Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Eating BIG in NOLA

Eating like a local:
Regional food specialties

-New Orleans Louisiana, where theres always more...

Last September after riding the Tamale Trail we made our way down the Mississippi River and slept in Natchez, MS and rode into New Orleans arriving around 11a Saturday morning. The reason for my visit was a bachelor party weekend with Da Bears. The food and most of the time spent in the Crescent City was marvelous, the game not so much. But if theres anyplace you could care less about a loss once the game has ended, it's Nawlins. First order of business Saturday was, of course, food. Since we had a car I had a few local loved spots picked out that were reachable with a vehicle although most of these stops are a short cab ride too.

First stop in the 504, Two Sisters Restaurant.

a diamond in the rough

Not to be confused with the tourist bait that is 'Court of Two Sisters' this is a somewhat DL spot for those of us not from around this way. But those in the know do know, so your likely to see people of all sorts. It's in a neighborhood that still has plenty of visual images of the damage Katrina did. There's a church next door and a few houses still occupied while the rest of the area is still boarded up. I found this spot thru Southern Foodway's 'Gumbo Trail' website and it didn't disappoint. Read more about them HERE. The gumbo is available as a special on Fri. and Sat. only, so this trip was my chance. What a way to start the day. Best bowl of anything I've had in a while, the broth was seasoned to perfection. I'll for sure be back even if I gotta cab it.

Beware before eating, this might make you move to NOLA

Two Sisters is what Pope Yes claims to be. The meat off the ham hock was sublime and along with that there was a bunch of other good stuff up in there. We saw a another Bears fan who's a state rep from the Southside in there enjoying what he said was "his favorite spot to eat at down here". Really great ultra friendly service too but even if that was awful and unfriendly I wouldn't be able to stay away from their gumbo. Fueled and filled we hit up Bourbon street to meet with some peops for a few hours before my dream meal which we had reservations for at 6:30.

2nd Stop on Day 1 was Mosca's

Avondale, LA

Mosca's has been on my must get too list for ages now. It's been in many publications and is loved and rec'd by people I know, know how to eat. We were supposed to go there when my family was all down there for my sisters college graduation pre-Katrina but I never was able to convince the rest to go. The hurricane took what was the entire 10 foot wide kitchen space but they, like so many others are back at it and that's important for the people. Both the longtime customers and staff. The unassuming roadhouse has been a part of the community/swamplands since 1946 when they moved down there from Chicago Heights, IL to open a restaurant. In a article it explains "He wanted to get out of Chicago Heights," Johnny said of his father. "It was too Mafioso. Then he wound up in New Orleans. Turns out it was the same thing." Haha.

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The bar area and dining room

Now in it's 3rd generation, the gangsters are long gone but the food and wonderful aromas remain the same. The Sat. night we were there I'm almost positive we were the only non locals being the only people in there without a Louisiana accent. It's a small space and they're only open from 5:30-9:30 five days a week so reservations are a very good idea. It's a little trip (about 25 mins) from the heart of the city. It's also a spot to go to with a few folks, the menu is small but the dishes are large and very shareable so you need a few people. We had three people with us but as always, I had to order a little extra. It was so good, there were no leftovers.

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Fresh baked bread comps of the house and a white bean soup

The bread was fresh hot out of the oven and a great little snack to go along with the cocktails but be sure not to eat but a piece or two if you must. Everything is prepared to order and you are asked to give at least 45 minutes for your dinner to be ready. Well worth the wait, all the food arrived one dish after the other and everyone just kind of jumped in when it did. First up the Oysters Mosca aka "Best Thing I've Eaten [Lately]"

Oysters Mosca, one of a few signature dishes

Fresh local oysters with the house seasoning and lots of garlic, topped with bread crumbs and baked. I forget the price (market) but there were 12 oysters in there and while the dish wasn't cheap you wont think twice about the price after you eat. You can taste the Chicago roots as this was similar to shrimp de jonghe but their special seasoning techniques here are as good as anywhere. You wont ever forget the taste and wont be at peace until the next time you try it. That goes for all the dishes we ordered including the shrimp Mosca.

Fresh local shrimp w/ shell sautéed with Italian seasonings and white wine

They didn't have the Cornish Hen on menu that night but it turned out ok because we already ordered a ton, also having to pass on the crab salad and Italian sausage with roasted potatoes. But what we got is what I think people that arent regulars need to try. The shrimp were indeed as good as they look. The recipe description might be simple but I bet not too many can duplicate what they do. Especially when it comes to their Chicken a la Grande. The flash pictures might not be pretty but these are the only ones I got in which you can see and this dish was a perfect 10. This I'd have to order everytime I ate there.

Mosca's Chicken a la Grande

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Fresh chicken sautéed with rosemary and special seasoning, whole garlic cloves and white wine

Available in half ($18) or whole ($28) there's only one way to go. The chicken is cut up into pieces and cooked in a bath of garlic infused goodness. Eat this and you wont have any vampires near you for an eternity. Our waitress rec'd we also get an order of Spaghetti and Bordelaise and that was a great call which went well with the chicken. She took wonderful care of us and the other 3 or 4 tables she was working and kept stopping by to make sure we were good on drinks while clearing space and so on. Flip a coin, both the oysters and chicken were the best dishes I had on this trip. Dinner for three with drinks for me was $220 with tip. We splurged. Well, well worth it.

Dinner at a Louisiana Legend goes as planned...Legendary

I already know Mosca's will be a meal I'm fiending for on a cold winter day in Chicago. In fact sitting back here posting these pics has me thinking how I would bury a man if it meant a meal from here right now. After dinner it was back to the hotel, where I had to shower and brush my teeth twice to get all that garlic out and then it was off to Bourbon street. No more food for the night after that gut pusher but plenty of booze, sorry but no pics of boobs.

Sunday morning it was over to Cafe Du Monde to start the day.

Saturday evening was a wild one all around with the Bears fans invasion along with a UFC fight at the convention center and a rave with 7,000+ in the Warehouse district that went on until the crack of down. I heard them across the street from our spot at the Garden Inn when I retired. The neighborhood over there has quite a few places hopping. The beignets and some fresh squeezed orange juice did the trick for me before it was time to Bear Down but that only turned into a big WHO DAT nation chant from there on in.

The classic French Quarter breakfast

We did some drinking at a tailgate and the Saints fans were great. They got love for the Bears who they say along with the Cowboys come down to New Orleans with the biggest fan base each year they play there. Got to eat some great eats like a muffaletta and shrimp creole and of course they were doing Chicago style hot dogs for the game. Me and a few others said screw it as far as $250 for a decent seat pricetag wise to go to the game and instead went to a neighborhood place where my sister used to hang that I went too on my last visit.

New Orleans Uptown Neighborhood Bar

Milan Lounge was a local haunt for my sister and some of her Chicago college friends as well as many ex Chi City folk. It's decked out in Cubs gear and they show all the games. I guess I didn't take into account all the locals from there that are Bears fans would be at the game. It was all regular customers there to watch their beloved Saints. Nonetheless they were still nice about keeping the High Lifes and shots of Jameson coming though not too talkative to us. We watched the first half here and got out, the place was dark and as smokey as can be so we needed a breather. Cool spot though I could see myself here often if I lived down there. Every space that wasn't needed for sitting and walking room had cases of beer stacked into it.

The view from inside with Harry Carey watching

We watched the second half at the more comfortable Fat Harry's on Charles ave. While Milan Lounge was like an old corner bar you used to find in Lincoln Park, Fat Harry's was more like the current ones. They had plenty of TV's, lots of different fanbases and it was packed but we were still able to stand at the bar and watch the game and drink some good local brews. We left close to the end, I bought the local Saints ladies next to us some shots for their win and went looking for jambalaya at a spot one of them rec'd on Magazine street. The place was closed on Sunday's (lots of spots are) but we did stop at the Magazine snowball stand.

SnoBall stand on Magazine Street

New Orleans and the rest of the south love their snowballs like Chicago does their Italian ice. They also serve Philadelphia water ice here and I got a mango one of those which was just like Annette's in LP. They were out of crawfish pies and hot tamales but did have another New Orleans locally loved eat - Ya Ka Mein. I've actually been enjoying this beef noodle soup with Chinese/Korean creole roots at Hamburger King on Sheffield in Wrigleyville for a while. In that thread New Orleans and the origin of Ya Ka Mein is discussed and the soup also made an appearance on Bourdain's 'No Reservations' "Cajun Country" episode last year.

Ya-Ka-Mein on Magazine street in New Orleans

Typically this dish is noodles, slow-roasted pork or beef, hardboiled eggs, and green onions served up in a rich heavy soy broth which the meat was simmered in but everyone's gotta recipe. It's hangover food and was great after the loss and lots of alcohol which it soaked right up. The beef was super tender and better than anything I was expecting. Totally unexpected this was a great unplanned stop since I was hoping to get to try some Ya Ke Mein while down there. Many popular spots are closed on Sundays but the famous Parkway Bakery & Tavern is not.

The famous New Orleans Po' Boy stop overlooking Bayou St. John

I love oyster Po' boys and had an alright one from Johnny's the night before but wanted to try more. Different variations like a roast beef tempt me too. The Parkway's been around for ages and claims to be NOLA's first po' boy shop and is said to have the citys best roast beef one. It was damaged by Katrina but reopened and the current owner is a great guy who obviously has alot of loyal customers, the place was packed with tons of Saints fans and a few of us Bears fans too. You wait in line to order (unless sitting at the bar) and your name is called when ready. There's seating inside and lots of picnic tables outside.

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Waiting in line, View from the inside

Aside from the soup I didn't eat anything and needed to chow down so I decided in line I would order for all. The owner as I mentioned is really cool, perfect for his place as he talks on his microphone from the kitchen. Due to the long line, he announced to the bar people "no more phone orders, we gotta get these folks in line fed" and that brought a big cheer from the crowd. He also said "Chicago is good for one thing, we get our corned beef from Vienna Beef and always will" So then along with a roast beef, shrimp and also a gravy I added a corned beef po' boy. They had a framed set of pics of the old Vienna factory and a letter from the Company Prez hanging on the wall. The order took a little bit which was fine but the owner insisted we try some "surf and turf" as I waited. While they're known for their roast beef many locals will tell you their shrimp is best. You can get both as a po' boy filling and I will next time.

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Top: Surf N' Turf, Roast Beef po' boy, Shrimp Po' Boy, Inside of a corned beef

There's two types of roast beef po' boys. One being the traditional way with slices of roast beef covered in gravy and the other is debris style. They serve them debris style at Parkway and that's when they let the beef cook until its fall apart tender and it does so in the gravy they cook the roasts in. I thought this was great and the bread was outstanding too, messy but it held up. The shrimp one was STUFFED. No way to eat it without munching on a few of the fresh lightly battered beauties from the Gulf they load on there before you dig into the sandwich. The owner told us they're from his cousin who's a fisherman in Biloxi. Corned beef was great too, they cook the Vienna Beef product until they're just about to fall apart. I wish we had a legit po' boy shop in Chicago. I also loved the gravy bread Po' boy if for anything nostalgia and the fact it finally filled me up. Good drunk food.

New Orleans style gravy bread sandwich

The gravy breads are the leftover gravy with plenty of bits and pieces of beef. Similar to a gravy bread here in Chicago. They give you a couple six inch rolls already with a little gravy in them and a cup of gravy on the side as well. He explained these are on there for the folks who need to feed 3 or 4 kids and cant spend $20 every time while doing so. A couple of large gravy breads can feed 4 maybe 5 kids. Dessert was a couple of homemade puddings. Bread pudding with rum sauce and banana pudding. Excellent and now time for a little nap before Sunday night begins.

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Rum sauced bread pudding and Banana pudding

After a nice sleep and refreshing swim and shower at the Hilton Garden Inn and it was time to head out. We drank at a bar on Bourbon with the bachelor but it wasn't long before he was gone, in more ways than one. So seeing as how I was hungry and hadn't yet had any fresh oysters, Bourbon street wasn't a bad option for that. We rolled into Desire to catch the 4th quarter of Sunday Night Football and have some fresh shucked oysters with beers. It's connected to the Royal Sonesta Hotel. Good stuff, classic New Orleans.

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Fresh shucked oysters

We sat right at the oyster bar and watched the guy get at it. They just throw some papers on the bar and let you make a mess. The horseradish was righteous and I could of slurped on these all night long. They went great with Abita Andygator from the tap and some NFL football. The bread pudding from here was dandy as well and the jambalaya good too. They have a full menu.

Bread Pudding from Desire Oyster House

My buddy was seeking the cities best jambalaya like I was doing the gumbo but lots of the stops weren't open on Sunday. Coop's Place off the French Quarter stays open late all week and despite its location it's loved by locals and of course tourists too.

Famous stop on Decatur Street

The inside is like your neighborhood tavern, lots of wood, theres seating at the bar and tables too although it does get packed and the people working there can be snarky (Talking to you Packers fan from Wisco). It's still worth it in my eyes. Pricewise and taste we got alot out of this late nite dinner on our last night in town. The menu is loaded with Cajun goodies and we went with three entrees to share and were just able to finish everything up. Fried chicken over red beans and rice was classic stick to your ribs southern cooking and the crawfish and made in house tasso with pasta was exactly the same.

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Red beans and rice with fried and Crawfish tasso pasta

The house specialty jambalaya made with Rabbit and Sausage was top notch and we made that a 'supreme' which includes with shrimp and housemade tasso too.

Rabbit & Sausage Jambalaya

That was all she wrote for Sunday night. I was feeling the heat by the time 1am rolled along. It was a long two days but looking back at it, damn I ate well! We didn't leave the city until about 12:30p Monday which made it 48 hours spent in NOLA. We also squeezed in two great spots on Monday that were closed on Sunday.

Warehouse District Butcher shop from the people of Cochon

I was happy to see that this place was right by our hotel when we arrived on scene and made a note of it to get back there Monday before skipping town. Thanks to Grub Seekers post on Butcher this spot was on my list and as everyone else seems to do, we loved it.

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The inside: Butcher on top, Food and drink orders on bottom

Emeril hasn't been seen around town since then, I'm just saying

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I wish I lived next door to this place

Breakfast was a muffaletta and Cuban sandwich before heading over to another place for lunch. We grabbed them to go and ate them on the hood of the car parked in front. All meats are cured in house and you could taste it in the quality of both sandwiches. Besides the meats being phenomenal the bread was just as good too. I didn't really like the chimichurri on the Cuban sammy but other than that both these were fantastic. I cant wait to get back, this will be a regular stop for me in NOLA.

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The muffaletta sandwich people need to be taking back on the plane

Best tasting Cuban sandwich outside the Sunshine state I've had

So as sad it was it was, time to head out, but not before one more locally loved stop long on my list. Liuzza's By the Track is a neighborhood tavern by the New Orleans racetrack where Jazzfest takes place. They're famous for their food and regulars. I've been meaning to get here, this trip I did. It's a classic neighborhood tavern everyone wishes they had near where they live.

Popular locals spot in the Fairgrounds neighborhood

We stopped in here for lunch and I was happy to finally make it. Even on a Monday at 11:30a it had a couple reg's at the bar and by the time we were thru quite a few groups eating and drinking.

As we enter

Liuzza's was featured on the HBO series Treme. The shows creator David Simon tries to be authentic as possible in re-portraying the city and as Liuzza's describes themselves they are the "Quintessential neighborhood joint". It also turned out they too are featured on the Southern Foodways Gumbo Trail and of course that was what I went with to start. More on their recipe HERE.

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The world renowned house gumbo at Liuzza's

Although alot of gumbos in New Orleans are thick, Liuzza's does a thin broth one. The recipe is the owners mothers and he calls it a Creole gumbo and its loaded with flavor. It's filled with andouille, chicken, shrimp, okra and the thirteen or so special spices that pack the punch that will make you wanna order another bowl right after your done with the first. The other house specialty is the BBQ shrimp Po' Boy. I had to have this since I hadn't had any BBQ shrimp on this trip yet. They stuff a French bread pistolette with shrimp sauteed in lakes of butter. This was outstanding, you cant ever get enough of the BBQ shrimp sauce but the bread too. I soaked up every last drop with each and every crumb.

BBQ Shrimp Po' Boy and we were off, headed back home :(

It's just never ending as far as great places to eat in NOLA go. That's why I'll forever be going back. It's my favorite US city to visit. See ya next time @chibbqking

Two Sisters Restaurant
223 North Derbigny Street
New Orleans, LA
(504) 524-0056

Mosca's Restaurant
4137 Highway 90 West
Avondale, LA 70094
(504) 436-8950

Cafe Du Monde
800 Decatur Street
New Orleans, LA 70116
(504) 525-4544

Milan Lounge
1312 Milan Street
New Orleans, LA 70115
(504) 895-1836

Parkway Bakery & Tavern
538 Hagan Avenue
New Orleans, LA 70119
(504) 482-3047

Desire Oyster Bar
300 Bourbon Street
New Orleans, LA 70130
(504) 586-0300

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

Cochon Butcher
930 Tchoupitoulas Street
New Orleans, LA
(504) 588-7675

Liuzza's By the Track
1518 N Lopez St
New Orleans, LA 70119
(504) 218-7888


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