We are going to New Orleans at the end of this week, one of our favorite food destinations! To prep for our journey we’ve been doing a lot of of research into what food we want to eat, and what music we want to hear (answer: EVERYTHING). Appropriately, we unearthed a food story at the junction of food and music that involves one of New Orleans’ favorite sons, Louis Armstrong. It turns out that along with being the lauded musicians that he was, Louis Armstrong was a major foodie. In fact, he often signed his letters, “Red Beans and Rice-ly yours,” after his favorite dish. In 1971, Louis Armstrong gave one of his final performances, which was then released as an album, also called Red Beans and Rice-ly Yours with a booklet of his favorite recipes. The rare album has been recently reissued with recipes intact: red beans and rice and all.
Red beans and rice have long been an iconic part of New Orleans cuisine, and every cook makes them a different way, though ham hocks and the holy trinity of onion, celery and bell peppers are the traditional flavorings. NPR details Armstrong’s international food adventures, including finding the only Chinese restaurant in Nairobi, and also provides and transcribes his original, personal recipe for red beans and rice, which you can see below. It turns out the Armstrong isn’t the only one musician who loved Red Beans and Rice, other New Orleans musicians and residents have adopted the dish as their favorite meal to share for years.
The pronunciation of some words is enough to separate locals from tourists, and connoisseurs from newbies. One of those such words is “Boudin.” Boudin, a rice-stuffed pork sausage from Louisiana, is pronounced “boo-dan” not “boo-deen,” as one might expect. Boudin is found all over Cajun country (you can even take “Boudin Trail” tour), and is descended from sausages found in French Acadian cuisine. Boudin is available in any good Louisiana Cajun restaurant or grocery store, but we think we have found our favorite way to enjoy Boudin – as a late-night Po’Boy topped with pulled pork.
Southern Dawgz Stand -ready for night owls
We found this particular incarnation of Boudin sold in a stand called Southern Dawgz on the corner of Florida and 3rd in downtown Baton Rouge. The truck is there most Thursday-Saturday nights (until 2 AM!), and there is a small selection of items, though most everyone is there for the Boudin. You can get a basic Boudin dog, or a “Bleu” topped with blue cheese or a “Heart Attack” topped with bacon. The cookmaster of this particular Boudin stand is Jerry, who is actually from Southern Ohio, and sous chef is from Indiana. Boudin is often sold in fried “Boudin Balls” much like meatballs, but at Southern Dawgz you get them in a form similar to brats. We ordered a smoked Boudin Po’Boy, which was great. The filling was perfectly seasoned, and the Boudin link had a charred snap. However, Jerry upped the ante by suggesting we try the stand’s “Red Dawg,” a Boudin dog topped with pulled pork and a tomato-based BBQ sauce. The pulled pork was a great addition, and contributed even more to the ultimate late night pig out!
Southern Dawg photo by digbatonrouge.com
The area around Lafitte, LA (seen by airboat)
Last weekend we had the good fortune to visit M’s dad in Louisiana – where we had a fun time exploring Baton Rouge, Cajun Country, and even spending a day in New Orleans. We had a lot of fun seeing the sights and eating as much as we could, from every type of cuisine available (including some tasty grub at an extravagant LSU tailgate). In the next few weeks we’ll be talking about some of the places we were fortunate enough to visit, thanks to recommendations from friends, family and even ETW readers. In the mean time, here are the stops we made on our food journey:
- Southern Dawgz, Baton Rouge
- Chelsea’s, Baton Rouge
- Tsunami, Baton Rouge
- Parkway Bakery and Tavern, New Orleans
- Cafe du Monde, New Orleans
- Roberto’s River Road Resataurant, Sunshine, LA
- The Cabin, Burnside, LA
930 Tchoupitoulas Street
New Orleans, LA
We are big fans of smaller, cheaper branches of upscale restaurants, (Xoco, etc.) since we like good food, but we like it even more when it is cheap. Cochon Butcher is the casual spinoff of more upscale spot Cochon, which has long been a darling of the NOLA foodie scene. It was made even more attractive of an option, being one of the few places in the Central Business District (CBD – where our hotel was) that was open on a Thursday night. The offerings at Cochon Butcher mostly consisted of small plates and sandwiches, though it is also a working deli and a bar as well (you can even see the meats curing right there on the wall). The Cochon Butcher sandwiches all featured the in-house charcuterie and the selection of sandwiches varies nightly. We can tell it’s a popular place, when we arrived at 8PM; some varieties had long been sold out.
Among the remaining options we opted for the Carolina BBQ pulled pork ($10), and the muffaletta ($12). So, one obvious choice and one more adventurous one. NOLA is not exactly known for its BBQ – though it has amazing food. However, we never miss the chance to try some good BBQ from a respectable southern restaurant. The pulled pork had a North Carolina style sauce, and was absolutely perfectly seasoned, right down to the pink smoke rings (yum). On the other hand, ordering a Muffaletta in New Orleans is a very obvious choice. The Muffaletta – probably one of the most famous sandwiches in New Orleans – was piled high with deli cuts on a large focaccia roll with olive relish. Though not perhaps as famous as Central Grocery’s, Cochon Butcher made an amazing Muffaletta, with their homemade charcuterie and olive spread.
We finished off the meal with something else that we cannot pass up at a good Southern restaurant – a bowl of Mac & Cheese ($6). This variety came with a helping of Pancetta. M is much more of a fan of Pancetta than L – so she was a bit wary to try this offering – however we were both pleasantly surprised. – the highlight of all of the dishes was probably the Mac & Cheese. It was extremely decadent and not overpowered by the Pancetta at all. For the price, Cochon Butcher has amazing quality, and for a bit more of an expense-account dinner we’d love to try Cochon.
1109 Decatur Street
New Orleans, LA
When we were looking for places to eat in New Orleans we were warned against the French Quarter restaurants for being generally high-priced and too tourist-centric. However, there were a few diamonds in the rough, including Coop’s Place. For Southern cooking in the vicinity of the French quarter this is one of your best options. Coop’s, with less than a dozen rickety table and a retro bar, probably qualifies as a hole in the wall. Coop’s also has a pretty strict seating policy – no reservations allowed – you just tell the hostess your party size. The host then continuously scans the line (which often snakes around the block) and when one of the tables in the tiny place opens up with your group size– you’re in (even if that 2-top that just got a table arrived a half hour later than your 4-top)!
The menu at Coop’s is pretty extensive and has touches of both Cajun and Creole cooking. A posted menu board also lists some daily specials including Shrimp Etouffee and Alligator. M couldn’t decide among the options – so he was really pleased that there was a sample platter featuring some Southern Favorites ($12.95) – Jambalaya, Gumbo, Red Beans & Rice, and some BBQ shrimp and pasta. M was especially a fan of the jambalaya and gumbo, both of which were extremely flavorful and full of spice. The BBQ shrimp was also good, but could not measure up to the other offerings.
L was decisive however – and was prepared to tackle the LARGEST PLATE OF FRIED CRAWFISH EVER (our name, yours for only $11.25). We did not know going in that this was going to be the LARGEST PLATE OF FRIED CRAWFISH EVER when we ordered, but when the mammoth plate arrived, we were prepared for the challenge. The plate itself was probably about 12 inches diameter and was piled high with piping hot, fresh-out-of-the-frier crawfish. Needless to say we were pleased (and we only ended up finishing about ½ of the plate). Coop’s Place is definitely a NOLA experience, from the regulars at the bar, to the abundant crawfish supply, if you can spare the wait; it’s a great French Quarter option.
Cafe du Monde
800 Decatur Street
New Orleans, LA
There are some places that are tourist draws for a reason – and still manage to turn out good food even with the constant onslaught of crowds. Cafe du Monde is one of those places. Since 1862, Cafe du Monde has been turning out world-famous beignets with cups of trademark chicory coffee. You can wither choose to sit in the historic open-air tent or take your coffee and beignets to go. Either way, expect a line, even though CdM is open 24h!
A beignet is really nothing more than a fried piece of dough, doused with a heaping helping of powdered sugar; however, like the descriptions of many of our favorite baked goods, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Chicory coffee, again deceptively simple, is basically a strong coffee blend mixed with chicory root. It is a pretty divisive topic – people either love it or don’t get its appeal, I think I am a fan so far (though M doesn’t drink coffee so his verdict is still out).
We arrived at Cafe du Monde on a pleasant fall day, and decided to enjoy our treats in nearby Jackson Park – so we headed straight for the takeout line. The line went pretty rapidly (an order or two of beignets seemed to pretty much be the standard order) and the cashier was hyper-efficient (as the cashiers at this type of high-volume operation tend to be). Within a minute or two we were out – a small pack of three beignets and a cup of chicory coffee in our possession. The beignets especially were amazing, totally fresh and way more delicious than they needed to be. Moreover – we were covered in clouds of powdered sugar for the next few hours. The pigeons of Jackson Park enjoyed the powdered sugar even more than we did, however. We’d love to try to make beignets someday, but I think we’d prefer a return trip to New Orleans.
It’s not called Fat Tuesday for no reason. Shrove Tuesday, the last day before Lent begins, is a traditional day of feasting. Naturally, in the US the focus is on Creole and Cajun Mardi Gras foods due to the big way that New Orleans celebrates the holiday. For an awesome intro, Epicurious has a new guide on Cajun and Creole food, because as we learned, there is a difference. If you’re feeling especially festive (or hungry) Chow has a recipe for King Cake (Galette des Rois – seen below) and Gumbo Pages has a history and recipe of the ubiquitous Muffaletta.
However, in addition to the Nawlins Mardi Gras we know and love, there are some other pretty great food traditions, such as Paczki Day in Chicago. Paczkis (pronounced poonch-key) are filled doughnuts and are traditionally consumed in areas with high Polish populations. On the other side of the pond, the tradition in England is to have Shrove Tuesday Pancakes (is it a coincidence that IHOP has free pancakes today?). In Sweden, the day is called Fettisdagen, and a traditional pastry of semolina wheat called Semla is consumed. Basically every country or community that celebrates Easter has their own Mardi Gras food traditions, and they all sound pretty delicious to us!