Editor’s note: Our parent company, Local Voice Media, has employees who work in all different parts of the organization to make our content possible. Some take some pretty interesting trips as well. This story is from Tom Mahnken, our vice president of Creative Services.
It’s Mardi Gras season in New Orleans as more and more people will be descending on the Crescent City between now and Fat Tuesday (Feb. 28).
But like I’ve preached before, there’s so much more to New Orleans than Mardi Gras. There is the music, the people and of course, the food. When you visit this great city, come hungry.
Before I go over some of the different eateries to visit in New Orleans, please note that it is by no means an exhaustive list. For every place I name, someone who lives or is from the city can name 10 more that you shouldn’t miss.
A word of advice: Always listen to the locals.
Café Du Monde is home to those famous beignets, close relatives to the fried dough you find at so many country fairs. Only difference is that this delicacy features 10 times as much powdered sugar on top. Wash them down with a cup of coffee and chicory. The taste for coffee and chicory was developed by the French during their civil war. Coffee was scarce during those times, and they found that chicory added body and flavor to the brew. Coffee with chicory may take some getting used to, but it’s the New Orleans way.
Central Grocery and Deli opened in 1906 and is famous for its “original” muffuletta sandwiches, which is basically a huge sandwich with layers of marinated olive salad, cheese, salami, ham, and any number of other ingredients, depending on who’s making it. The name of the sandwich comes from the bread, known in Sicily as “muffuletta” (pronounced “muffu-LET-ta”). You can’t eat a whole one by yourself.
Parkway Bakery and Tavern is a great spot to grab a classic poor boy sandwich. In other places, they might call it a sub, grinder, or hoagie, but somehow, a “po’ boy” just sounds better. It’s a traditional sandwich from Louisiana and almost always consists of meat, which is usually sloppy roast beef, known as meat curtains, or fried seafood which includes shrimp, crawfish, oysters and crab. At the Parkway, which has been around since 1911, there is a wide range of poor boy sandwiches. Everything from fried shrimp to alligator sausage to a golden grilled reuben. According to its web site: “We’re poor boy experts.”
Cooter Brown’s can be used as a great excuse to hop on a streetcar in the Central Business District and then ride it up St. Charles Street. It’s a lazy trip past some of the most beautiful homes in the country, and when you get off at Cooter Brown’s, a huge pile of freshly-shucked oysters will be your reward. It also has more than 80 different beers on tap.
Cake Café and Bakery in the Bywater District is an extremely popular spot for good reason. Everybody needs breakfast after a night in New Orleans and it features dishes like shrimp n’ grits and the crab omelet. Both are cooked to perfection in a kitchen so small you will wonder where they keep the ingredients. And for an extra buck, you can have one of Cake Café’s cupcakes with your meal. It would be a bargain at five times the price.
Susan Spicer’s Mondo promises, and delivers, “Flavors of the world, with a New Orleans accent.” It is not a cheap meal, but I don’t regret a single penny I have ever spent there. It is the kind of food you eat very slowly in order to savor every subtle flavor. An excellent wine list makes this a place you can really settle into for a leisurely dinner with good friends. Remember what I said about locals? The chef, Susan Spicer, and her family live in the Lakeview neighborhood where Mondo is located.
But one of my favorite spots to eat in New Orleans was the kind of place you wouldn’t find in any guidebook or even on the Internet. Alberta’s Soul Food Restaurant Number Two was one of those places. It was in a house near the corner of Second and Danneel Street. It had one table that sat about eight people and another that sat two.
A large jukebox was wedged into the room and included more than 40 gospel tunes that Alberta had recorded herself. You had to call ahead to tell Alberta you were coming, and what you got when you arrived was a prix fixe menu: pork chops, fried chicken, collard greens, cornbread and red beans. All of that for $3.50. And sometimes fish was included, if her husband John caught any that day.
I’ll never forget that place, and I’ll always be grateful to my friend Derek, who took me there a few times. Always listen to the locals — that lesson applies to almost anything when you travel. But when it comes to food and the city of New Orleans, it rings even more true.
Tom Mahnken is the vice president of Creative Services at Local Voice Media and has written and produced more than 10,000 ads since he joined the company in 1996. When he’s not working in radio, Mahnken plays bass guitar all over New England with his band Trailer Park and tours the world playing saxophone with the Young@Heart Chorus.
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