(Alligator and shrimp cheesecake from Jaques Imo’s)
I was sitting in Central Grocery on Decatur in NOLA savoring the most delicious muffuletta sandwich I’ve ever held. As I unwrapped the giant $17 sandwich I realized why I keep coming back. There’s nothing anywhere in the world like it. I was on a whirlwind tour with less than 48 hours in NOLA and as I sat in the 100 year old store enjoying every sesame seed and drizzle of olive oil, I mentally started my list of what I HAVE to eat when I come to New Orleans. Everyone has their own list and I’ve got mine…. 10 places I love to eat in New Orleans:
1. Cafe Du Monde– Can I really get excited about eating fried dough and waiting in line for an hour? Yes, I can. It’s an experience that you have to have or you really can’t say you’ve been to NOLA. Sure, you can get beignets anywhere in New Orleans, but Cafe Du Monde is the place to have them and your chicory blended coffee. There’s a reason they’ve been in business for 150 years.
2. Central Grocery– The muffuletta was invented here for Italian workers in 1906. Central Grocery makes theirs with the best stuff and the taste is unmatched. For years, I wondered why people stood outside the little Italian grocery store. One day I walked in and realized it wasn’t just a tourist trap like I had thought. Now I show up before the lunch crowd arrives and I rarely have to wait at all. The sandwiches are so big that you can save half for dinner.
3. 25 Cent Martinis at Commander’s Palace– It’s nice to find a deal every once in a while when you’re in a city that’s not exactly known for it’s economical restaurants. Commander’s Palace is the probably the most famous and one of the most expensive restaurants in NOLA but it’s lunch menu is a lot more affordable than it’s dinner menu, and you can get get a martini for 25 cents. That takes a little sting out of the bill. There’s a limit of 3, but that’s probably all you need at lunch anyway. While you’re there, try real turtle soup or a souffle. You can visit their sister restaurant, Cafe Adelaide next to Harrah’s for some similar menu items at a lower price if you want to keep it simple. Guess what? They have 25 cent martinis too!
4. Acme Chargrilled Oysters– There’s been a competition for years who has the best chargrilled oysters, Drago’s or Acme. I’ll go with Acme because it’s close to Bourbon street, has a better atmosphere and they have dollar oyster shots. What’s an oyster shot you ask? A raw oyster, a shot of vodka and Bloody Mary mix on top in a shooter. Mmmmmmm…..A good way to start your meal….The chargrilled oysters are hot, delicious and covered with melted Romano cheese. What’s not to like?
5. Jaques Imo’s Alligator Cheesecake– One of the most delicious things I’ve ever eaten in my life is about a 15 minute drive from the French Quarter. If you can get in the place, you’ll discover all kinds of wonderful treats. When I first heard about alligator cheesecake, I said no. After I tried it once, I can’t get it out of my mind.
6. Mother’s Ferdi Special– There are those who love Johnny’s and those who love Mother’s, but you really can’t go wrong with either restaurant. Mother’s has an amazing sandwich with roast beef,debris, roast ham, and gravy that is so delicious I crave them for breakfast. It’s called the Ferdi and is named after a random customer named Mr. Ferdi who asked for ham to be added to his sandwich fifty years ago. Little did Ferdi know that years later I would be saying his name every time I go to New Orleans.
7. New Orleans Cooking School Bread Pudding– I’ve taken this “class” twice and was amazed at not only what I learned about the history of New Orleans food, but at everything created in this kitchen. The class is an entertaining way to spend a couple of hours and the bread pudding is the absolute best I’ve ever had. To make things even better, the host gives you a copy of the recipes so that you can impress your friends with your new skills.
8. Willie’s Chicken Shack Red Beans and Rice– I’m not exactly sure when Willie’s first appeared on Bourbon Street but one day it wasn’t there and suddenly it was everywhere. You can get a Lucky Dog or a slice of pizza on the street, but “When in Louisiana, do as the Louisianans do”! Everything tastes good late at night, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find better red beans and rice anywhere in the quarter without the hassle of sitting in a nice restaurant and acting like you’re sober.
9. Coop’s Pasta– I discovered Coop’s Place years ago and thought I was doing them a favor when I stopped in and ordered something. This little hole-in-the-wall suddenly started getting all kinds of great reviews and now there’s a line to get in the door just like all the other great places. Their pastas are fantastic, especially anything with crawfish tails and tasso if you can find a place to sit.
10. Yo Mama’s Peanut Butter Hamburger– At first I was troubled that someone had mixed two of my favorite childhood foods together that clearly didn’t seem like a good match. Was it that different than mixing fish sticks and Twinkies together? How could that be edible? Guess what? It’s really good! I reasoned that the Indonesians have been mixing peanuts and beef together as satay for years and no one’s complained. Here’s the American version of food blasphemy and it’s right in the heart of the quarter.
What’s your list? What do you crave when you leave New Orleans that you
can’t seem to find anywhere else?