I decided to take a break from my job creation fact finding mission and visit the city of New Orleans. During the last month I have been up and down the island of Manhattan to check-out the damage from Hurricane Sandy. I was bracing for the worst, but what I found in New Orleans was a clean and lovely city. Places like Royal Street are quite charming and New Orleans is an American jewel. Needless to say the food was spectacular. While I did not make it to top places like August or Commander’s Place, I did have some great meals and had a chance to enjoy this wonderful city. We set off from Houston and managed to get another excellent meal at Parrain’s in Baton Rouge, but we arrived too late in New Orleans for dinner. In any event the next three days were filled with a city rich in history and one with some of the finest restaurants in the world.
Day One New Orleans
By chance my hotel was only three blocks from Mother’s, which is a New Orleans must see. The reports were correct there is most often a line out the door, but it moves very quickly. My order was a Turkey Ferdi (Po’Boy), which was turkey, along with debris & gravy. This is dressed with shredded cabbage, sliced pickles, and creole and yellow mustards. For clarity, debris is the roast beef that falls into the drippings and is just about the most delicious thing ever for meat lovers. Big and juicy this Po’Boy is alone worth the visit to Mother’s. Together with a nice hot cup of coffee the cold December morning became a little more bearable.
It was also by chance that the wonderful Hurbsaint was close to my hotel. This Donald Link establishment has an upscale and friendly environment. I ordered a nice dry California red wine to start the meal with a plate of the gumbo. The roux was perfect as was the white meat chicken and sausage. This was not the run-of-the-mill gumbo, but a very fine version with great balance. Next-up was the pumpkin and shrimp fritter. This marvel was lightly fried on the outside and filled with tasty pumpkin, along with fresh shrimp inside. It is the best of its type ever experienced and was followed by an excellent in-house chocolate desert. From start to finish, Herbsaint delivered and it is a fine example of the new wave of New Orleans cuisine.
Day Two New Orleans
Being smitten by the Mother’s menu another visit was in order. The Bloody Mary was quite good as was the ham and Swiss cheese omelet. The eggs were airy and the ham was quite possibly the leanest and best tasting ever. Together with a flaky biscuit and grits I do not regret my second visit to this icon.
Next up was Antoine’s a place that has been in business since 1840. The $20.12 Lunch Special was the focus as was the excellent $0.25 martini daily special. The bread was very good and the décor in the large dining room a unique experience. Red paint and dark wood abound, which makes for a very comfortable setting. While the Noel Salad was nice, the Chicken Panee was excellent. A delicately battered and fried chicken cutlet served over a twice backed potato served with red wine mushroom sauce. The eggnog bread pudding was covered in a praline rum sauce, and just fantastic. Ending the meal was this strange flaming thing called Café Brulot Diabolique that was quite a production. Overall Antoine’s makes for a wonderful dining experience, which ranks alongside another favorite, the Cliff House in San Francisco.
A visit to the Roosevelt Hotel really ended the day on a positive note. The Sazerac Bar is warm and friendly courtesy of its dark curved wood and dim lighting. While the Sazerac (house special) was quite interesting, the hot buttered rum was reference standard. Warm and very tasty, it was perfect for the cold and damp New Orleans night. Bottom line, the Sazerac Bar is a lively place with a rich history and is worth a visit.
Day Three New Orleans and Lake Charles
My reference for breakfast over the last decade has been the Original Pantry Cafe in Los Angeles, but the debris & gravy biscuit at Mother’s on the last day of the trip changed that. You can always great a great piece of meat at places like Porcao Rio’s in Brazil and Keen’s in Manhattan, but the cost is steep. Do not get me wrong, places like Keen’s and Porcao Rio’s are fantastic and I enjoy them immensely because they deliver the goods regarding quality meat (beef, pork, and lamb). However, for under $10 (USD) you can get a cup of coffee and debris & gravy biscuit at Mother’s that is as satisfying an experience as you can get as a meat lover. The meat (roast beef) is succulent and the gravy is pungent in a very pleasing way. The biscuit is large and flakey and does a nice job in soaking-up the gravy. By all accounts a special dish that elevated Mother’s to equal the status of the Pantry. Call it simplistic, or call it overindulgence, I have a soft spot for this type of cuisine.
Just as I thought the debris & gravy biscuit was all the rage along came the gumbo of Pat’s of Henderson in Lake Charles. Pat’s has a long dining room that has a warm feeling to it, and was very welcome on the cold winter afternoon. Chicken and sausage gumbo seemed like the logical choice, but I was not prepared for what was in store. Nice warm soft bread set the tone, and so did the smell of the tray the waitress was carrying to the table. The smoky smell was evident as soon as the kitchen doors opened. The roux was perfect and the chicken had absorbed the smoky flavor of the locally gotten sausage. I removed the chicken from one big bone and then scooped up the roux. Talk about flavor! This was the most powerful soup or gumbo I have ever had. Which was better the gumbo at Herbsaint or Pat’s? The answer is that both are outstanding, but both very different. In car terms, one was a 1967 427 Corvette and the other a 1968 Dodge Charger with a 426 Hemi. The former more balanced and the latter more powerful. All in all, Pat’s is worth the visit and the gumbo is highly recommended.
I found the architecture and history of New Orleans fascinating and the Native-American, African, and French inspired cuisine captivating. From the Great Lakes Brewery in Cleveland or the Pelican Inn just north of San Francisco, our country has a truly expansive food universe. From simple to exotic, and from cheap to ultra-expensive, America has it all.