New Orleans is a mind-blowing place to visit. Visiting post-Katrina, even though years later, was still equal parts tragic and surprising- they continue to soldier on, rebuild and inspire with their relentless revelry. It’s energy is unlike any other place I have visited- truly a city to reflect on life and death, with cemetery tours comprising a large part of tourism for the below sea level city. Here’s a few of my top choices for eats around The Big Easy.
Café Reconcile exists to do two things; assist those affected by poverty through life-skills training in a real restaurant surrounding, and cook absolutely mind blowing New Orleans style soul food at easy to swallow prices.
Located in ‘Central City’ on Oretha Castle Haley Blvd, Café Reconcile hopes to open more locations throughout the city in the next coming years, allowing them to accept more at risk youth into their highly sought after program.
I heard about the Café through my travel companion, and headed over for lunch (they are only open select hours for lunch and not on weekends). The staff is so warm and effusive, it does not smack of despair or charity, only hope and hard work. We had many servers over the course of our lunch, all stopping to ensure we were enjoying our food and making chit chat.
Being my first day in New Orleans, I was keen on trying the special Seafood Gumbo ($6.49), with a side of fresh baked jalapeno cornbread ($2.49). The gumbo had a complex deep brown roux, the hallmark of a good gumbo, and the seafood was tender and tasty, especially with a good helping of the popular Crystal hot sauce that is so ubiquitous in New Orleans.
The cornbread was a fluffy chunk of sweet bread, speckled with a few whole jalapenos which were spicy but a great complement to the gumbo.
I really wish they would consider either opening in Toronto, or delivering. I think for now I’ll just hone my own roux skills and look forward to my next trip down there!
While visiting friends in Central City, they eagerly suggested we eat at Cowbell. With its kitschy décor and chuggable ‘adult’ pops Cowbell was a delicious alternative to the gumbos that I’d been mass eating since I got there.
We shared a portion of the mac n’ cheese ($6, which is usually a side for the ribeye). It was heavenly, so cheesy with crunchy little tiny breadcrumbs and parmesan dusting on top. The sauce is a delicate balance of gruyere, aged white cheddar in a heavily reduced cream sauce. Shallots, thyme and peppers increase the adult quotient and allow the dish to stand on its own two feet, although a whole portion of just these tasty tubes would likely guarantee a blissful carb induced nap.
Up next under direct pressure from my table mates I ordered the Cowbell Natural Beef Burger ($10.95 + $2) topped with apple wood smoked bacon and a fresh farm egg. I was impressed. Although the fries were a titch soggy, the burger commanded my full attention anyhow. The egg was pleasantly runny, ensuring it was a 10-paper-napkin-meal. Fresh thick tomatoes, rings of red onions and crispy lettuce upped the nutritional value, but the cholesterol crescendo took over. I did not finish the burger and every time a hunger pang hits I’m reminded of what could have been.
Chef Brack May and his partner in business and life Krista Pendergraft-May run the ship so if you’re in the Central City part of New Orleans drop in, and come hungry. This place rocks. Also, drop by the Maple Leaf bar down the street and let me know if it’s a good time. Place was so rammed I couldn’t be bothered!
Cowbell is located at 8801 Oak Street ring ‘em at 504-298-8689.
Café du Monde
Café du Monde is a mandatory stop on any New Orleans trip, so we buckled on a Saturday morning and lined up like sheep for the ‘best beignets’ in NOLA. The line moved quickly, shockingly, since there’s no hostess or staff assisting you. It’s best to push yourself through and grab the first (dirty) table.
While wait staff mostly grunt at you, the menu is your choice of beignets, or more beignets, and of course, the popular chicory coffee. Having heard so many glorious things about square patches of deep fried dough, expectations were high. So was my blood sugar. With three to an order, I ate maybe 1/3 of my beignet, leaving the other 2 to my pal. Sage advice from a friend who had eaten there before ‘Don’t wear black, or you’ll look like a coke fiend after’. Well said LP. They were absolutely covered in fluffy icing sugar.
So do you absolutely HAVE to go to Café du Monde? No. There is another place in the French Quarter that serves up beignets, shockingly called Café Beignet. I did not get the opportunity to sample these ones for comparison, but there’s always next time.
Café du Monde is located at 800 Decatur Street.