After various impressive meals in my hometown last week, I shamefully suspected that New Orlean’s food would fail to wow me during my visit there this weekend. But sure enough, as I sit here remedying three-days worth of southern food and beautiful weather with green tea and my heater full-blast, I can confidently profess that the city has outdone itself again. With its utter decadence, loud and distinctive flavors, and bold depictions of excess, authentic New Orleans’ cuisine will never cease to blow me away.
Though my schedule this weekend revolved around wedding festivities, I made every effort to squeeze in a foodie experience when time allowed. My first occurred with brunch at Stanley just off of Jackson Square, recommended by the bride and groom. At only 10:30am the area was popping with live jazz and boozing tourists, which made quite the people watching-scene during our hour-long table wait. Stanley, like most restaurants downtown, is fairly casual – a sophisticated diner with an open kitchen and black and white floors. My friend Sara (most notable for being a food partner in Atlantic City) definitely won the contest for best (and most expensive) order with the Eggs Stella, which came with cornmeal-crusted soft-shell crab, poached eggs, canadian bacon and creole hollandaise. Who knew soft-shell crab could be so massive?
Thankfully, her generosity helped remedy my order envy. Regardless, I definitely enjoyed the Stanley Classic, which was a well rounded breakfast plate of classics: bacon, hollandaise, poached eggs, toast, and potatoes.
Although filling, breakfast was light enough to merit a stop in the Southern Candymaker’s for a fresh praline – if you’re not button-popping full in New Orleans, you can consider yourself hungry. As you enter this seemingly hole-in-the wall candy shop, warm butter and sugar instantaneously seeps into your sensors like pheromones, enticing you to lust after every beautifully hand dipped candy stacked in the displays. If you arrive uninterested, you’ll soon find yourself forking over $50 to ship the candy home. Buttery, admittedly overly sweet, and creamy, their pralines are the best I’ve ever had, and made fresh each hour. Make sure you get the pronunciation right before asking for a taste – the locals call them “Praw-lines” and will giggle upon hearing “Pray-lines.”
Pralines led into the evening, and after a little sugar shock, a wedding ceremony, and a night of dancing, my friend Jillian and I decided to do our weekend’s worth of exercise and walk to the famous Cafe Du Monde downtown for beignets and coffee. This goes without saying, but unlike other tourist obsessions (ie Magnolia Bakery), this line is absolutely worth the wait. The fried dough tasted just as I had remembered, crisp, dense, chewy, and drowned in powdered sugar. They’re literally un-replicable. Their coffee is also widely known in the area, and though my frozen iced coffee could have eased up on the sugar, it was the perfect thing to wash down the hot doughy goodness.
After our little snack, we ventured to the Roosevelt Hotel for a Jazz Brunch with the bride and groom. Normally, I’m turned off by hotel dining establishments, but when I was greeted with a platter of mimosas and a buffet the size of my foodie imagination, I knew I’d come to the right place. We immediately started at the buffet which consisted of an unlimited supply of Southern fare. Food ranged from the traditional to the sophisticated: king crab legs, fresh oysters, crawfish, gumbo, rice, caviar bellinis, jambalaya empanadas, vegetable quiches, lobster bisque in puff pastry, and fresh fruit were just a few of the items that caught my eye. And the most amazing part of the buffet? Everything was incredible. The most surprising? It was just the beginning. After the buffet course, we were then given menus to order our entrees. How quintessentially Southern of this place?
I of course couldn’t resist and ordered something unique – the eggs sardou: poached eggs on top of artichoke, creamy spinach, and vinegary heirloom tomatoes. Delish! My friend Jillian ordered the smoked salmon flat bread with pickled okra, capers, and cucumbers, which was refreshing and texturally unique. Mike’s crab omelette was the most decadent of them all – eggs filled with creole sauce, fresh crab, and cheese aside oven roasted potatoes.
After 2 hours of noshing, I couldn’t believe that I still had stomach space for dessert.
The dessert bar was over the top. In addition to the mini creme brulees, the brownies, the petite fours, the cookies, the pralines, and the cream puffs, and the fruit tarts, a chef awaited orders to cook banana’s foster. Having had this New Orleans-born classic only once before, I had to order it just on principle. Though it ended up as an excruciatingly sweet, melted vanilla concoction, I couldn’t help but feel like an old Southern Belle in the gorgeous surroundings amidst live jazz music and friends.
After three hours of gluttony, I was convinced that I had just participated in my most over-the-top brunch experience thus far. Las Vegas, you’ve got nothing on a New Orleans’s jazz brunch at the Roosevelt. The key to the delicious food here is that it’s made in small batches – buffet plates are constantly rotated, and all breakfast is made to order.
Unfortunately, my short trip wouldn’t allow for much more experimentation on the restaurant front, but with brunches and all the sweets in mind, I left New Orleans thoroughly dazzled by my foodie experience and ready for a detox. New Orleans, after a year of digesting this food, I’ll be back for you!
Stanley: Grade: B+, 4 Jackson Square, http://www.stanleyrestaurant.com
Southern Candymakers: Grade: A, 334 Decatur St, http://www.southerncandymakers.com
Cafe Du Monde: Grade: A, 1039 Decatur St, http://www.cafedumonde.com
The Roosevelt Hotel: Grade: A+, 123 Baronne Street, http://www.therooseveltneworleans.com