Creole out the b-hole was the theme to my weekend at Jazzfest down in New Orleans last weekend. Four good buddies and myself headed to the Big Easy for a weekend of good cajun music and good cajun food.
The first night found the crew at Root where we navigated an intense menu with agility and grace — or we got drunk and ordered an array of meat and I enjoyed one of the most amazing (albeit hazy) dinners I have ever experienced. We began with their grand charcuterie board and a sausage platter that featured mounds of their five best sausages. Both platters came with homemade mustards and veggies pickled in-house. My favorite bite from these two was the truffle scented chicken liver parfait that I covered with their homemade strawberry mustard. From there, we moved on to some amazing entrees.
Hanger steak came out with crispy sweetbreads, sweet kumquat bordelaise, pommes frites, and homemade ketchup, like the mustards, served in a tube. The crunchy sweetbreads and hanger steak combo was new to me and it was awesome. However, the sweet kumquat bordelaise made this a dish to remember (well, remember may the wrong word).
I was probably most blown away by this dish:
Smoked cornmeal encrusted Louisiana oysters, served on a bed of andouille spoon bread, and a manchego foam. The plate was brought to the table covered by a silver dome holding in smoke that permeated the whole dish, a dish that elevated Cajun cooking to a level almost as high as my blood alcohol level. The whole dinner ended with boozy coffees and a whimsical dessert simply called Yorkie. It was a chocolate covered peppermint pattie, mint chocolate chip ice cream, coco puffs, and minted milk. The house-made coco puffs were insanely chocolatey, and the minty flavors that went throughout the rest of everything in the dish were a satisfyingly refreshing way to end an epic meal like this.
The next day brought our first excursion to Jazzfest. At the festival, restaurants play as big of a role as the musicians in pleasing the masses of people. As we walked through the concert grounds we discovered new lines of food stands around every corner. We sampled stuff from many different stalls and I think we got a good taste of what there was to offer. However, I’m already salivating thinking about going back next year to try more. Some of the highlights:
I think the most cajun bite of food I took all weekend came in the form of a crawfish strudel served from a stall run by Coffee Cottage (pictured on the left). The outside was a pastry that was flaky and buttery and the inside was a creamy roux-like, perfectly herbed and spiced up, gooey crawfish tail filling. Those consummate cajun flavors present proved this could be a dish only prepared in NOLA. Sitting behind the strudel is a fried soft-shell crab po-boy from the Galley Seafood Restaurant and to the right is the grilled chicken livers and vegetables that were served with pepper jelly all made by The Praline Connection. The po-boy was brilliant and filled with somewhat better quality crab than the stuff that comes out of Brush Creek. The chicken livers were good, but the pepper jelly set these little grilled poultry organs off — my favorite were the charred bits of liver soaked in the sweet stuff. In addition to these three dishes we tried plenty of other stuff, but as a pork fanatic, I looked forward to something my meaty friend Sam got me excited about, the cochon de lait po-boy.
Cochon de lait, for the uninitiated, is a pig that has only been feed mother’s milk, hence should have young and tender meat. Below the pile of pork sat cole slaw and a creamy creole mustard sauce that the lady behind the counter claimed was out of this world. She was right. In KC we do pulled pork right and I don’t even want to compare this to our versions because it was a totally different preparation, but it was utterly deliciuous. This is the kind of sandwich that will haunt my dreams. Speaking of sandwiches that will haunt my dreams…
Cochon Butcher serves up amazing meat dishes including this sandwich that contained pork belly, mint, cucumber, and a chili lime aioli. Served with homemade chips, it was a perfect sandwich to soak up some of the beer from the festival before we hit some of the late night shows that play all over the city. We all agreed that we could eat that sandwich every day for the rest of our lives, and with some time to ponder, I still agree with that statement and see no hint of hyperbole in the words. I also ordered one of the specials of the night, a roast pork dish with a romesco sauce and fried caper berries on top, all served on some delicious polenta.
It was another amazing pork dish. My theory is that they slow cook the pork, chill it so they can cut slices, and then slow cook it again. It was a perfect brick of pork shoulder that easily pulled apart with my fork. The romesco sauce was smoky and chunky like it should be and the polenta was light and fluffy like it should be. And at a restaurant known for having some of the best meat in New Orleans, the pork was perfect like it should be.
The crazy thing is, I’ve left out tons of good food with this post so check back for Big Easy Eating Part Deux (or is that Deaux?)