A Taste of NOLA: Where & What to Eat in the Big Easy

New Orleans has quickly become one of my favorite cities to visit. I had always wanted to see the Crescent City and recently was able to make that desire a reality. I travel, first, to experience new people. cultures and topography and a close second: to eat new foods. NOLA certainly has it’s own style of grub and it was something we excitedly embraced. Nestled on the Gulf of Mexico and snuggled right up against Lake Pontchartrain, NOLA is geographically perfect for a seafood-centric cuisine. Let me tell you, there’s not much that’ll make me happier than some spicy seafood and a good local beer.

Speaking of local beers, Dixie seems to be a hometown favorite. We enjoyed the light lager with several meals (best with fried po’boys) and were a little disappointed that we couldn’t find it in our home state of Arizona. Dixie Brewing Company was one of many affected by Hurricane Katrina back in 2005. They returned to The Big Easy last year and have been brewing the original recipe created in 1907 for all of NOLA to rejoice and enjoy. Unfortunately, it looks like they are only distributing in Louisiana at this time. This just means we’ll have to take another trip soon, which I am totally OK with.

Mother’s Restaurant serves THE BEST shrimp and oyster po’boy I’ve ever had! It paired so perfectly with a local Dixie beer. I’m still having dreams about this meal.

Abita Brewing Company is another Louisiana staple. They are distributed nationwide, but have one Louisiana exclusive beer called The Boot (get it? because Louisiana is shaped like a boot?!). We really liked this beer too. It’s a hybrid, similar to a pilsner. It was light and crisp and another very good choice to pair with just about anything fried.

I’ll get into that po’boy next because, seriously, I still dream about that dang thing. Mother’s Restaurant is a New Orleans staple. They opened in 1938 and to this day there’s still a line out the door, waiting to get in. That should tell you something about the food. I never want to walk into a restaurant and see it empty. I want to see it filled with locals to know I’ve come to the right spot. Mother’s had locals and tourists alike filling it’s tables and boy, was it well-deserved.

Mother’s was crazy-busy but soooo worth the wait.

One of my very favorite places was Jacques Imo’s on Oak Street, a rowdy house-like restaurant with fun murals on the walls and some insanely good cajun food. I will apologize in advance for the pictures we got in there. It’s dark and I didn’t bring my Canon so an iPhone camera was all I had to work with. That said, now I want you to think about something: Shrimp & Alligator Sausage Cheesecake. I cringed when I first heard about it, too. But now imagine a savory, seafood-y dish, rich with cream cheese. The only barely similar thing I can compare it to would be a cream cheese crab dip, or something of that ilke, but with the texture of a cheesecake. It was amazing. Incredible. Life changing. My baker’s brain had to wrap around the idea of a savory cheesecake and let me tell you, it nearly short-circuited. I see things so differently now.

Alligator sausage and shrimp cheesecake appetizer at Jacques-Imo’s.

If you’re in NOLA, I need you to try it and then I need you to email me and tell me your thoughts, OK? OK. Also, try the Cajun Bouillabaisse: oysters, shrimp, mussels and fish in a gorgeous thin broth. The bites of fish were melt-in-your-mouth tender and the whole dish was so much fun to eat. Another of my favorites from the trip.

Jacques-Imo’s fun table spread.Their red beans and rice were legendary.

We went on to explore places like Arnaud’s and Mr. B’s Bistro–both wonderful and worthy of mention. Mr. B’s boasts a pecan crusted pie that made my heart sing. BONUS! They have the recipe for this pie up on their website. Tag me or let me know if you make their recipe, I’ve been thinking about making it for Christmas this year.

Fresh market fish and veal tournedos chantal in a wild mushroom sauce at Arnaud’s.

 

Arnaud’s was perfect for our large group, service was impeccable.

I had possibly the best meal of the stay at Cafe Sbisa–grilled trout in a champagne cream sauce with crab, shrimp and crawfish. Yep. Seafood heaven. Plus, how could I pass up any sauce made with champagne?? #alittlebitbasic  Cafe Sbisa is the third-oldest fine dining restaurant in the French Quarter. They were established in 1899 and the historic building has undergone several renovations throughout the years. The building is just beautiful–the bar is carved mahogany dating from the early 1900s and there is a huge painting above it depicting strange and beautiful spirits sitting at the same bar below. They had a fantastic jazz band playing the night we went, and we got to sit upstairs at a cute little table overlooking the bar and downstairs dining area.

I love sitting along balconies so I can people watch. Cafe Sbisa had the cutest, historic upstairs area overlooking the bar.

 

One of the best dishes I had in NOLA: Trout Eugene at Cafe Sbisa.

Breakfast simply can not be beaten at Willa Jean. Their biscuits were almost croissant-like with flaky layers and golden brown crispiness. I had a savory shrimp etouffee with a poached egg on top (Pro tip: an egg on top makes almost every dish better) and one of their should-be-famous bloody marys. They informed me that they make their own bloody mix and no manner of persuasion could get the recipe out of our server.

Brian casually leaning up against Willa Jean’s bar. Do you see the words on the wall?? “U need a Biscuit.” Yes, WJ, yes I do.

 

Braised short rib and grits with a poached egg, and shrimp and grits with a poached egg at Willa Jean. Southern breakfast at it’s finest!

 

Willa Jean’s incredible bloody marys.

I’m going to take a moment to show you what we saw out of the window of Willa Jean’s one morning:

That’s a rabbit on a leash, y’all. We quickly paid our tab and headed across the street to meet these two girls and their pet rabbit Buns. It made my day!

You can’t hit NOLA without sampling some beignets. We heard the famous Cafe du Monde is usually super touristy so instead opted to avoid the crowd and go to Morning Call, known as New Orleans’ “most famous coffee drinking place.” This 140 year old business started in the French Quarter and was relocated to the gorgeous tree-filled City Park almost 50 years ago. They specialize in beignets and cafe au laits but also offer a few lunch options too. If you’ve never had a beignet, let me describe it for you: hand rolled and cut dough, fried golden to an absurdly light and delicate pastry you then dust liberally with powdered sugar and eat while hot. The wonderful simplicity of it makes this treat something you don’t want to miss during your visit to New Orleans.

Beautiful views, and I’m not just talking about those beignets! City Park is full of HUGE trees and quaint streams.

 

Light, crispy, just the right amount of chew. I. AM. IN. LOVE.

The last few days we were in New Orleans, the weather went from 75 and sunny to 50 something and rainy. Neither of us had packed a jacket so we made a mad dash to the closest clothing store to purchase something warm. On our way, we passed by the Palace Cafe and ended up turning around for lunch. I tried the turtle soup, a Louisiana specialty. It was rich and tasty and not at all what I expected. I’ll admit, though, I felt a bit guilty with my lunch because turtles are my mom’s favorite animal. I wanted to call her afterwards to apologize (sorry mom!).

I then moved on to the shrimp tchefuncte in a wonderful creole meunière sauce. Brian had something wonderful and elaborately plated, similar to a deconstructed shepherd’s pie, but I’m unable to find it on their menu and not sure what the actual name of it was.

Turtle soup and rosé at Palace Cafe.

 

Shrimp tchefuncte. Very tasty, even if I can’t remember how to pronounce it!

 

Doesn’t this just look like a comforting meal? I love the way they plated it!

Earlier in the week, I met up with a girlfriend to check out the Garden District and hop around. She had a list of places she wanted to go and Bakery Bar was one of the top. They’re a brunch spot during the day and from 5-11pm they are a bar, serving decadent cakes, truffles, pies, brûlées and more! We split several things, including a chocolate churro cake that was almost too rich to finish. This cool little place has a hip atmosphere. I could totally see myself bringing a laptop and hanging out for a few hours sipping on a La Louisiane, a cocktail made with rye whiskey and Herbsaint (anise-flavored liquor).

Maple bacon blueberry cake and chocolate churro cake, sweet potato and chocolate truffles.

 

Bakery Bar did not disappoint.

As the night wears on, enjoying a nightcap or two before heading to bed can be the perfect end to a delicious day. I was excited to try out the Sazerac Bar in the Roosevelt Hotel for one of their namesake cocktails. First off, the entire hotel reminds me of stepping back into the 1920s with all the glitter and glam. From the mosaic tiled floors to the gold trim and ceilings, this place just oozes refinement. There’s even a gold revolving door in the entryway.

The Sazerac Bar is down the hall a bit and to the left. The small but beautiful space is elegant and cozy, and the bartenders, dressed in their smart white jackets are insanely knowledgeable. Of course we ordered a couple Sazeracs first and foremost. This drink, known to be the official drink of New Orleans, is an elegant combination of rye whiskey, sugar, Peychaud’s Bitters and Herbsaint, an anise flavored liquor.

Interested in making your own Sazerac? Here’s the recipe according to The Roosevelt Hotel’s Sazerac Bar!

3 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
1 1/2 oz. Sazerac Rye Whiskey
1 sugar cube
1/4 oz Herbsaint

  • Pack an Old-Fashioned glass with ice.
  • In a second Old-Fashioned glass place a sugar cube and add 3 dashes of Peychaud’s Bitters to it, then crush the sugar cube.
  • Add 1 1/2 ounces of Sazerac Rye Whiskey to the glass containing the Peychaud’s Bitters and sugar.
  • Empty the ice from the first glass and coat the glass with 1/4 ounce of Herbsaint, then discard the remaining Herbsaint.
  • Empty the whiskey/bitters/sugar mixture from the second glass into the first glass and garnish with lemon peel.

 

NOLA is truly a gem of the foodie world. There’s something so unique about the city, the history and the people. If you’ve never been there, I encourage you to add it to your list.

Jenna Danielle