Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Balls and Pie Guide to Eating in New Orleans

I do a pretty lousy job of posting regularly, and I'm kind of OK with that. Quite frankly, you don't pay me enough to feel too badly. Internet, you are a crappy boss. What I do feel somewhat bad about is not sharing more about where I think the good food comes from. And while I am neither Zagat nor Michelin, I know good food when I taste it. Good being entirely subjective to my tastes, of course. So, recently returned from 48 hr binge in my former home, the Big Sleazy, I'm inspired to give you a couple hints, tips and tricks. And the rest of you out there with similar or better expertise, I'm expecting you to chime in. Also, before I dive in - the Balls and Pie weekly prize for embodying all that's awesome about Balls and Pie goes to my Dad's Saturday evening meal choice: Crawish PIE and Fried Boudin BALLS. Way to go, Dad. Don't think I didn't notice.

Editorial Note: I've been writing this in drips and drabs for a few weeks now. I'm publishing as is, and adding as I go.
I miss New Orleans. I remember being ready to leave when I did, I remember why, but now, I just miss it. They don't get everything right, but they surely know how to serve a good meal. So, in no particular order (and I reserve the right to reorder later):

The Camellia Grill is a classic greasy spoon that serves up breakfast, lunch and dinner until late to Carrollton diners at its W(-ish) shaped counters. Pretty much everything served comes fresh off the griddle, with exception of the waffles. Even their famous pie (Pecan in particular) is warmed up on the grill before serving. It's pretty tough to go wrong here; I'm partial to their huge omelets (bacon and chili), people have died for their burgers (according to some sources, anyway), and you can find somebody that'll swear by just about everything in between. Did I mention that they have melted butter in syrup pourers? Yeah. The grill doesn't kid around. Also, don't leave without a freeze - Mocha is best. True Story. If you don't leave without a fist bump from one of the awesome waiters, you're doing it wrong.

Franky and Johnny's serves up my favorite lunch in New Orleans. The dimly lit uptown neighborhood restaurant and lounge provides New Orleans standards without pretense, and it's all great. Be sure to get a cup of gumbo and a Po-boy (fried oyster is my favorite) for your first time. The fried green pepper rings are pretty awesome, and you can usually get a decent serving of boiled crawfish as well. I had gator nuggets here once. 'Nuff said.

Taqueria Corona sadly closed down their warehouse district location, which was my go-to cheap, but awesome lunch. It's a bit of hike to get to their other locations in harahan or metarie, but as far as I know, their uptown shop still serves up delicious chorizo and shrimp and pork and carne asada tacos.

5 Happiness is my favorite chinese restaurant in they city. As it happens, my first name is pretty early by alphabetic standards. This means I get butt-dialed by just about everybody that doesn't know an aaron or abe or similar. My friends never had to worry about getting a call from me, because I was a good jewish boy and 5 Happiness always topped my address book. Hey, not all stereotypes are inaccurate. That said, if you're really in the mood for Asian, New Orleans is now full of great sushi restaurants (my favorites were Ninja and Rock n Sake), and NO East features a number of excellent vietnamese and other southeast asian restaurants.

Less Cheaper
Jacques-Imo's Cafe is tremendous. Were I put on the spot, and asked to name a favorite restaurant, this Oak Street establishment would be it. Serving up high-end Lousiana style food in a casual, fun atmopshere, Jacques-Imo's is pretty much good for anything who likes food. Their menu regularly features an nice assortment of Cajun, Creole and Southern standards and variations thereof, complemented by a second, full menu of daily specials. My favorite all time meal is a flash-fried trout meuniere with toasted pecans, followed closely by chicken-fried Venison. The appetizers are all great - fried green tomatoes and anything rabbit are highlights for me. And every meal is served with a small green salad, a fried oyster, and addictive corn bread muffins. Fair warning: be prepared to wait. It's well worth it, and the hostesses will come find you at the nearby Maple Leaf Bar.

Mr B's Bistro is a favorite among many restaurants in the assorted Brennan Family Restaurant Empire. I'd be hard pressed to describe the byzantine familial relations that govern the dozen or so restaurants, but fortunately, I only have to eat their food. In particular, I will not miss a Mr. B's. Sunday Jazz Brunch if I'm in town and not going to Noon kickoff Saints game.

Quick rule of thumb: Order anything served with any variation on Hollandaise.

I don't think I've been disappointed with anything on Mr. B's contemporary creole menu. Their Barbequed Shrimp is worthwhile for any first time visit. In addition to being served in a wonderfully indulgent spiced butter sauce, it's crazy messy, and generally good entertainment for the whole table. Recent highlights for me include (Bacon Wrapped) Shrimp and (Marscapone) Grits with Red-Eye Gravy and Fried oysters on the half shell with horseradish hollandaise. My all time favorite meal here - one of my top 3 breakfasts ever - was some kind of Eggs Benedict contraption with pork debris hollandaise, and biscuits instead of muffins. There was some kind of potato. Also, you are doing yourself a disservice if you don't try the Profiteroles. Seriously, I said Pork Debris Hollandaise, why are you still reading and not on a plane to New Orleans.

Cochon is the newest entry on this list. Just a few short years after I left, 2007 James Beard Awardee Chef Donald Link and 2011 James Beard Awardee, Stephen Stryjewski, opened up a cajun/pig themed restaurant less than 500 ft from my old back door.  (True Story - point A is my old back door, and point B is the restaurant). Great, if busy atmosphere, with what looked like a fun chef's table/bar thing looking into the ktichen. We had the aforementioned crawfish pie and fried boudin joined by the signature house Cochon (pulled pork butt, spiced, maybe lightly, lightly floured and fried into sort of a puck shape, served over roasted root vegetables). Great flavor that I'll recommend to anyone. However, by far the best dish on the table was the wood-fired oyster roast. I'm still not sure what the oysters (served on the half shell) were roasted in, but it was some kind of citrusy and buttery and of peppery amazing. Next on my list: the oyster and bacon sandwich.

(Also, if you clicked on my map, the Ugly Dog Saloon in between points A and B does pretty solid BBQ)

Coop's Place is my go to stop for late-night dining. Dad and I frequently end up in NOLA around 10 or 11 PM - sometimes later - and Coop's is an easy stop to make. They've got an inventive cajun menu, all of it good, not too pricey, and with generous portions. Plus, Rabbit Jambalaya. It's in the quarter, which I try to avoid, but it's on Decatur over toward the east end (Decatur @ Ursuline), and not too terrible to get a car parked in the general vicinity. And their purportedly "snarky"waiters happily give me nice, cold Turbodogs, usually the first I've had in a long while, so they're A-OK in my book. Not my favorite food in the city, but an easily recommendable, reliable meal.

Rambla was a recent conference discovery, courtesy the good people at opentable. Connected to the CBD's International House Hotel, Rambla invokes NOLA's spanish and french roots by creatively combining tapas and petit plats with locally inspired fare. The excellent wine list also features french and spanish varietals. Perennial ballsandpie favorites Gambas al ajillo and patatas pravas did not disappoint, and the oysters were great. Don't worry, if I find a bad oyster in the city, I'll let you know.

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