Our first day in New Orleans was awesome. Everything I had hoped for. But we still had 4 more days to go.
Matt and I had the whole Saturday to ourselves with just a few items on the agenda. One of them was breakfast. This is the hardest meal of the day for Matt when travelling. There are very few things in this work Matt does not eat, but unfortunately eggs are one of them. It’s hard to put together a breakfast without eggs unless you hit a buffet, but the health inspector in him hates buffets. I am happy to tell you that our hotel had a fantastic buffet.
Hilton New Orleans Riverside http://www.neworleansriversidehotel.com/
Over the next few days we had breakfast at the buffet each day. Service was always great and there were tons of items to choose from on this well stocked, well rotated, well watched over buffet.
I enjoyed a crawfish tail, spinach and mushroom egg white omelette, french toast, wheat toast with strawberry jam, tons of fresh fruit and bacon. Not all on the same day of course. For me the buffet was good because each item was very fresh and there were plenty of healthy options. Yes I had egg whites, reduced sugar jam and syrup and lots of fruit. My favorite part was the omelette. While crawfish are not in season in the fall, the tails are frozen for use all year through. Even though the meat was frozen, thawed then sautéed into an omelette it was still tender and sweet. The veggies added a freshness and the whole thing felt light and satisfying.
Matt had plenty of sausage, biscuits, french toast, mini yogurt parfait, fruit and muffins to fill him up in the morning. The highlights for him were a cranberry muffin topped with almonds and honey that was clean and sweet the way only pure honey can be, and sausage that had plenty of fennel and sage. The sausage and bacon were pretty much the only traditional meats we had the whole trip.
After breakfast we decided to check out the Audubon Aquarium next to our hotel. As we wandered through the exhibits and tanks Matt said “Most people see an aquarium, I see a menu!”
Still satisfied from breakfast but wanting to taste a little more NOLA we decide to get a snack. Between the Aquarium and the hotel is part of the Riverwalk with a couple of restaurants. We choose a cheesy looking tourist trap and grab a spot at the bar.
The Crazy Lobster www.thecrazylobster.com
This was one of the saddest parts of the whole trip. We see that this restaurant offers a seafood bucket for one or two consisting of a mountain of peel and eat shrimp, crab legs (snow and king) as well as a whole lobster or two depending on the size of the bucket. This thing was a monster and we both knew in our hearts that we would not be able to split even the small one right now, and coming back probably wasn’t in the cards.
We chose an order of fried pickles and a gator tail sausage po-boy. The pickles were lightly seasoned with paprika and garlic with a flaky batter. Crispy and sour they made me hungry for that po-boy.
The gator tail was made into a kelbasa style sausage. The meat was sweet with a pink color left in a large grind so there were pockets of fatty little flavor bombs. There was a lot of smoke flavor and spice too. There was a natural casing giving the sausage a snap that cannot be created any other way. Dressed with lettuce and tomato served with a tangy remoulade I was so happy I almost forgot about the fries.
Long standing fellow adventurers know how I feel about fries but for those of you who may be new, I’ll spell it out: Must be crispy, battered is better, and a good season should compliment the taste of the potato. Yes potatoes have a taste! These were pretty close to perfect with a well seasoned beer batter that popped the buttery potato flavor.
It’s really a shame that I was never hungry again during this whole trip because I was so full from the previous meal. The next few days were a blur of New Orleans sampler platters and oysters served several different ways. Follow that with more breakfast buffet and repeat.
There were two other restaurants that stood out.
The place the locals took us: Landry’s www.landrysseafood.com
There is a location in the French Quarter but we ended up at the other location on the other side of New Orleans after a wonderful tour of the Mardi Gras Factory, the company that makes about 80% of the floats and a city tour. We started with Oysters Rockafeller where oysters are left “on the half shell” and baked with spinach, garlic and a bit of cheese. Since they are baked you don’t get the goo of a raw oyster but they are still very soft and fresh. Mostly I just tasted the butter and garlic. As a second appetizer we selected fried green tomatoes topped with crawfish etouffee. Etouffe is usually made with seafood. Sautéed then stewed meat, in this case crawfish tails served over white rice. The liquid for the stew is a dark roux. Today, instead of the simple white rice, ours was on top of a firm, sour, fried green tomato. The bright acid of the tomato works well with the rich crawfish.
Again I am full and my lunch isn’t even here yet. Never the less, afraid to miss a flavor, I have again ordered the little bit of everything platter. When my plate arrived I realized I ordered all of lake Pontchartrain! No joke my plate had:
- 3 pieces of fried catfish – wonderfully fresh and tender
- 4 frog’s legs – crispy dusting, juicy white meat
- Smoked gator sausage – with that snappy casing
- Gumbo – magical and warm with treasures beneath its opaque broth
- Dirty rice – baked forever with crumbled beef, peppers, onions and spices
- Fried shrimp – Clean, sweet and classic
- 2 boudin balls – A mixture of crumbled pork sausage and rice formed into a ball and deep-fried (yes it was as amazing as it sounds) spicy, smokey good.
- Fries and onion strings (as if all the above weren’t enough we needed some filler in there)
That was just my plate!!!
Matt ordered the blackened red fish, a large filet of firm white fleshed fish served with more crawfish etouffee, dirty rice and green beans. While I never got a bite (I of course shared tons of mine!!!) he said that the etoufee was the same rich mixture from our tomatoes and that the fish had a nice sear with blackened seasoning.
Our last night in New Orleans brought us to Coop’s. This hole in the wall was highly recommended by the few locals we could corner that weren’t trying to sell us food themselves.
The place the locals told us about: Coop’s Place www.coopsplace.net
Now, Ohio, my home base isn’t known as a rude city. We’re no NYC or Jersey Shore, but we’re not known for amazing hospitality. Ohio is more of a straight forward midwest culture. We’re nice but we don’t kiss ass. Our entire time in The Big Easy we have been blown away by the genuine hospitality. Which is why we found it funny that everyone we talked to said we had to go to Coop’s but warned us that they weren’t nice. On several occasions people told us that they were rude and disorganized but the food was so good they went back time and time again.
Ready for battle we walked into the modest bar front on Decatur and simultaneously knew what they were talking about and started laughing. Ok, so it’s not the fall over yourself, super polite service we got from some of the other places but it was far from rude. There was simply one hostess/server who was busy and had no time for screwing around. Short one or two-word orders and questions were shouted above the chatter from the patrons.
Two? – There. Three?- Back Corner. Two? We’re Full. Wait.
The funny part is that she is shouting these conversations from across the room as she scurries from table to table taking orders and dropping off beers.
We split a large bottle of Abita Andy Gator, order a smoked duck quesadilla, a bowl of gumbo and the jambalaya. Each piece of the meal is brought out by the chef who is trying so hard to live up to the “rude” label but instead is joking and laughing with the guests.
The Andy Gator is a dopplebock, golden in color with a dry but lightly fruity flavor and goes well with the smoked duck sandwiched with cheese and toasted in a crispy tortilla topped with sour cream and fresh pico. An earthy change from all the sweet, rich fish we’d been eating.
I couldn’t resist one more bowl of gumbo – this was probably my 3rd this week but each one is different. At Coop’s the broth is clear, the rice firm not mushy and the veggies were left larger. Big enough to identify slices of okra, celery, carrots and peppers. The seafood was left chunky as well. crawfish tails, shrimp and three crab claws (still in their shell). This gumbo felt more sophisticated than some of the creamy bowls earlier in the week.
Matt’s Jambalaya was the reason we came. We had heard from just as many people about the rabbit jambalaya as we heard about the laughably rude service. This classic rice dish had not just rabbit but chicken, tasso (a tender smoked pork), sausage, shrimp and crab as well. All of the proteins were cooked down into the sauce and so tender it was hard to pick out just once piece. Chatting with the chef we identified the subtle sweet nutmeg addition. Filling, earthy, complex and comforting he was happy relaxing in that ancient wood booth contemplating a nice walk back to the hotel.
This week was spent alternating between views of the water and views of menus. Walking off the last meal on your way to the next is my idea of a good vacation. The entire week felt like there was nowhere to be and no one would mind if we lingered a little longer wherever we were walking. I even got a little trade show in there too!
Until we eat again,