As I had described in my previous blog post about Day 1 in New Orleans, we spent our first night enjoying a leisurely dinner at the upscale and delicious Arnaud’s Restaurant enjoying classic Creole dishes. Later that night we hit Bourbon Street and happily participated in some low-brow Mardi Gras shenanigans that includes strong drinks called hand-grenades, beads and gratuitous displays of boobies. I can write an entire blog post just on the finer points of alcoholic beverages and the “throws” on Bourbon Street, but this is a food blog.
The next morning we woke up a little groggy headed, but we were ready to experience a full day of watching the Krewe Parades. Since I am a foodie, I had to enjoy a cultural breakfast in New Orleans before I did anything. Plus, I can be real bitch before I have my coffee. One of these mornings we woke up, got dressed and staggered down the street like zombies looking for something tasty to eat. We were roaming the streets trying to find Café Du Monde, arguably the most famous of the beignet and coffee shops. Although while roaming down Rue Royal, we stumbled on a hole in the wall coffee shop called, “Café Beignet”. The shop was doing a very brisk business with the locals, so we dipped inside to check out what made this place special. Café Beignet turned out to be a hidden gem with some really awesome dishes.
The coffee shop was literally shaped like a tunnel on the inside with brick walls and painted ceilings. When we walked in, there was a long line of people waiting to place their order. This was a good sign! The menu featured a full espresso bar, fresh pastries and impressive hot breakfast items. The coffee shop was structured so that you wait in line to place your order and then a server comes by with your hot food to your table. Coffee and cold pastries are served immediately at the counter. The pastry display was actually quite impressive with a large selection of fresh baked goods.
Here is what we ordered:
So it was our turn to order and Daniele ordered a dish called the “Royal Croissant”, which is essentially a toasted croissant with “Louisiana Ham”, white cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, and honey mustard.
The guy taking our order smirked at me and said, “Sorry friend, but that is a local dish, just take a bite and you will see.” Daniele gave me a condescending smirk; I stuck my tongue out at her.
As Daniele was stone cold munching down on the Royal Croissant she said, “This is really good, take a bite.”
I was like, “No, No I’m not interested, my crawfish omelet is good and I don’t want to fill up.” Secretly I really wanted a bite.
As always, food on Daniele’s plate looks better after she is almost done, so I finally took a large bite when she left the table for a napkin. She came back and took one look at me with a mouthful of her sandwich and her Royal Croissant almost all eaten.
Immediately she shoved the remainder of her sandwich to the other side of the table, out of my sticky finger reach. I will say that the ham was sweet and delicious and the croissant fluffy and moist. The tomatoes and lettuce were cool and fresh, making this sandwich quite a nice diversion from the heavy food we had been eating. The guy taking our order was correct; this sandwich was made from fresh local ingredients and was quite impressive. Daniele looked smug and was vindicated by my admission.
Crawfish Omelet – I ordered this dish because I can never get anything like this in California, unless they are using frozen crawfish. The omelet had a generous portion of fresh crawfish, bell peppers, tomatoes and Swiss cheese. The crawfish was very sweet and balanced perfectly with the eggs, Swiss cheese and fresh vegetables. This recipe was extremely simple, although the fresh and local ingredients used in these omelets made the flavors pop on my taste buds. I was chatting with a lady next to me from Baton Rogue who told me that folks from Louisiana regularly throw crawfish on all types of dishes, including omelets. “It’s kind of the way you Californians throw tomatoes, avocado and citrus on everything.”
“Famous Beignets” – When you say New Orleans, I think of beignets! This iconic dish of New Orleans can be found in almost every restaurant in New Orleans and probably a 500 mile radius around the crescent city. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this treat of the gods, let me explain. The French translation for Beignet is, “Bump”. A beignet is made by creating a light fluffy pastry called, “Choux,” which is formed into squares or balls and deep fried. The deep fry process makes the Choux Pastry puff out as it cooks in the hot oil. As a result, the exterior forms a crispy browned crust and the interior is soft, aerated and ever so slightly gooey. Beignets are always topped with powdered sugar and eaten hot and preferably with chicorylaced coffee.
When my beignet arrived at our quaint café table, I was ready to devour it as it looked like a fluffy pillow dusted with powdered sugar. I broke into the beignet and the interior was fluffy, and created a geyser of steam. The flavor of the beignet was sweet and slightly rich from the oils used in the deep fry, very similar to a high-class donut. Café Beignet provided three large beignets in a single order, very generous when you compare with some of the other beignet restaurants. (my wife was hoping they would serve different flavored jams with this dish for ultimate flavor)
Coffee with Chicory Root – I cannot do a food blog post about New Orleans without doing a small write-up about their coffee. New Orleans coffee famously uses dried shavings of Chicory root during the brewing process to add body, aroma, color and mellowness to strong coffee. Blind taste tests of chicory laced coffee have been proven to actually reduce the bitterness experienced on your taste buds. When I tasted Café Beignets coffee, I could tell that the coffee lacked the astringency typical with Starbucks. Rather, Café Beignet coffee was smooth and slipped off the tongue.
Café Beignet turned out to be a fantastic find and the served up some really delicious food. This café is a wonderful way to start your day with breakfast and coffee and please don’t forget the O.G. Beignets.
After we finished up at Café Beignet, my stomach was satisfactorily plumped. We were ready for a full day of watching parades and catching throws.
<<Fast forward seven hours and four parades later, we were exhausted, sore and our stuffed bellies were just a memory; we were in serious need of a relaxing meal.>>
I am a huge fan of oysters and was really looking forward to eating oysters that literally slept in the ocean the night before. I convinced Daniele that she would find something else besides raw oysters on an oyster house menu; I cross my fingers that this was true ;). We passed by the ACME Oyster Company and their line was around the corner….maybe not here! Although, based on the recommendation of one of the street vendors, we found The Royal Oyster House.
Royal Oyster House
I figured that all the oysters served in New Orleans come from the same oyster beds in Gulf Coast. So technically it didn’t matter what restaurant you go to eat oysters, as long as the restaurant does a brisk business to ensure turnover of the living bivalves. When we walked in the door to The Royal Oyster House, we could sense that this restaurant had a good vibe and it was packed full of people consuming live shucked oysters with a smile on their faces. A good omen!
Foodie tip: The Art of Shucking – At the restaurant’s “Oyster Bar,” we were able to watch the “Shuckers” perform their artful skill of separating the sharp oyster shells at the hinge in one fluid movement. Shucking is performed by:
- Sliding a special shucking knife into the slit of the shell
- Twisting the knife in a back and forth motion at the hinge, like a screwdriver
- When the shell breaks loose, the shell is removed
- The shucker proceeds to seamlessly use the same knife to separate the living oyster from the shell in one quick motion.
- Place the living oyster on a half shell in a bed of ice
I timed the shucker and he was able to perform the shucking sequence in less than three seconds per oyster. Impressive to watch! If I were to attempt shucking, it would take me a couple of minutes to do the same thing and I would probably slice my hand open in the process.
We ordered the platter of six oysters, which came out on a bed of ice and they were served with Tabasco, horseradish cocktail sauce, lemons and some other goodies. Gulf Coast oysters tend to have a consistently sweet flavor and have tender flesh throughout the year. Why you may ask? Due to the salinity and the constant warmth of Gulf of Mexico, the oysters never go dormant. As a result, Gulf oysters do not store up glycogen, which can distort flavor and texture. The oysters I tried were deliciously sweet and had a slight crunch to the otherwise soft meat.
How to look like a Pro: “Slurping” an oyster– Unless you are dining at the Queen’s Garden Party, the correct way to consume an oyster is to literally “Slurp” it from the shell….juices “liqueur” and all. Here are the steps so that you too can look like a Pro!
1) Using a small fork, move the oyster around to ensure it is full separated from the shell.
2) Dress up your oyster in condiments of your choosing. Typical condiments include horseradish, lemon, vinegar, shallots, mayo and cocktail sauce. I prefer my oysters with a dash of Tabasco and a light squeeze of lemon. Some folks prefer eating their oysters out of the shell naked…but to each his own.
3) Grasp the oyster with your thumb and first two fingers, near the hinge
4) Lift the oysters to your face and smile because it will taste delicious
5) Plant your bottom lip on the shell and open your mouth slightly
6) Tilt your head and arms back slightly and “slurp” the meat and liqueur into your mouth
7) Don’t Swallow! Yes I did just go there. An oyster should be enjoyed for its flavors and textures. Simply chew several times to release the natural flavors and relish the tasty treat. You will thank me for this tip later J
Following the technique of slurping, I pummeled through the 6 oysters in no time and was quickly looking for more. I ordered another plate of oysters and knocked those off just as fast. I started to think of Adam Richman from Man versus Food eating over 100 oysters in a single sitting. I stopped eating after my 3rd platter of oysters and I knew that I had to stop or I would get sick from over eating. The Royal Oyster house rocked the oysters and I left smiling!
So after relaxing over a dinner of fresh oysters and crab cakes, we were feeling a little regenerated and decided to go party the rest of the night on Bourbon Street. I am no longer in my early 20’s, so consuming large amounts of sugar laced Hurricanes would send me into an all-day hangover, which are to be avoided at ALL COSTS! So what is a foodie to do? Drink the city’s finest beer, Abita!
New Orleans Product Spotlight – Abita Beer
Abita is produced by a craft brewer 30 miles outside of New Orleans in a place called Abita Springs. The company brews its beer with water from artesian wells in Abita Springs. In August 2005, Stuff Magazine named Abita’s “Turbodog Ale” as the best beer made in America. My favorite Abita beer is their “golden”, an all-malt lager, and their “Amber” a German style Marzen. Daniele, as a girl, preferred their raspberry infused Wheat Beer called “Purple Haze.” I have been searching for this beer locally in Southern California and stumbled upon it at both High Times Cellars and at Bev Mo in Lake Forest. This is a fantastic beer that I wouldn’t mind having as a beer on stock in my fridge.
Late Night Hunger
Sometime around 2:00am we knew it was time to call it quits for the night. Although before bed time, some food was in order. Although, where do we eat at 2:30am when there are no Denny’s, Norm’s or Del Taco Drive thrus? Like any good traveling foodie, you ask the locals for recommendations. Our hotel was located on Rue St. Ann, which also happens to be called, “the pink line,” which is the unofficial starting point of the gay district in New Orleans. The only local we could find at this time of night was a 6’2” Lady GaGa look alike. She insisted that the only place we would be able to find something to eat at such a late hour was the Clover Grill, which happened to be two blocks past the “Pink Line.” As we looked just slightly dubious, she looked and Daniele and said, “Honey listen! Unless you want that nasty pizza at the same place they serve frozen daiquiris, you better go to the Clover Grill.” I always trust the locals and I am glad I did!
“If you are not served in 5 minutes, relax, it may be another 5. This is not New York City”
This is one of the restaurants with the biggest personalities in New Orleans. This place is essentially a Dive Greasy Spoon Burger Joint in the heart of the gay district. The Clover Grill is open 24-hours a day and its personality never sleeps. When we got to the Clover Grill, we discovered that there was a line around the building filled with a bunch of “fabulous” folks. We got in line and discovered that my wife, Daniele was the only woman in line. We instantly started chatting it up with the peeps in line; everyone was friendly, drunk and hungry. We waited 30 minutes in line trading stories of Mardi Gras with two gentlemen when the bouncer/hostess yelled out,
“Table for 4! Any parties of four?!” She continued, “You better speak up now if you want this table, cause I’m not asking twice!”
We made eye contact with the two guys we were chatting with and we all raised our hands at once! The sassy bouncer/hostess took us to our table and told us to enjoy our meal. Our transgender waitress came by to take our orders with sass and flare. We all ordered custom burgers and Chili Fries. Ordering their burgers was almost compulsory, as the smell of burgers and cheese cooking on the grill was intoxicating. Here I witnessed one of the more interesting cooking techniques that they employed, which was using hub-cabs from classic American cars to expedite the speed of cooking the hamburger patties
This restaurant is full of attitude; our waitress kept throwing sassy comments our way each time she came around. A direct quote included, “You can beat our prices, but you can’t beat our meat.” and “ Keep both hands on the table”
I ordered a burger with egg, chili and grilled onions. I’m not sure what everyone else ordered because I was too hungry and tired to notice. When the burger came out, it was big and steamy. It was large enough to require two hands. When I bit into the burger, it was juicy and extremely flavorful. The egg was cooked a perfect over easy, such that the egg and meat juices blended into a loving ooze that seeped down the side of my fingers…it was glorious. The chili cheese fries were also pretty amazing, with an ever so slight creole hint to the chili. If you are in New Orleans, I highly encourage you to visit the Clover Grill, as it is a must see from both a cultural and culinary stand point. We wished our new friends good-bye, somehow made our way back to the hotel and passed out in bed. The next morning I woke up to my cheeks crusted from last night’s food.
Upcoming in Part 3 of 3 –
- Best Jazz Lunch Buffet in New Orleans- The Court of Two Sisters
- Learn how to eat a Crawfish
- Best Pizza in the French Quarter
- The “Holy Trinity” of Creole and Cajun Cooking
- Learn the secrets of New Orleans most famous dishes: Red Beans and Rice, Jambalaya, Shrimp Etouffee, and gumbo
- Where to eat like and tourist and where to eat like a local