The research for this trip consisted mostly of reading restaurant reviews and features of the city in magazines like Bon Appetit and Saveur, each of which claim New Orleans to be one of the food capitals of the United States. Since Katrina hit in 2005, New Orleans has been rebuilding itself and has welcomed many food influences, particularly of Asian origin, who saw the history of success in the industry and decided to open up shop. Eight years later, New Orleans’ restaurants are even better than before, with a combination of the traditional and the contemporary in their restaurants that make them the place to look to for the best of the best of not only Southern cuisine, but also contemporary fusion of Louisiana flare with Vietnamese, Chinese, French, and Italian, among others.
I was teased with the taste of New Orleans during my month in Florida, having bought a box of New Orleans oysters from the seafood market, and had tried grits and gumbo for breakfast one morning at a place that lured me in with its bottomless mimosas. Although delicious, New Orleans-inspired dishes weren’t enough, and I wanted to try the real thing, in the real place.
Here is the run-down of what we got to try:
Day 1, Saturday, Arrival:
To get to New Orleans my boyfriend Jonathan and I drove from Miramar Beach, Florida where I had been staying for the previous month. We drove through Pensacola and planned to stop at the Pallafox Farmers’ Market that runs there every Saturday afternoon. It is a lovely market that set up downtown on Pallafox Street, with vendors of fresh produce, milk, and more, including East Hill Honey Co., where I picked up the best honey sticks for the road and handmade soaps. These handmade, vegan, paraben-free, and all-natural soaps have lasted us months, and have beautiful scents that stay with you after use. We purchased three kinds: lavender, tea-tree, and apple.
We continued on, and at the outskirts of New Orleans, just off of the highway, is Don Phuong Bakery, which claims to have the best French bread in the city. Having heard about it from an episode of Bravo TV’s Top Chef where they compete to make Vietnamese food, I decided it’d be worth a peek. We bought a delicious steamed bun with BBQ pork for the road, and soft cinnamon raison buns that would make great pre-breakfast treats for the next couple of days.
After dropping off our bags at the apartment we rented for our stay, we drove straight to uptown New Orleans and stopped at Dat Dog Nola. This place was outstanding – it is an open-concept and colourful restaurant that has a large patio with picnic tables (open all-year round, because we were told “it never gets cold enough to have to close it” – oh yeah, we’re not in Canada). As I read the chalkboard-written menu with the different sausages and toppings available, groups of friends cheered for the New Orleans Saints’ scoring in the football game being projected on a huge screen outside. We ordered one Irish Guinness Specialty Dog ($7.50), a German Smoked Bratwurst ($7.50), and Cheddar, Bacon, Ranch Fries ($4.50). Oh so good.
This became one of my favourite places of the trip (which says a lot), with tons of topping selections and everything from alligator, duck, or crawfish sausage to spicy chipotle veggie dogs. It was everything I love about street meat, but good quality, with all the toppings you can think of, and the greatest hang-out setup. Oh, plus they sell beer, wine, and cocktails.
Day 2, Sunday:
Our first full day in NOLA happened to be a Sunday, so we had reservations made at Mr. B’s Bistro on Royal Street, famous for their Sunday Jazz Brunch with quality dishes and a jazz trio performing while you eat them. The place is pretty fancy, with the staff dressed in suits and bowties, and it was the priciest place we went to during the trip, but I’d say well worth it. I had one of the best eggs benedict dishes I’ve ever tried, with a very pale, buttery hollandaise sauce, a hint of spice and the eggs cooked perfectly. Jonathan ordered a classic New Orleans dish of chicken pontalba. It was a pan-sautéed all-natural chicken breast topped with Hollandaise sauce, served with Brabant potatoes, prosciutto and chopped green onions. The food and service was remarkable – when we commented on how nicely drawn the front of the menu was, the waitress quickly offered us to take it home, and brought us the dinner menu for a souvenir too.
We took the trolley to New Orleans’ Garden District that afternoon, and stopped at District: Donuts, Sliders, Brew. It is a hip café where we grabbed a dozen donuts to bring home with us, and were so big that they lasted us the full 4 days. The Maple Sriracha and Vietnamese Iced Coffee donuts were definitely a hit.
We got dinner to-go from St. James Cheese in Uptown New Orleans, where we asked the very knowledgeable and super friendly staff who worked there to put together a platter of meats and cheeses for us. They asked what kind of cheeses we tend to like (I said creamy ones, Jay said cheddar), and they gave us a few different kinds with grapes, breads and charcuterie. I’m determined to return there one day to try one of their famous grilled cheese sandwiches.
Day 3, Monday:
Our first breakfast stop on this day, although we were already munching on the previous night’s donuts, was to the touristic hotspot Café du Monde. Claiming to be the original French Market coffee stand since 1862, they have a huge open patio with powdered sugar painting the floors. You’ll understand why as soon as they hand you a plate with their beignets, a famous New Orleans soft fritter-like pastry, with what looks like a pound of powdered sugar dumped on the top. That, and a freshly brewed coffee, will get your day off to the right start.
Have I mentioned how easy it is to get around in NOLA? It was $3 for an all-day transit pass, so after a walk through the French Market, we jumped on the trolley towards the Lower Garden District for dinner at Cochon Butcher, the butcher shop and sandwich counter attached to its highly acclaimed brother restaurant Cochon (Cajun Southern Dishes in a rustic, contemporary setup). This place was amazing – I loved everything from their butcher artwork on the walls to the delicious sweet potato habanero hot sauce on the shelves. We ordered Le Pig Mac – a Big Mac-inspired sandwich with two all-pork patties, ‘special sauce’, lettuce, cheese, pickle and onion on a sesame bun – and a pizzetta. It tasted like everything you love about the fast-food version but significantly better quality meat, fresh ingredients, and humongous. It’s a nice restaurant worth checking out, with its high top tables and rustic interior, and with items like buckboard bacon melt, pastrami and Sauerkraut on rye, and Morrocan spiced lamb on the menu, I only wished I had a bigger stomach.
Dessert was in a plastic bag in our pockets – New Orleans’ best chocolate pralines we got from the Southern Candy Makers earlier that day.
Day 4, Tuesday:
Our last day in New Orleans was a day for indulging in the two things we love most in the world: brunch and pizza. Stanley Restaurant at the corner of Jackson Square, although nestled amongst the touristic spots of the city, had a promising all-day brunch menu with Louisiana specialties. They have huge windows looking at the park, heavy marble slab tables, brick floors and the best iced tea. I ate the Eggs Stanley, which consists of poached eggs with Creole Hollandaise (another Southern specialty), Canadian bacon for a little taste of home, and cornmeal-crusted oysters on a toasted English muffin ($16). It might seem like I went a bit overboard on the breakfast this trip, but I have no regrets – I haven’t had anything close to being that delicious ever since.
I knew Domenica Restaurant had half-price pizza from 3pm-5pm, so after sight-seeing and walking along the Mississipi River, we headed there. It’s an upscale restaurant in the Roosevelt Hotel with sleek black walls, dark stained wood floors, and contemporary sparkling chandeliers. They do a light-crusted authentic pizza, charred in a pizza oven, with innovative topping combinations. We tried the margherita with tomato, basil, & fresh mozzarella, the wild mushroom with fontina, bacon & yard egg, and the bolzano with roast pork shoulder, fennel, bacon & sweet onions.
Overall, our 4-day trip to New Orleans is one we will never forget, and I feel incredibly thankful that I could explore the city and some of its wonderful eateries. Four days of eating only the best – where every dish surpassed our expectations one after the other – is truly a dream come true. The best advice I can give for any NOLA-adventurers: go on an empty stomach. Until next time!