this the last evening I am to spend in the city. I have no idea whether or not I will like it. Our server warns us that it’s strong, beware. Forewarned we sip on. Sazerac is a a slightly sweet summer sipping whiskey drink. On this our first encounter, I can understand the allure. It is powerful, but the edge is taken off and you are lulled nicely.
For an app I order crab cakes. Our server announces that they are 95% crab. Rob orders the turtle soup. The crab cakes are among the best I’ve ever had. They are mostly crab held together by possibly a little egg and a bit of parsley, lightly fried and served on a bed of pickled onion, pepper, and fennel salad…sublime. Crab needs to be the unadorned star of a dish. Crab cannot be just a flavouring or it is lost. The turtle soup, a first for Rob, was tomato-based and meaty, enriched by a table-side glug of sherry.
My entree comes with a salad. The salad is a classic iceberg salad dressed with a mild, creamy blue cheese dressing, with lightly toasted croutons. Rob’s shrimp and tasso ham salad is very good. The gulf shrimp are flavourful and the tasso is succulent and perfectly salty. They are paired with young spinach, pickled onions, creole mustard and a light vinaigrette.
Our mains arrive, nicely paced. My shrimp and scallop risotto is well executed. The gulf shrimp are plump and tasty, the scallops are lightly sauteed and perfect. The toothsome risotto is the perfect lightly spiced starchy base for the delicate seafood. Rob ordered braised rabbit, prepared with a light cream, thyme and brandy sauce, paired with perfectly prepared southern grits which complemented the meaty, rich sauce.
We choose to share a Bananas Foster Cream Pie for dessert. The flaky crust and rum soaked bananas bedded on a light cream base is a fine finish to the evening. I ask for cappuccino but the machine is not working. I opt for just regular coffee. Our server conspiratorially nods to his favorite coffee: a blend of coffee, Frangelico, Baileys and B and B. The B and B is just for the hell of it he tells me. How can you turn that down?
Now I have to get home on heels on the brutal sidewalks of New Orleans with the pleasant burn of Rib Room off-menu coffee making me a little tipsy. Our sweet server refused to charge us for the coffee (which came in a carafe that contained three cups at least) and told us to enjoy his city. Gotta love the south.