Tag Archives: New Orleans

RT3: NOLA – Muffaletta & Rib Room

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.

Frank’s bustling takeout business.
Olive Salad for DYI Muffs.

Frank's Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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.

Met this guy walking back to the car. We hope he’s in retirement from his career as “dog put through the wringer”.  He seemed content to hang outside a bar and enjoy the breeze.

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.

This traveling minstrel show set up across Royal St. from our window view at dinner. Rob would have put money in the hat to PLAY the guitar, not listen to him play.

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?

Rib Room on Urbanspoon

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.

A first: a picture that proves we were there. Just don’t get used to it.

RT2: NOLA – Local flavours

It’s over ninety degrees today in New Orleans. That’s about 40 in Canadian. It’s 3:30 in the afternoon and I am sitting rooftop and poolside at the Monteleone. Bliss. Perfect end to a perfect day that found us breakfasting and strolling in the French Quarter and and exploring the Treme district with a lunch stop at Willie Mae’s Scotch House.

Breakfast was at Cafe Beignet, a few blocks down Royal Street from our hotel. The Cafe is a quaint little place that is so very French Quarter, from the iron scroll tables and chairs, to the stripped awning, to the gold lettering on the door.

Cafe Beignet on UrbanspoonInside there is a virtual trompe l’oeil garden painted on the plaster walls and curved ceiling. The floor is large shards of marble and cement cobbled together like a flagstone patio. The tables inside are awkward tiny affairs with a railing around the edges making it difficult to find space for everything. We opt to eat on the patio where the tables are larger and shaded by palms. Rob lines up and orders for me as well. He knows I want some famous New Orleans coffee and chicory. He brings me back grits and a crawfish omelette, creole hash browns and eggs for himself. We get an order of beignets to finish.

Breakfast was somewhat disappointing. The coffee is served in paper cups not ceramic and I definitely think this diminishes the experience of coffee. It is not how I remember coffee here. It is not Cafe Du Monde‘s coffee. The omelette was the star of this breakfast. It was perfectly cooked and the crawfish were delicate and nicely spiced. There could have been more though. The chunks of fresh green pepper and tomato were also satisfying. Swiss cheese added another layer of flavour. The accompanying white corn grits were bland and unseasoned. I didn’t eat them and if it was my first experience with this culinary delicacy, I would never eat them again. These grits are the reason northerners don’t eat grits. Rob’s Cajun hash browns and andouille sausage was good overall, with the sausage providing the abundance of flavour. The potatoes were run-of-the-mill cubed potatoes but were elevated by the peppers, onions and sausage.

Crawfish omelette.
Creole hash browns with andouille sausage.

The beignets were good but dense and did not possess the delicate airyness of the beignets at Cafe Du Monde. They also do not have a half pound of icing sugar dumped on them and this is quite fine with us.

The cafe boasts a number of friendly sparrows hoping to share your doughnut, but watch out overhead. We both got crapped on. We were also surprised by a visit from a sweet little tabby cat and judging by the size of the bowl of kibble nearby, she is not alone in frequenting the cafe.

After breakfast, we went hat shopping and explored the Treme district (which should be well-known to watchers of HBO’s excellent series of the same name) and the 9th ward. There was still a lot of flood damage and places in terrible shape, although I am sure we didn’t see the worst of it. There was also a large number of new housing areas under development, although we’re sure that they are not affordable to those who had lost their homes to Katrina’s destruction. Five years on, this seems to be more of a man-made humanitarian disaster than anything caused by Katrina’s wake.

One of the good-news stories of the region was about Willie Mae’s Scotch House, named after Willie Mae, a 90-plus year old woman whose restaurant was destroyed by Katrina and with her daughter’s and the community’s help re-opened her doors 4 years later. It is seen as one of the emblematic symbols of hope for many in the neighbourhood and has since been awarded a James Beard Award for southern cuisine and has been featured on Food Network’s Feasting on Asphalt.

Willie Mae's Scotch House on Urbanspoon

Willie Mae’s is on an upswing and very busy this fine Saturday. It’s a sticky kind of joint. Tables are a little tacky to the touch and the floor, well… Anyways, we are here to eat some soul food and floors are not my concern for another two weeks. The staff is friendly and the crowd is mixed but mostly black. Posters adorn the walls featuring black cultural icons like Miles Davis appearing at the Apollo and Charlie Parker performing at Massey Hall, as well as movie posters advertising Spike Lee’s documentaries about post-Katrina life in this district.

Willie Mae’s is noted for its fried chicken and touted as the best in America by the Food Network. A blessing or a curse? The chicken comes in three pieces, a large breast, wing and leg. It is hot and moist, with a lightly crispy, delicate crust, well seasoned and with a mild bit of heat. It is truly excellent fried chicken. The best in America? Even with my limited experience in several Southern states I could not make this pronouncement. I’ve had some damn fine fried chicken in Phoenix, Los Angeles, and Memphis. I expect to have more on this trip as well.

Rob ordered potato salad on the side and I ordered the butter beans. We both ordered a cornbread muffin. Potato salad was yellow and creamy with a slight kick of heat. The butter beans and rice were mildly smokey and excellent. I would go back for those alone. We ended up splitting one muffin. They were sweet and moist but not exceptional.

We opted to skip dessert and head over to Hansen’s Sno-bliz. We discovered Hansen’s on our last trip to the city. Hansen’s is a barely nailed together affair on Tchoupatoulis Street. The flimsy screen door is propped open by a brick and the interior is not air conditioned. It is a family affair and always has been. You choose whatever combination of flavours, made in house, that your little heart desires and they grind the ice and flavour them in front of you as you wait.

Rob ordered a peach cream and blueberry and I opted for a more exotic orange, anise and condensed milk concoction. I won. I was going for creamsicle and tiger tail and I got it. Rob’s was just cold and sweet. This trip unfortunately was not as memorable as the last. Sometimes you should just live with the memory.

Home made syrups!

Hansen's Sno-Bliz Shop on UrbanspoonToday, we think the guy shaving the ice was pushing it through too fast because the line was long. This produced a less than feathery soft result with little chunks of ice in the mix. Not bad by any means but not the velvety smooth, melt-on-your-tongue goodness we have experienced here before. I’d still go back for a lime coconut ginger though.

Dinner tonight is a casual affair. We feel like some seafood so we head to a local favorite, Deanie’s Seafood.

We are seated after a short wait. As we are leaving we hear the wait is an hour and twenty minutes. After being seated, our waitress plunks the oddest “freebie” ever down in front of us. Boiled red skinned potatoes. Hmm. We cut one open each revealing perfectly cooked taters with really creamy, soft interiors. But still they are just boiled potatoes. After taking a bite we realize that they have been boiled in a seafood spice blend. Our waitress tells us they use Zatarain’s Crab Boil. It is different from the peppery east coast seafood boil blends and has a red spicy heat element. At any rate they are completely addictive.

We order beers and choose from the menu. Fried crawfish tails for starters and bbq shrimp pasta for Rob,  flounder stuffed with crab dressing for me. My entree comes with a baked potato which I decline due to the fact that I have just eaten two and a half potatoes! It also comes with a salad. This is the anti-gourmet salad, simple, refreshing, crunchy and nicely dressed. It consists of the much maligned iceberg lettuce, grape tomatoes, cucumber rounds, some shredded cheddar and a really nice, sweet fig and balsamic dressing. The crawfish tails are perfectly fried in a corn batter with no greasy residue. They come with a classic horseradish ketchup based dipping sauce. Crawfish are crunchy with a snappier texture than shrimp but really are unidentifiable flavour-wise from deep fried shrimp.

Service is a tad slow for my liking but our server is pleasant and helpful. Our mains arrive and are placed steaming in front of us. Rob’s pasta was penne switched out for fettuccine, which was a nice choice for this dish. The star of the dish was the sauce. Deanie’s called it BBQ sauce, which it most certainly wasn’t == at least not any variety  we were familiar with. It was a buttery, spicy sauce with a hint of tomato and would have gone well with any fish or seafood, It was not too thick, but coated the pasta and shrimp well. My dish consisted of two nicely broiled flounder fillets stuffed with a well seasoned crab dressing that had a hint of heat. A generous squeeze of fresh lemon brightens the flavours in this dish. All in all, Deanie’s has a medium sized menu of simple but well prepared dishes.

Crab-stuffed flounder at Deanie’s
BBQ srimp penne at Deanie’s.

Deanie's Seafood on Urbanspoon

Tomorrow evening I will put on some heels and risk life and limb, ankles certainly, on the “sidewalks” of New Orleans and we will head to The Rib Room for a more upscale evening.

Bourbon Street – about to let loose!

 

 

 

 

 

RT…and we’re off!

Today began at 4:45 am. I never sleep the night before I fly and we set two alarms. It was dark of course as I struggled out of bed, but I was happy to be “getting on the road”. Our younger cat, Scout was asleep at the bottom of the bed, all puffy eyed with sleep and none too happy about the disruption. It is still a full hour and a half before she is supposed to lick me awake and failing that, knock my lamp on my head. Our older kitty Smudge is off pouting somewhere, as she has been since she saw me take the suitcases out.

We have a 7:30 flight to Charlotte and then connecting on to New Orleans. Our flying experiences have taught us not to depend on Ottawa international for sustenance so we bring along Chinese BBQ pork buns from Green Fresh, the perfect on-the-run snack, and some sweet cherries. Both flights are on time and have us in to New Orleans just after noon. Its 42 degrees, and humid. We are dressed for a cool Ottawa morning and a cold plane ride. Getting the rental car was unusually painless this time and our room at the Hotel Monteleone was ready for early check in. The travel fairies are in our corner today. Coincidentally there is an international food bloggers conference going on in the city and it is hosted at our hotel. Many of the bloggers I personally follow will be in attendance. We might possibly sign up for an event or two if there is space.

The view from our hotel room of the Mighty Mississippi.
French Quarter iron work

After unpacking, changing and settling in, we decide to grab a pint and a bite. Acme’s Oyster House is around the corner. We visited on our last trip and decided to brave the line and headed over. The line is long but if you are just two and say you will take a table or the bar, it gets you in faster. We were seated at a small table for two at the front window. Pleasant view except for the delivery truck blocking entire said view. No matter. We are hungry, thirsty and thrilled to be here.

We immediately order Blue Moon beers, a favourite of ours that is unavailable at home. We would have ordered a pitcher but it is so hot, it’s pointless. It would be warm before you could get to the bottom of it. The beer goes down easy. We order two more beers and an order of craw puppies, deep fried crawfish meat, spices, green onion and corn batter, which are much like seafood croquettes. The puppies come with a horseradish cream sauce, with a bite bigger than it’s bark for sure.

Next up, Rob ordered a shrimp po’boy, dressed, and I asked for a 1/2 shrimp po’boy with a cup of their crab and corn bisque soup of the day. Po’boys of course are classic N’awlins fare. The bread is slightly crispy with the perfect chewy factor. The shrimp on this po’boy were good but really indistinguishable from any fried fare. I am spoiled by the shrimp po’boy at Guys from my last visit to the city. At Guys the shrimp is lightly battered allowing the delicate flavour of the Gulf shrimp to shine through. The crab and corn bisque was a classic chowder, with a strong corn taste and a nice mild crab flavour.

We finished our “bite” with a shared dish of Acme’s bread pudding, highly recommended by our server. Hot, sweet with a solid pudding texture. Delicious!

Now fortified, we headed back into the heat of the French Quarter ready to explore a bit. But then, we looked at each other and realized more than anything, it was nap time.

Revitalized for the most part after a snooze, we headed out into the evening “blast furnace” that is New Orleans in late August. We strolled through the French Quarter, reminiscing about the last time. Our walk was peppered with foodie landmarks, all yet to be experienced by us., including Paul Prudhomme’s K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen, Emeril Lagasse’s NOLA, and Central Grocery where the muffaletta sandwich was born.

We found ourselves headed to Coop’s Place where we had enjoyed an inspired rabbit and ham jambalaya on our last visit. Still travel weary, we were not terribly hungry, but we were awfully thirsty.

Coop’s Place is an awesome dive bar. The bar, dim but warmly lit features a raw, rough oak top that owes its sateen finish to the oil, sweat and beers of thousands. Staff is accommodating but far from effusive. We took our “regular” seats at the bar, with our backs to the pool table, the Packers game and an altar of sorts, and ordered up a couple of beers.

We had to of course have some more of that amazing jambalaya and it can be ordered in a cup size. Perfect. Two cups of jamabalaya and a shared shrimp remoulade salad. The jambalaya was smoky and spicy with hot sauce. The andouille mild and flavorful. The salad was comprised of nice mixed very fresh greens, with large wedges of tomato and rounds of cucumber. The shrimp were plump and sweet. the dressing came on the side and was creamy and mild, a little herbaceous and slightly sweet.

Dinner by dive-bar light.

Our Annual Monster Road Trip

We are about to embark upon our annual Monster Road Trip. This year’s adventure will find us traveling from New Orleans to Chicago along three pre-interstate “mother roads”:

  1. The Great River Road from New Orleans to Natchez Mississippi
  2. The Natchez Trace, from Natchez to Nashville, through Jackson, Mississippi
  3. Route 66 from Saint Louis to Chicago
Google Maps route for this year’s journey.

As always we’ll be following our long-standing and religiously observed rules for road trips:

  1. Stop for any photo
  2. Stop for any story
  3. No interstate highways
  4. No chain restaurants

If you’d like a preview of what to expect: here are links from the starting pages of our previous road trips. Each one is the start of a dozen or so posts covering daily updates from the road – the sights, the events, and most of all, the FOOD! These are all from the “Happy Mouth Classic” version of the blog, our previous environment.

Road Trip 1 – From Austin, TX to Las Vegas, NV.

Road Trip 2 – From Seattle, WA to San Diego, CA and Palm Springs, CA

Road Trip 3 – From Austin, TX to Myrtle Beach, SC

See you from the road. Stay tuned!