We’re baaaccckkk! We had a lovely time in the Crescent City (or the Big Easy, depending on what kind of mood you’re in.) Turns out that even a chilly, post Mardi Gras New Orleans is quite enough, merci beaucoup, to beat back the winter blues. I’m trying not to notice, actually, the drab mistiness settling in outside my window at the moment. I’m pretending I’m still in New Orleans, where the seafood is fresh, the streetcar is clanking up St. Charles, the beads are still determinedly hanging around, and the azaleas are already blooming.
Though I’ve been to New Orleans numerous times, too numerous to count really, this time was a bit different. We didn’t spend a whole lot of time in the French Quarter. We went briefly, of course, for a pair of obligatory stops; a quick pre-flight beignet and café au lait at the ever-popular Café du Monde, and a taste of the heavenly deliciousness that is Mississippi Mud at Laura’s (this is a must-do that has rubbed off from my friend Norma, who normally stops by this joint at least three times per trip–frankly, I don’t blame her.)
We also dined at the highly acclaimed Bayona, in the Quarter, where we were sorely disappointed. (Note to servers out there: when a customer asks what a hanger steak is, don’t tell them it used to be called the “butcher’s tenderloin” because the butcher often took it home to his wife since it wasn’t fit for sale. That’s just not a good selling point for a $31 steak. I’m just sayin’.) But, rather than dwell on the negative, let me instead offer a couple of note-worthy, less expensive, and less touristy, dining options in the Crescent City.
For one, the delightful Jacques-Imo’s came highly recommended by the porter in our hotel. It’s off the beaten path (you have to “take a streetcar named Desire, and then transfer to one called Cemeteries and ride six blocks and get off at Elysian Fields”–pardon me, I can’t help myself, I meant to say, ride the St. Charles Streetcar, get off at Oak and walk six blocks to the left), one of their tables is literally (and I do not overuse the word literally as that is a pet-peeve of mine) in the back of a pick-up truck and like the gallery owner next door told us, “an hour wait this far outside the French Quarter is the real deal.” Well said. He also implored us to get the Alligator Cheesecake as an appetizer. Thankfully, we do what we’re told, and in a blink of an eye, it was gone before I even considered taking a picture. I did slow down enough, however, to snap a photo of the house salad which had a sweet balsamic vinaigrette complete with a fried oyster.
Another notable option is the Blue Plate Café, where everything is served on, not surprisingly, blue plates. Try their blueberry biscuit and prepare to be astonished at its ample size. You’ll be taking some of this back to your hotel. I also chose the Goat Cheese Eggs on Toast Points with Tomato-Basil Relish and Breakfast Salad, which made it sound fancier than it was, but was nonetheless one of the most satisfying meals of my trip. I’ll be going back there. Plus, they had some charming and quirky decorative touches such as brain-shaped salt and pepper shakers and Barbie and Ken dolls indicating female and male bathrooms.
Next, it was a train trip through the bayou to visit S’s family and friends, where, unbeknownst to us at the time, we were to partake of their many homemade delights. We were 100% spoiled, enjoying every tasty morsel from Mama’s unbelievably good Christmas Lasagna to Aunt Missy’s Seafood Gumbo (quite a bit different from my previous post I must admit) to Tony’s freshly caught Fried Red Snapper feast, complete with Filet Mignon, Herbed Green Beans and even a Wedge Salad. I’m full just thinking about it all! And so thankful to know people who cook real food from the heart.
And then it was time to say goodbye with a final afternoon back in the city, roaming the Faubourg-Marigny and dining on a not-very-memorable fried shrimp Po’ boy. If you ever make it to New Orleans, let me urge you to please, please get your Po’ boy at Verdi Marte (Brad and Angelina do!). It’s a small grocery on Royal Street in the Quarter. There’s no seating, so take it to Jackson Square or the Riverbank. Do this on a sunny day, of course, which we didn’t have so we didn’t do, unfortunately. But since this city always finds a way to pull me back (I’ve yet to dine at Commander’s Palace after all), I’m sure I’ll have ample opportunity in the future.
Lucky for us, the best Po’ boy of the last couple of weeks was had right here at home. S and I usually use Mardi Gras as an excuse for dining on this delectable and
slightly abundantly sinful fried seafood sandwich. I’m not really sure why we wait for Mardi Gras since in Louisiana the Po’ boy is as ubiquitous as the hamburger or the grilled cheese, possibly even more so. We made ours with shrimp and oysters but the key, really, is finding the right bread. It should be of the French variety, but not too tough. It’s not a pleasant Po’ boy experience when the innards squirt all over the place because the bread was too hard to bite through. I found a nice one made in the bakery of our local grocery. It was a wide baguette and softer than usual. Try to subtly squeeze your options and go with the one that least resists your efforts.
Serves 2-3. For two, there will be some fried shrimp and oyster to nibble on the side. Even better!
- 1 french baguette
- 3/4 lb. peeled and deveined shrimp
- 1/4 lb. fresh oysters (buy them already shucked), cut in half if very large
- Canola oil
- fish fry (preferably Zatarain’s)
- 1/2 cup corn meal
- 1/4-1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning or Tony’s
- 1 egg
For the garnish
- chopped Romaine
- 1 tomato, sliced
- tartar sauce, ketchup, hot sauce
- sliced pickles (optional)
1. Prepare the bread by slicing it lengthwise and tearing out the insides, making a well for the fried seafood, but also taking care to keep the shell of the bread thick enough to hold the seafood. You don’t want your sandwich falling apart.
2. In a skillet, preheat enough Canola oil, over medium heat, to cover the shrimp and oysters. You’ll fry these in batches so be prepared to add more oil as you go. The oil is ready when you add the tip of a wooden spoon and the oil bubbles up. Or when it reaches 350°. To be more precise, you can follow this method for frying.
3. Beat the egg and mix it with the milk. Dunk the shrimp and oysters in the egg/milk bath, allow to drain a bit (in your hands for a couple of seconds) and place in a mixture of fish fry, corn meal and the spices. Shake or mix with your hands until completely coated. If they don’t hold the coating, add them back to the milk, then recoat in the fish fry mixture. Add gently to the skillet, in batches, and fry for about 2-3 minutes per side. Take care not to overcrowd the skillet (do this in about 4 batches, depending on the size of your skillet), which lowers the temperature and hampers the frying process. Drain on paper towel while you work on subsequent batches.
4. Once your frying is complete, garnish your sandwich with tartar sauce, ketchup (I mix the two, adding a dash of hot sauce) lettuce, tomato and pickle (if using). Serve immediately, with the fried shrimp and oysters and any leftover seafood on the side. If you can find them, add some Zapp’s.
Now I can get on with finishing my book club book. I only have three days. Wish me luck!