Friday, April 27, 2012

A Northerner's Guide to New Orleans

I just returned from a fun, food-filled long weekend in New Orleans. This is my third time visiting the Big Easy. The other two trips I was producing cooking videos for how2heroes with New Orleans treasures like Poppy Tooker, Chef Frank Brigtsen and Boo Macomber. This time was for pure fun with some friends. New Orleans is truly one of America's great cities. Culture, history, food and music - all its own. I fall in love with it again every time I visit. I wanted to share some of the highlights of my trip with you in case you're planning a trip and trying to wade through all the options. I'm also including a recipe for Streusel Bread Pudding that I learned at the New Orleans Cooking Experience from celebrated New Orleans Chef Gerard Maras. It is legendary and will make anyone you serve it to grin from ear to ear. Definitely take a class here. It's so much fun. And you eat like a king!

COCKTAILS - Take a Tour
May sound like an excuse to booze but it's actually a great way to learn about the history of New Orleans as well as its cocktail culture. Did you know the word "cocktail" was coined in NOLA? I won't give away much more except to tell you that you visit several historic bars in the city and learn about their history as well as the cocktails that were born on the premises. Our tour guide was a third generation native New Orleanian and he could rattle off names, places and dates like nobody's business. Definitely take this tour. Drinks are not included except one at the start. Up to you if you want to partake along the tour but not required.

RESTAURANTS There are so many amazing restaurant. Some you need to hit for historic purposes, others because they are the "best" at something very specific and there are some that are just damn good and not to be missed.

Institutions: Antoine's - Open since 1840. 17 dining rooms including one used only for the President of the United States. French meets Creole here. Not the best food in New Orleans but you can't beat the atmosphere. See if you can get a peek at the wine cellar - over 125,000 bottles as far as the eye can see Arnaud's - Open since 1918. Rumored to be haunted. Houses a Mardi Gras museum. Be sure to take it in. Brennan's - Famous for their expansive breakfast menu, Banana's Foster served table side with flames up to the chandelier and Brandy Milk Punch (pictured here)

They "Own It":
Cafe du Monde - Beignet capital of the world. Huge place, quick turnover, freshly made, heavily powdered donut-like squares of heaven. Frankly, I like the smaller Cafe Beinet better but really, there are no bad beignets that I've encountered to date in NOLA.
Mahony's - Po-Boy shop in the Garden District (short trolley ride from the French Quarter) serving a variety of Louisiana-style sandwiches, ranging from fried oysters to roast beef and grilled shrimp. Get in line early and grab a beer while you wait.

Central Grocery Wonderful Italian specialty store that is known for the almighty Muffuletta, a multilayered meat and provolone sandwich with an addictive olive spread. The sandwich is HUGE and easily serves 4. We bought 2 and managed to work our way through both of them because, well, it was freaking delicious. If you want to make your own at home, watch this Muffaletta video featuring Johnny from All Star Sandwich Bar. It's a 6' version, y'all!

Incredible Food: 
Brigsten's - Frank Brigtsen should be deemed the James Beard Award winner most likely to be hugged. He is one of the warmest chefs I have ever met and his food is incredible. Frank worked under Paul Prudhomme way back in the day and has been making a name for himself serving New Orleans inspired fare since 1986. Watch the video we filmed of him making his special Pecan Pie. Eating there is like eating in someone's home. Delightful.
Dante's Kitchen - When I tried the Spoon Bread and the Shrimp w/ Grits & Red Eye Gravy, I knew we'd be coming back to film how-to videos on those dishes. And so we did. Eman Loubier, Owner & Chef, is a genius.
Lilette - Beautiful, more upscale and contemporary restaurant. Enjoyed one of the most buttery, delicious pieces of fish I've ever eaten. Drumfish. Try it!

Classic Cocktails: 
Tujagues - Everything is original in this bar except for the floor, including the mirror over the bar which was brought over from France in 1956 and had been in a Paris bistro for 90 years previous. The Grasshopper, pictured above, was invented here.
Pirate's Alley Cafe and Absinthe House - Situated, where else? On Pirate's Alley where duels to "first blood" used to take place. Charming. Classic cocktails are also served at most of the establishments above, particularly Antoine's, Arnaud's and Brennan's.

Try some of these but discover more of your own. Every corner there's an adventure and something delicious to eat and drink as well as a tuba parade coming down the street or a neighborhood with a variety of talented artists (check out my acquisition from talented artist Rick Fox!). Visit New Orleans! They're waiting for y'all!

Gerard Maras' Streusel Bread Pudding Definitely take a class at the New Orleans Cooking Experience when you go. So much fun!

1 loaf French bread, day old, cut 1"thick pieces
6 eggs
2 cups milk
2 cups cream
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 pinch salt
1/4 lb butter

1/2 cup pecans
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground clove
1/3 cup golden raisins

Bourbon Sauce (oh ya. don't leave this out):
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup cream
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 lb butter, cold, 1" cubes
1/3 cup bourbon (or more!)

1. Whisk eggs in a stainless bowl with sugar. Add milk, cream, vanilla & salt. Add bread to bowl and soak for at least 30 minutes
2. Butter a 12" baking pan and lay buttered parchment on the bottom, extending up to the sides and top 3. Pulse streusel ingredients in a food processor
4. Pour bread mixture into baking pan. Press streusel into areas of the bread pudding (this is key for getting all those streusel flavors worked in) and sprinkle the rest on top
5. Cover with parchment and foil. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 1 hour. Remove from oven, allow to cool, then invert to another pan. Cut into 3" squares and sauce with Bourbon Sauce Bourbon Sauce: 1. In a small sauce pan, add cream, vanilla and sugar and bring to a boil 2. Reduce to half its volume then add bourbon and cook 2-3 minutes longer 3. Whisk in butter then remove from heat and keep warm 

Any questions about NOLA, feel free to post. If I don't know the answer, I can probably point you to a good resource. Cheers!