Day 3- Monday – Lundi Gras
As you read the Part 2 of 3 section of the New Orleans Gastronomic Tour, Day two in New Orleans went by like a blur and we tried all types of New Orleans Cuisine along the way. We still had plenty of touring and gastronomic research to perform before our trip ended. This blog post will cover Days 3 and 4 and you will learn about:
- Where to find the best Jazz buffet in NOLA
- What it is like to attend a Maxim Magazine party
- Where to eat like a tourist and a local
- New Orleans’s most famous rice dishes
- Where to find the very best pizza in New Orleans.
Before we left Southern California, we made reservations for the Jazz Brunch at “The Court of Two Sisters.” We both had heard about this brunch from multiple friends and at the Los Angeles Travel and Adventure show as well. This restaurant turned out to be one of the best brunch buffets I have ever experienced. We quickly got out of bed, showered the burger leftovers off of my face and found The Court of Two Sisters on Rue Royal Street.
The Court of Two Sisters –Jazz Brunch Buffet
This restaurant is an institution in New Orleans and has a colorful history and a wonderful tradition of formal dining in its beautifully decorated salons, although this gem of a restaurant is also equally famous for their Jazz Buffet. You have to visit New Orleans at least once in your life to experience its rich culture and deliciously unique Creole and Cajun Cuisine. With that said, you have not experienced the soul of New Orleans cuisine until you have tried The Court of Two Sisters jazz buffet. The brunch combines Southern Hospitality, Creole cooking, a pleasant courtyard environment and the upswing sounds of New Orleans jazz. The Court of Two Sisters Jazz Buffet runs every day from 9 a.m. to 3p.m. I personally recommend you try it as a brunch so that you can experience some of the breakfast items. Before I describe anything else, let me walk you through the buffet and then I will discuss the ambiance. Like most buffets, this one is separated into hot and cold stations.
Cold Buffet – The first thing you find is their delicious cornbread and biscuits; although my golden rule of buffet is to always skip on the bread! Artisan breads can be an essential ritual in a formal sit down dinner. Although at a buffet, breads are pure filler that prevent you from experiencing more food, thus should be avoided! As a disclaimer, I failed my own rule; I got the cornbread and it was good! 😉
Next in line at the cold buffet was a giant bed of boiled shrimp and crawfish, chilling on ice. The shrimp were medium-size “peel and eat”style and the crawfish were traditionally served in the shell. I was slightly in awe by the amount of bottom-feeding crustaceans available for the taking. I could almost feel my heart quickening, like I was falling in love. I took a side of their horseradish cocktail and remoulade sauces. As I mentioned in the post about Arnaud’s restaurant, you cannot serve boiled shrimp or crawfish without these two sauces. I was already looking forward to getting my hands messy eating these delicious crustaceans and “sucking head”* (see foodie tip below).
- Place the thumb and index finger of your left hand on the upper body of the crawfish and do the same thing with your right hand on the tail section
- Rock your hands side to side, like you are wringing out a towel. As a result, the tail shell should break loose.
- Pinch the tail and pull the meat from the shell
- The upper section of a crawfish is not worth the effort for gathering meat. Instead many folks from Louisiana prefer to *“Suck Head”.
- To Suck Head: Simply wrap your lips around the open cavity of the crawfish and suck out all the juices from the thorax and head. Sucking the soul out of the crawfish! I know this might sound disgusting to someone who is not from the South or has never tried it. I assure you, the juices from the upper body of a crawfish are actually quite tasty and it is worth making a fool of yourself.
Next on the cold buffet line was a variety of lettuce salads, fruits and vegetables. These all looked nice and tasty, but again these types of items can be eaten at any buffet. I recommend that you keep your eye on the prize and focus on their regional specialties and signature dishes. The next couple items from the buffet were delicious and worthy, such as local seafood salads, ceviche, Cajun pasta, sweet potato w/Andouille sausage, pate’, cheeses, and seafood mousse. I tried a little of each of these house made creations and I can attest that they were all fabulous and extremely fresh. At the end of the cold buffet were the deserts, but I will come back to this section later.
Next, the hot side of the buffet! – The first part of this side of the buffet is the omelet and eggs benedict station. Here, you can order an omelet any way you like by selecting from your choice of ingredients. They are most famous for their “seafood and shrimp creole omelet,” which consists of the holy trinity of Creole vegetables (remember this for later in the post), crawfish tails and shrimp. Try this omelet if your stomach has room, I personally had to tap out after just a couple bites! Also at this station are their famous eggs Benedict. I had two of them before I left! I’m not sure what makes their eggs benedict so good, but perhaps it is the fact that they are made fresh, literally just a couple are made at a time and per request. Perhaps the flavor comes from the use of French bread as the base or even their velvety hollandaise sauce. The eggs benedict had a secret X factor and should be tried if you come here.
The next area of the hot buffet was the carving station. The day I visited they were hand carving to order a very tender and juicy roast beef loaf and a juicy slow roasted turkey. I tried both of these roasted meats and they were deliciously fantastic! The turkey was very juicy and had a nice combination of sweet and savory seasonings. The roast beef was also juicy and tender to the bite. The exterior of the meat had a nice crusting from the dry rub, which had a subtle hint of creole flavors.
Next up is the House Made Turtle Soup, a New Orleans Classic and a personal favorite. Folks not from the South may not be familiar with this dish and perhaps a little intimidated by eating turtle meat. Let me reassure you, there is no need to be intimidated by this exotic meat.The signature ingredient might be foreign to your palate, but I assure you it is delicious. Turtle soup is made with a variety of ingredients including a roux, hardboiled eggs, dark beef stock, Worchester Sauce, garlic, lemon juice, and turtle meat. I would describe the flavor of this soup as rich, slightly tangy and a full mouth feel. The buffet provides a bottle of Sherry to place a floater on top for flavor and to help cut through the rich flavors and add a slight sweet flavor to the mix. The turtle meat is simmered and broken down into the soup, so you are never truly chewing on a chunk of turtle meat. Rather the turtle meat gently mixes into each spoonful, providing a nice texture and flavor. When I travel, I attempt to break my pre-existing notions by trying every dish at least once. I will be honest; I had never eaten turtle before this trip and was a little nervous. Although after one bite, I was hooked!
There were so many hot dishes, that I couldn’t possibly explain them all. Instead, I am going to just list them off and tell you which my favorites were. Here are the hot dishes provided at the buffet:
- Fresh Shrimp Spicy Etouffee (Favorite)- Delicious and sweet shrimp smothered in a roux based sauce. Pleasantly exciting on the tongue.
- Duck a l’Orange (Favorite) –This dish had flavor dissonance of sweet caramelized sugar, bitter oranges and duck proteins
- Cajun Jambalaya – Savory stew made from sausage, chicken and dark Cajun roux
- BBQ Ribs – Baby back pork ribs in a sweet, tangy with slightly spicy Creole seasoning
- Veal Grillades and Gravy (Favorite) -A classic Southern dish in which thin slices of veal are pounded and slow cooked in a sweet and savory brown sauce.
- Pecan Rice Pilaf – Savory Rice pilaf with sweet and bitter pecans.
- Creamed Spinach (Favorite) – chocked full of butter, cheeses and went down my throat silky smooth.
- Ratatouille – Stewed vegetable dish made from simmering eggplant, onions, tomatoes bell peppers, and herbs.
- Glazed Sweet Potatoes (Favorite) – Amazing balance of sweet flavors, I will never be able to eat my Grandma’s sweet potatoes then same way again.
- Catfish Roulade – Catfish filet wrapped around a combination of crawfish, onion, celery, peppers, and smothered in a lemon butter sauce.
For Dessert, they featured slow churned, house-made ice cream, Bananas Foster, pecan pie, bread pudding and of course the classic desert of Mardi Gras, King Cake. I’m getting full just thinking about all the deserts. I will say that you must try the Banana Foster with house made ice cream.
Disclaimer! If you attempt to eat more than a couple of the desserts after several plates from the buffet, you might find yourself slouched over the table in a stupor or making piggy noises. You have been warned
The one thing not included with the buffet are the mimosas. I highly suggest you order the mimosas which are sold by the glass, half bottle and full bottle of sparkling wine. The Orange Juice and coffee are free, so you are just really paying for the sparkling wine. Your waiter will expertly mix it for you and refill your glass when empty.
O.K. Enough with drooling over the food, I will now elaborate about the service and ambiance.
Our waiter, Jim, provided superior service and made us feel like guests in his personal home. He took the time to explain each of the dishes at the buffet and highlighted dishes that we must try. Our waiter’s personal attention transformed our visit into a culinary guided tour, as he taught us about the preparation and unique culinary history of many of the dishes.
When you visit The Court of Two Sisters, I suggest that you request a seat in the courtyard. The walled in courtyard removes you from the bustle of the French Quarter and gives you time to decompress. This quiet covered courtyard makes you feel like you stepped back in time and joined New Orleans Socialites having a garden party and wearing fancy hats. The patio is a tranquil place with old wisteria vines growing out of the patio and intermingling between the tables and wrapping around the overhead. They have probably heard every bit of gossip from the past century. While we dined, the jazz band played an upswing jazz number, while the sun shined down on your good fortune and the birds sung along. This jazz brunch garden party has been going on for decades and we became part of this exclusive club. By the time we finished eating, my gut was distended and I had no ambition of eating anything for hours.
Many thanks to the staff of the Court of Two Sisters for a truly memorable and delicious experience, I recommend this cultural and gastronomic experience to all of my readers.
Maxim Magazine Balcony Party
One of the highlights of our trip was attending a balcony party that was being hosted by Maxim Magazine. As with all of the French Quarter, Bourbon Street is lined with 2nd story balconies, which are the epicenter of Mardi Gras bead throwing shenanigans. From the ground, folks are engaging in a timeless tradition of asking the balcony folks for beads by reaching their hands in the air, begging and flashing their tatas. In contrast, the people on the balconies have the power by displaying “high end” throws and tempting the groundlings to show flesh in exchange. Long story short is that Mardi Gras is a different experience from the balcony and must be experience at least one in your life…strictly from a cultural learning experience. 😉
We decided to have the cultural experience of participating in the Mardi Gras balcony by paying to attend a balcony party. There are three ways to get on a balcony during Mardi Gras:
- Several clubs have a balconies, but they are crowded and have a cover charge
- Pay to hang out on a balcony for a fixed amount of time, but they are crowded, overpriced, and don’t include drinks
- Attend a balcony party with food, drinks and entertainment.
Obviously the third choice was the best. There are many balcony parties on Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras, although you will have to do your homework on the best deal and which includes the most food/drinks at the lowest price.
The balcony party we booked just happened to be co-hosted by Maxim Magazine that day and was used to co-promote Captain Morgan’s Devil Cut Rum. As a result of this co-sponsorship, the food and drinks were upgraded to premium quality. I am sad to report that I did not take very many pictures in the Maxim party or the food. What I can report is that the spread included pretty much every Creole dish prepared by the house chef of the salon. Since many of the Maxim models were in attendance, the buffet was always full :). In addition to the food and fun and throwing Captain Morgan beads to the groundlings below, Maxim pulled all the stops by bringing in a New Orleans Jazz Band to play sets between the D.J. In addition they brought in an audience interactive “cage your angel” art installation (see picture). A night at the balcony party was well worth it from a culinary, cultural and fun perspective. I would do this again as sometimes you need a respite from the madness on the streets and to change your perspective.
Day 4 -Fat Tuesday!
Time for a quick breakfast so that we can really enjoy the festivities of Fat Tuesday! We traveled down St. Anne Street towards Jackson Square & Decatur Street. Since it was Fat Tuesday, everyone and their grandma (literally) was out in the street and in full force. On Fat Tuesday, the streets are filled with people in very ornate costumes, most of them homemade. You might see anything from drag queens, to robots to man sized pigs. Since it was a busy day, we decided to eat like tourists for sheer convenience, which led us to the Riverfront Restaurant on Decatur. The local who recommended this restaurant told us, “This is a good tourist restaurant. Their food will not win awards for culinary excellence, but it is good and you will get out quickly.” I looked up the restaurant on Yelp and Urban spoon and it received decent ratings. Most patrons commented that Riverfront’s fried food was their core competency. Here is what we ordered:
Fried Pickles – (Probably the best thing on the menu) The sliced pickles appeared to have been dredged in flour and then quickly deep fried to create a crispy and almost puffy crust around the pickles. These fried pickles had quite an interesting flavor as the vinegary flavor combined with the savory flavor of deep fried batter. The result of this unholy alliance was surprisingly good! The texture was a combination of a crispy batter and gooey fried pickle meat. From first read, this might sound possibly disgusting, but I am going to tell you from firsthand experience that this was amazing! I was extremely skeptical about ordering a basket of deep fried pickles myself, but after trying them I wanted more! They came with a side of ranch dressing which was not mandatory to have but definitely heightened the experience…I am currently trying to find a place in Southern California with a similar preparation; a co-worker told me that Lucille’s BBQ has a similar version, I will have to investigate.
Taste of New Orleans Platter – This dish provided a sample of New Orleans most famous rice dishes. This platter consisted of Chicken and Sausage gumbo, Crawfish Etouffée, Jambalaya and Red Beans and Rice. All the dishes are decent with good flavors, although nothing that will win awards. With that said, I really did enjoying these dishes, as they were almost like a passport to understanding the styles of Cajun and Creole Cooking.
- Crawfish Etoufee is a classic Louisiana Dish that starts with a roux (remember part 1) and then slow stews crawfish tails, onions, celery, peppers and rice to form a rich, soupy stew. The Riverfront restaurant’s version has good flavors and a good balance of rice in the mixture. The only thing I did not like about this dish was that there was not enough crawfish in the mix.
More about Crawfish Etouffee: In French the word, “étouffée”, literally means “smothered” or “suffocated.” In Louisiana, the term “smother” implies that the food is simmered in a small amount of liquid and heavily seasoned. The largest difference between the Cajun and Creole Etouffe is the inclusion of tomatoes in the recipe. If you remember, from part 1 of this blog post, the Cajuns did not have easy access to tomatoes, so their etouffee tends to be more yellow or light brown in color.
- Gumbo, the second part of the New Orleans Sampler, which is a very rich and thick stew made from strong flavored stock, meat, celery, bell peppers, and a thickener. The stew is simmered until it heavily thickens. The Riverfront Restaurant’s gumbo used chicken and sausage as the proteins (Cajun style) and tomato paste (Creole style). Overall I really enjoyed the gumbo; it was strong flavors and a slight tingle from the spices.
More About Gumbo –This dish is a stew that originated in Southern Louisiana during the 18th century and is a combination of French, Spanish, German, West African, West Indies and Choctaw tribe cuisines. A factor that differentiates gumbo from a regular soup is the type of thickener used. For example, thickeners can be one or more of the following: okra (West African) ,File’ Powder made from sassafras leaves (Choctaw tribe) or Roux (French). The roots of the word “gumbo” came from this thickener. For example, the African dialect of Bantu uses the word, “Ki NGombo” for Okra. The Choctaw tribal language for File’ is “Kombo.”
- Red Beans and Rice– This dish is a staple in New Orleans cuisine and is a classic Creole dish. This dish is made from slow simmering the holy trinity of creole vegetables, kidney beans, chicken broth, tomatoes and ham. The Riverfront actually made a respectable red beans and rice; although, I am not a NOLA local to the area so I could be easily fooled.
More About Red Beans and Rice– Historically, Sunday is Ham day in New Orleans, so Monday is leftovers day. What many of the creoles did was use the leftover ham and ham bones to make red beans and rice. The use of the ham bone adds depth of flavor during the very slow simmering process. Red Beans and Rice are only considered authentic if they have a very creamy sauce.
- Jambalaya– A rice dish that has been cooked with stock, tomato sauce, the holy trinity of vegetables, and a mixture of sausage, shrimp and chicken. This dish is cooked such that the rice is thrown in after the broth from the ingredients come to a boil, thus forcing the rice grains to adsorb the moisture and the flavors. The Riverfront Restaurant made a flavorful jambalaya with a combination of sweet, savory, spicy and acidic. I had better jambalaya during my stay in New Orleans, but it was delicious.
More about Jambalaya: Jambalaya is simply a version of Spanish Paella that was adapted to the ingredients in the New World. This dish originated in the heart of the original European Sector of the city where the Spanish tried to find ways of making their beloved Paella without the use of imported saffron. During this time period, they learned to use tomatoes as a substitute for saffron and slowly began to add other local ingredients.
We packed up from our late breakfast and for the rest of the afternoon we partied on the streets and partook in the celebration of Fat Tuesday by dressing up in costumes, dancing on the streets and interacting with all the other party goers. I will say that Fat Tuesday in New Orleans is a very unique “ground swell” celebration that gets its kinetic energy from the people attending and requires no central organization. Mardi Gras is a cultural experience that cannot be replicated. After a full day of partying in a pig costume, it was time to eat a late lunch. Although it was Fat Tuesday, so there is a conundrum! Let me explain.
Somethin Else Cafe
On Fat Tuesday, everything closes up early, especially the nicer restaurants on Bourbon Street. We started asking around for something that was still open at 6:00pm, for a late lunch. A police officer told us to check out a café frequented by cops and locals called, “Somethin Else Café.” The policeman said, “Locals eat here because we don’t only eat Cajun and Creole.” The Somethin Else Café reminded me of an upscale artsy version of a roadside café that you might find with taking a road trip to Baton Rogue. The atmosphere was hip and upbeat and everyone seemed to be enjoying their food. Here is what we ordered:
The Gator Po boy: This dish consisted of a large fluffy French roll that had been toasted with butter, grilled Alligator sausage, melted pepper jack cheese, lettuce, tomato, and their “Secret Sauce.” The flavor of this sandwich was just slightly spicy with subtle hints of Cajun spices. The alligator meat added strong overtones of richness and complexity to the flavor profile. Overall the Po Boy has great flavors and their secret sauce added a little zing.
What does Alligator Taste like? The flavor really is a combination of chicken and veal, but also with its own unique flavor that cannot be easily described without trying it. The texture of the meat reminded of something between a veal and a pork chop.
Hand Cut French Fries with Cheese -The fries were crunchy on the outside and soft, fluffy and steamy on the inside. I really liked the fresh potato flavor that this dish provided and the yummy melted cheese made for a delicious greasy pile of yumminess, perfect after an afternoon of debauchery.
<<<Fast Forward to five more hours of watching Krewe Parades, taking a nap and a little more Fat Tuesday foolishness. We were ready for our last meal in New Orleans. The year prior, we stumbled upon a little Italian Restaurant call Angeli’s which served food until 2am. We drug our tired bodies to Decatur Street and heading in the direction of Frenchmen Street, and tumbled into Angeli’s, the best local pizza place…
Where to find the Best Pizza in New Orleans! Angeli’s on Decatur
Technically Angelis is known for serving Italian Food and Sandwiches, although this place is better known for the best pizza in New Orleans. I am placing Angeli’s on my Top 10 pizzas that I have tasted, competing with the finest in New York. When you walk into the restaurant it looks like an artsy trip back into time with brightly painted walls, classic rock memorabilia, and oil paintings of rock and roll stars like Jim Morrison. People at this restaurant are really chill and it feels like you are hanging out in your neighbor’s garage, getting ready for a jam session. An eclectic crowd kept cycling through this joint, but the common thing they all had in common was the fact that they all ordered their pizza.
I’m not sure what secret sauce is used in this pizza that makes it so good. So let me break it down for you. The crust was crisp, yet slightly chewy with nice air bubbles. The flavor of the crust had an ever so slight mineral flavor (similar to a NYC pizza), probably from the old pipes in New Orleans. They used a perfect amount of buffalo mozzarella, just enough to give a chewy, and just slightly stringy consistency. The sauce is a combination of sweet and acidic, just the right balance to accentuate the cheese and add balance to the crust. Speaking of sauce, this pizza had just the right amount of sauce so you got a saucy bite each time. This restaurant has been highly recommended by many locals who tell me they have the best pizza in the French Quarter.
My Final Thoughts
The cuisine of a city of tells a story of its cultural history and we immersed ourselves into the soul of the city by experiencing its best food. During my trip, I learned that the city is home to many different cultures and appreciated the cuisine from this cultural lens. My only regret about this trip was not eating four meals a day, so that I could experience more of the city’s cuisine. The next time we visit New Orleans, it will be during a more quite time so that I can leisurely soak in the city, it’s people and more cuisine. A special thanks to all the wonderful locals who provided hospitality and recommendations.