I was recently in New Orleans for the Association of Food Journalists annual conference. Boy, do they know how to eat and party down there! As Leah Chase, the doyenne of Creole cuisine told us, while New Orleans may not be the home of big business, “people are our industry here” and everyone works hard to ensure that visitors have a rip-roaring good time. Based on my short visit, anyone who enjoys good food will have fun in New Orleans.
The French Quarter was as I remembered it, full of revelers at all hours. Bourbon Street was a neon spectacle, while the rest of the streets in the Quarter are noteworthy for their 19th Century architecture, primarily Creole townhouses with wrought iron, hanging plants on every balcony, and hidden courtyards. Venturing into the Garden District, the mansions on St. Charles Avenue are a stunning jumble of Greek Revival, Colonial, and Victorian, many inhabited by the creme of New Orleans Society. I acquired a new vocabulary while touring the area–have you ever heard of a shotgun or camelback house?!
Honestly, though the design tutorial was a delightful bonus, I was there to sample New Orleans cuisine, past and present. I was drawn to the classic dishes–turtle soup, gumbo, etouffee, po-boys, soft-shelled crab, and bbq shrimp (not barbecue as Kansas Citians know it, rather sauteed with a worchestershire-based butter sauce), but the group was also treated to trendy riffs on old favorites by NOLA’s hottest chefs. One evening I sampled sweetbreads on truffled grits with bacon au jus, pork belly with cucumber mint relish, grilled oysters, short ribs with cauliflower puree, pork cheeks with dirty rice, tuna with squash puree, pickled shrimp, and toffee pudding. Paired with classic New Orleans cocktails like a Sazarac, a French 75, and Corpse Reviver, this was an easy assignment to swallow.
New Orleanians are incredibly passionate about their food. They consider supporting local restaurants akin to missionary work, going out to dinner almost every night. We heard many a story about restaurant owners doggedly working to reopen after Katrina, knowing that their establishments provided a safe haven (literally and figuratively) from the destruction outside. Though the city’s reconstruction is not yet complete, the resilience and pride of the community is present on every street corner.
Look for another post soon with a list of must-try restaurants for your next visit.