Thursday, February 13, 2014

Eating BIG In New Orleans (Pt. 2)

Eating like a local:
Regional food specialties

- The goldmine that goes by NOLA

My most recent visit to the Big Easy was definitely my best yet. This goes for both food and fun. I got to spend six long days down there last month in celebration of my sisters marriage to her now husband. You cant put into words the electricity that those down there to celebrate brought with them. Close to 300 people, most all from Chicago, made their presence felt. Its just how we roll. Bars were dranken out of the cheap Midwest beers my southside part of the family, as well as the groom and all of his family and friends drink while industry people wondering if the Bulls or some other sports team from the city was in town.

 ♫ ...back to NOLA ♫

Castnet Seafoods

Locals favorite near the lake 

The first couple of days I was in town I had the chance to cruise around to some spots rec'd by bartenders and other intel I dug out through social media and so on. This locally loved place is located in East New Orleans right across the street from Lake Ponchartrain. They have two doors for guests to enter thru one of which serves fresh raw fish and the other steamed and fried varieties. It was packed on this Thursday afternoon. Many people are taking stuff to go for their own grill while others were enjoying lunch.

a peak inside

We just had to have some crawfish ($2.99/lb) and also decided to try the gumbo file. Both hit the spot. There's a dining room that's connected to a smoked meat shop which was putting out some great smells but I had too many stops planned to fit it in.

Gumbo File and Crawfish

Zimmer's Seafood

Locals favorite around Gentilly, St Anthony

I was tipped by an industry veteran that this was the best place in the city for a po' boy sandwich. It doubles as a seafood center. I was told fresh as can be shrimp and oysters are stuffed into bread made at a bakery a few doors down, sounded like a real winner to me. I went with a half fried shrimp po boy with everything including hot sauce (leave that catsup crap off mine). I also picked up a pound of marinated blue crab for the fridge. Both were sensational. I'd wrastle a gator to have this place as my neighborhood lunchtime stop.

Sensational Fried Shrimp Po Boy


Since I had rented a car I was asked to grab a few peoples suits along with my own from the tuxedo rental place in Metairie. Me being me I made sure to see what the food options were around this way. A good chunk of my info as far as new to the scene spots came from Brett Anderson who is the Times-Picayune New Orleans restaurant critic. This old school Italian spot isn't one of those places but it the purveyor of what he calls the best roast beef po' boy in the area. It's easy to for Midwesterner like myself to pass on one of these with the abundance of seafood down there but this sandwich is not to be missed. I could see it being my most ate sandwich in town if I lived down there.

The Best Roast Beef Po Boy in the area? I cant argue that

Drago's Seafood Restaurant

Longtime locals favorite in Metairie

Same trip we stopped into the original Drago's for char grilled oysters before picking up the suits. It was packed at lunchtime on a Friday but the place is big and the bar was open. There's no adjectives left to describe their signature dish made with lots of butter and garlic so I'll just add that they certainly weren't a letdown and there was indeed a second round.

Home of the World Famous Char Grilled Oysters

Le Petite Grocery

I managed to make it to pretty much every place I wanted to eat at, both mom and pop and chef driven spots. La Petite has been around for a while but recently has new blood. Top Chef contestant Justin Devillier and his Louisiana roots have the place back in the conversation of the best restaurant in New Orleans. No he didn't win, but the kids going to be ok. This was probably my best meal of the trip. Big thanks to two of my most loyal readers for treating us too this wonderfully  lunch.

Longtime Magazine Street Resident

We stopped in for lunch to meet my aunt and uncle who had gotten into town an hour or so before we planned to meet. These people don't mess around when it comes to their drinks so we were at the cocktail portion of the menu as soon as we sat down. I don't remember which drinks I ordered but I know they were on point. That said, it was the food that dazzled. If this meal doesn't make it into my 'best of 2014' I'll have ate very, very well the rest of the way. Every damn thin was phenomenal. All due respect but I'd happily trade any of the well known Top Chef Contestants in my hometown for this.

Fried Oysters with Broccoli Rabe, Red Pepper Aioli and Crispy Ham Bits (Special)

 Blue Crab Beignets - malt vinegar aioli

 Sheep Cheese Pirog - pork cheek, shiitake & choucroute

Grilled Octopus - lentils, country ham au ju, crispy ham bits

 Paneed Rabbit - spaetzle, wilted greens & grenobloise

Turtle Bolognese - bucatini, sherry, parsley & crispy soft boiled egg

Coops Place

Stopped into Coop's Place twice on this trip. If you're vacationing down here on a weekday it's obviously a different vibe than weekends, specifically on and around Bourbon Street. I was surprised at how many restaurants closed for the day at 9 or 10pm. Coop's Place serves food late and they also make a mean sazerac...when the place isn't packed, when it is, they serve all drinks out of plastic cups. We stopped in here Wednesday Night (empty around 10p) and also the Sunday following the wedding (line out the door around dinner time). The fried crab claws and seafood pasta hit the spot. You might not have your best meal of the trip here but I've never had a bad one on any of my visits. 

Fried Crab Claws and Seafood Pasta

Cane & Table

One of the hottest spots in the city right now is this hard to spot tiki inspired cocktail lounge in the French Quarter. Another spot Brett Anderson put on my radar. He calls it "game changing" and notes how cocktails now qualify as a "course of its own, one that precedes and then overlaps with the appetizer course" While I went in expecting the drinks to be the reason to come back it's the grub that will get me in next chance I have. Tiki inspired app's like the 'Crispy Rum Ribs' might sound generic but they're the best slabs of pork I've ate of late. Individual Truebridge Duroc Pork ribs are marinated in a papaya chutney and lightly battered and deep fried creating a sticky, crispy texture served with a side of sambol. The Peas N Rice were even better. Brett Anderson put this mashup of New Orleans and the Caribbean in his top dishes ate in 2013. Entrees like the Cuban inspired ropa vieja were tempting but we had reservations elsewhere.
Island Peas. Local Andouille Sausage. Pickled Pork. Popcorn Rice.


Dickie Brennan's Newest Venture

Continuing on with newer dining options in the French Quarter area we head to Tableau. This is the latest spot from NOLA restaurant veteran Dickie Brennan. We were going to go here for lunch one day but went to La Petite instead so after after a few rounds with relatives at C&T me and her headed here for dinner. The place is huge, two stories thus the atmosphere is one where both locals and tourists can co-exist. I'm not a big wine drinker but other people I know that went here are and they were impressed with both the selection and prices considering the location. The cocktail menu focuses on fresh squeezed juices and house infused liquors.

Oysters En Brochette and Seafood Courtbouillion

I wasn't going to visit the Big Easy and not get my BBQ shrimp fix. As soon as I saw their version of it served with grits on the website I had my sights set on it. It was a fantastic rendition of a classic. The gravy aka BBQ sauce was rich, we're talking Master P money. She got the Creole Courtbouillion which had all sorts of seafood in it but we both agreed the shrimp and truffled crab fingers to start were where it's at.

BBQ Shrimp and Grits


Nice Cocktail Spot in the French Quarter and random muffaletta someone dropped off

The hipster crafted cocktail scene is taking off in New Orleans and places in the French Quarter are opening up giving people more options than just daiquiris. We enjoyed a few rounds at Kingfish was which pretty much Scofflaw (a Chicago cocktail bar) with a southern accent.

Matassa's Market

Longtime French Quarter Resident

My last full day in town was a Monday and as the sun started to go down I thought I was out of food stops  until I realized I had yet to have any red beans and rice. I checked a list of recommended spots for the dish which is on special at many places on Monday which is when it was traditionally eaten back when. Matassa's Market seems to be where all the FQ living locals shopped at and according to their website it's been that way since 1924 when John Matassa emigrated from his native Sicily.

Monday Red Beans & Rice Special

john eventually got married and he and she opened Johnny’s Grocery and Bar, a small grocery store with an attached bar and kitchen, at 1001 Dauphine St. in the French Quarter in 1924. It's still there today although relatives have renamed it in his honor. I walked to the deli counter in back and got me an order of what was the best example of that dish I've ever ate. Deep in pork flavor from the hocks and sausage used, I've never had a creamier dish that consisted of zero cream whatsoever. If I'm ever in town and flying out on a Monday, I'll get an order of this to eat then and there and another for my fridge when I arrive home.

Pure Louisiana


This cocktail lounge on Freret is said to be responsible for bringing the block/neighborhood back. I'd heard about it before heading down and was happy to find out our house rental was only a mile or so away. I ended up here three times and enjoyed pretty much everything about it. Both the interior design and atmosphere reminded me of both Merchant in Madison and Holland House in Nashville. If there's one thing New Orleans food/drink industry lacks it's good bartenders. Surprisingly the only bad experience here was the night the proprietor was working the bar. I couldn't stop drinking the Dixie Cocktail off the obscure classics part of the menu but on my last night in town he couldn't make it as good as his employees.

End of the Bar

The Company Burger

About a block down from Cure is Company Burger. This place was opened up by Adam Biderman who was the chef who debuted Atlanta based Holeman & Finch's renowned burger. It's been called the best in the country by many. They serve pretty much the exact same burger here except the menu isn't limited to just 24 a night. They grind the beef, bake the buns, make the mayo, turn cumcumbers into pickles and only serve tomatoes when in season. Fries and onion rings are hand cut, fries fried twice. I know chef driven is played out but this is the definition of that. They have a nice cocktail menu ($7/each) as well as local brewed beer and wine.

Chef Driven Burger Stop

The signature burger is made with two thin patties weighing in at 6.5 ounces together. Each patty is topped with a slice of American cheese and thinly sliced onions are sandwiched between the patties and housemade pickles are included too. You add ketchup and mustard at your own will. As American as apple as pie. I'd be here once a month minimum if that were possible.

The Company Burger

M&M Tamales

Mississippi Delta Style Tamales sold out the back of a van

I always try and leave some sort of stomach space for the unexpected. Driving back to our place of residence for the week I spied a guy selling Mississippi Delta Style Tamales out of the back of his van. I didn't have time then and there to stop but his location was in an area I'd driven by before so I just hoped he would be there the next day. That he was. This recipe comes to NOLA via Woodville, Mississippi and just like every other Delta style tamale maker I've ever met, this guy was a wonderful/passionate person to chat with. His recipe was a chicken blend and they were about the same size as the bunch tamales places like Jimmy's on Grand here in Chicago use. Taste-wise, I've never had a Mississippi Tamale I didn't like.

Gotta love it

Dooky Chase's

A NOLA Legend

I've known about DC's for a while now and always wanted to go. Somewhere along the line I'd read her Friday Shrimp and Lima Bean special is not to be missed and planned a trip there for Friday afternoon. Little did I know that this was prime-time for them as there were groups of people waiting out of the door. We squeezed our way in to put our name down and ended up chatting with some real deal French Cajun folk who drove 40 or so miles to come eat. The husband had nothing but praise and made sure we knew it was worth the wait. After about 40 minutes they were able to squeeze us into a table due to the fact there was just two of us.

a peak inside the dining room

This stop was a gluttonous call since we had already eaten at a couple places before stopping in. However I really wanted to try that Friday special and my mind was set on doing so. As it turned out the special is part of the lunch buffet which was about as good a looking one as I've ever come across. Problem was we had already ate so damn much I didn't want to drop $20+ just for a taste of it. Luckily this was the most professional well run establishment I've ever been to. The service was as good as anywhere and you could tell it rubbed off on customers, everyone says hello to each other. with a wide smile on their face.


I asked our wonderful waitress about getting just it and she explained the rules but wasn't going to let me leave without eating. So she gave me a bowl that's used for gumbo and told me she'd just charge me that ($6) and I could fill it up with the Shrimp and Lima beans. My gf wasn't hungry at all but our server insisted she eat a cup of gumbo on the house. While it was a very nice rendition, the special was sensational. The lima beans are cooked in a heavily potent shrimp stock and once ready they throw in handful upon handful of fresh gulf shrimps to quickly cook thru. So simple but so good. Soul food at it's finest.

Shrimp and Lima Beans Friday Special

Kermit's Treme Speakeasy

Also in the neighborhood is local musical legend Kermit Ruffin's semi new spot. We stopped into here one early evening and enjoyed some cold beers and good conversation, unfortunately they were out of fried rabbit. I could see myself hanging here now and then if I was living down there.

Part of a neighborhood revitalization

Cajun Seafood

Locals Favorite

I was tipped off this local empire by a patron at Kermit's. They're to NOLA what J&J Fish is to Chicago but the comparisons come to end after that. Cajun Seafood is a one stop shop for many residents of the area. It's an Asian owned seafood company that sells it fresh, boiled and fried. They also have a Chinese menu and all sorts of booze and other products you'd find at your local convenience store. I drove by a few locations but this one in the 7th ward was a monster.

Waiting in line

People from all walks of life were inside when I stopped in one late afternoon. They had workers loading trucks and cars with loads of fresh seafood while the rest waited to have theirs boiled and or fried to order. It was a little overwhelming trying to choose what I wanted amongst crawfish, shrimp, crabs, crab legs and so forth. Everything you need for a boil they had. Sausage, corn, mushrooms, you buy, they boil. I ended up with a pound of Cajun boiled shrimp, a pound of boiled snow crab legs and a small shrimp fried rice for something like $23. I brought it all back to our place, threw some newspaper on the table outside and went at it like pirate after a seize. The fried rice was great around 2a later that evening.

Takeout from Cajun Seafood


During a browse online of what's good these days I had come across an article about the most anticipated restaurant openings around the country. It listed MoPho as New Orleans most awaited opening of the season. Then I saw on twitter that were opening their doors the week before I was heading down so I made a mental note as they don't take reservations. 

Hot Opening in 2014 

It comes to the Mid-City neighborhood from Michael Gulotta, former chef du cuisine at the critically acclaimed August. I'd describe it as "Southeast Asia meets the South" as the menu combines favorites from the Mekong Delta with the Mississippi Delta and so on. I'm a sucker for fusion food and bowls of pho and more cocktails seemed like the perfect stop for killing a hangover a wedding in New Orleans will give. So we rolled over early Sunday afternoon. It was me her and a few cousins and we pretty much tried everything we wanted with the exception of a menu item or two.

Gulf Shrimp Spring Rolls - Crispy Fried P&J Oysters - MOPHO Mayo, Easter Egg Radish and Pickled Blue Cheese

Food wise I was pretty happy with what we got, it definitely hit the spot. Cocktails were good too. However service was lacking to say the least. They were packed and obviously not into the groove but I didn't have any time to let them get into it being a visitor and all. Here are some highlights from our 2.5 hour lunch.

Banh Xeo Battered Shrimp - Crispy Lemongrass and Ginger Chicken Wings

Slow Roast Lamb Neck and Beet in Green Curry with Creole Cream Cheese Roti - Beef Pho

Grilled Jumbo Shrimp with spicy pork pâté, mint- Grilled Pork Trotter in Spicy Crab Broth with blue crab salad, meyer lemon, mint and


Speaking of hot restaurant openings, Peche was said by many to be the best New Orleans restaurant to open in 2013. This is the seafood centric spot from the swine loving (Donald) Link Restaurant Group. I enjoyed my stops at Cochon and their lunchtime butcher shop down the block on my last trip thus I was excited to see what kind of show they can do with fish.

One of the cities hottest spots

I'd read about them in what I believe was John T. Edge's 'Top Ten Dishes of 2013' list and knew I wanted to try it after doing so. They specialize in flame roasted whole fish which is all the rage down there these days. I remember seeing whole fish on the menu at Cane and Table, MoPho and on special at Tableau. But it'd hard to top their signature dish here which is the days fresh catch (on this visit red snapper) roasted over wood with Salsa Verde on top. As simple as it sounds that's what it was, but the sum of it all together was good enough for a neckful of beads from me.

 Roasted Red Snapper en Salsa Verde

Was this the Queen dish of the trip? Maybe but the nights other roasted fish special was a flounder with a citrus butter salsa that was to die for. The flakiest most taste bud friendly fish dish I can remember. No way I could order just one or the other if I was presented with the same options on my next visit. I'd probably just skip app's which were no slouch themselves.

Fried Bread with Some amazing Cornmeal Crusted Fried Oysters

Ground Shrimp with Noodles and Curried Mussels with Fired Potatoes

Shrimp Toast and Fish Sticks

Lamb Skewers and Baked Drum Fish

With a reservation for more than 10 and me doing all the ordering we got to try pretty much everything we (I) wanted. Winners included the fried bread, fish sticks, shrimp toast, lamb skewers with chickpeas, curried mussels with fried potatoes and a baked drum entree that included some veggie fritters beside it. I wasn't big on the bisque or a spicy ground shrimp with noodles dish but I didnt hate them, I happily ate my portion of the plates. The cocktails were quenching and service was both prompt and patient as it's not easy dealing with my immediate or extended family. That said, they always enjoy it, especially after the tip comes. If I was back for a three day weekend or short stay I'd have a hard time not returning here for at least one of my nice dinners out. Fantastic stuff.

Roasted Fish Special

That's it for this trip...see ya next time @chibbqking 

(Check Part One of this Series HERE)

Castnet Seafood
10826 Hayne Blvd
New Orleans, LA 70127
(504) 244-8446

Zimmer's Seafood
4915 St Anthony Ave,
New Orleans, LA 70122
(504) 282-7150

216 Metairie-Hammond Hwy
Metairie, LA 70005
(504) 831-1248

Drago's Seafood Restaurant
3232 N Arnoult Rd
Metairie, LA 70002
(504) 888-9254

La Petite Grocery
4238 Magazine St
New Orleans, LA 70115
(504) 891-3377

Coop's Place
1109 Decatur St
New Orleans, LA 70116
(504) 525-9053

Cane & Table
1113 Decatur St
New Orleans, LA 70116
(504) 581-1112

616 St Peter St
New Orleans, LA 70116
(504) 934-3463

337 Chartres St
New Orleans, LA 70130
(504) 598-5005

Matassa's Market
1001 Dauphine St
New Orleans, LA 70116
(504) 412-8700

4905 Freret St
New Orleans, LA 70115
(504) 302-2357

Company Burger
4600 Freret St
New Orleans, LA 70115
(504) 267-0320

M&M Tamales*
*3301 S Claiborne Ave
New Orleans, LA 70125
*Sets up on gas station lawn across the street from here

Dooky Chase's Restaurant
2301 Orleans Ave
New Orleans, LA 70119
(504) 821-0600

Kermit's Treme Speakeasy
1535 Basin St
New Orleans, LA 70116
(504) 309-5828

Cajun Seafood
1479 N Claiborne Ave
New Orleans, LA 70116
(504) 948-6000

514 City Park Ave
New Orleans, LA 70119
(504) 482-6845

Peche Seafood Grill
800 Magazine St
New Orleans, LA 70130
(504) 522-1744


Karen said...

OMG!!!! u totally nailed it!
I am a former Chicagoan, living here for about 15 years. I miss some things, but you just can't get the seafood anywhere else like here!

Anonymous said...

Hey man, that fish on salsa verde is definitely not an American red snapper. Looking at the mouth it's almost certainly a redfish (aka red drum) or maybe a giant croaker, but it's definitely not a red snapper. Keep up the good work, love the blog.


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