For my birthday, Zara and I decided to spend it outside of our hometown of San Francisco. Taking advantage of the great weather this time of year in most places within the States, we quickly settled on New Orleans. We knew it would be hot down South, but at least it hadn’t hit the summer apex, in fact it was pretty agreeable most of the time and so we packed our bags and headed down to the extravagant Crescent City to celebrate yours truly’s birthday weekend.
Though I visited the French quarter for the first time back in ‘01, this time I was hoping to get to know other areas of the city, precisely the reason why we stayed in the Tremé (treh-MAY), the oldest African-American neighborhood in the US; just a few blocks from the main action yet far enough away to enjoy some peace and quiet. Most importantly, our main prerogative was to find music venues, local libations and the best classic and modern food north of the Mississippi river.
We loved the bold and rich colors of Tremé. While there are still some remnants of Katrina, we later found out that indeed this neighborhood wasn’t as impacted as other districts so don’t let the abandoned houses misguide you, they are in fact stagnated places passed down through generations according to a local source.
On the way around Armstrong park we caught a glimpse of what could be an original Banksy nearby Kermit’s Treme Speakeasy, so on the last day we ventured over to hopefully prove ourselves right. The heat was sweltering and just before turning back around we stumbled upon his work.
Near intersection of Dumaine & N. Villere streets.
But, I digress…
Inspired by the HBO show of the same name, we decided to seek out one of our favorite characters, Kermit, so we spent the later part of Friday night front row and center listening and dancing to Kermit Ruffins & the Barbecue Swingers, only to be followed by the thunderous gunslinging powerhouse duo of Cedric Burnside Project.
The Blue Nile is located on Frenchmen street, which is where locals go to find great tunes while getting away from the debauchery of Bourbon street:
As we didn’t bring any cooking supplies with us, we decided to pick up some crawfish before settling in at the famous City Park. After a little research we found out that KJean was en route and so we made a quick pit stop to load up on some Cajun delicacies.
Having learned that most of the large oak trees in City Park (covered by Spanish moss) were located around the South-western rim of the park, we made a bee-line towards our spot, just across from the New Orleans Museum of Art.
On the way there we couldn’t find any newspaper to lay down on the grass so we settled for the bags. Everything was a hit, from the crawfish to the spicy sausage, KJean certainly did not disappoint.
It didn’t take long for Zara to discover a great little trick to easily remove the larger veins along the center of the crawfish tail.
Tip: Step 1: Remove mudbug’s head and hold tail. Step 2: Twist tail in a clockwise motion. Step 3: Pull tail towards you. Works every time.
We were inspired to make a future Cajun/Creole blog post so the next day we visited Kitchen Witch and some local spice shops. Since we started to run out of time, we managed to make it over to the Spice & Tea Exchange, although it is a franchise they do have a large selection of spices, blends, infused sugars and salts. Robin, the proprietor, was kind enough to break down some of the blends we purchased.
Tip: As of this post, if you check in through the Yelp app you can claim two free packets on the house. We got 4 for free.
Philipe LaMancusa, le grande fromage and columnist at Where Y’at magazine, was very welcoming and extremely knowledgeable as he explained the history of the local cuisine. The inventory is comprised of over 5,000 cook books ranging from the new to traditional and unusual. I also made sure to pick up some of his home-grown spice blend, which can be used in anything from a boil to pop corn.
- Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Louisiana Kitchen Cookbook.
- Donal Link’s Real Cajun: Rustic Home Cooking.
- Cajun: A culinary tour of Louisiana by Judith Bluysen, an American Cajun food emporium in le Marais, Paris.
- Nathaniel Burton’s Creole Feast: 15 Master Chefs of New Orleans.
Also not to miss: My New Orleans: The Cookbook by John Besh.
That same night we visited Emeril’s and as an appetizer I ordered the angel hair over a creole sauce. This dish hit all the right notes.
Needless to say, I’d return to N’awlins in a heartbeat, heck we might even have a second line at our own wedding.
And so as they say in the Big Easy, laissez les bons temps rouler!
Emeril’s crawfish creole cream sauce over angle hair recipe
Chef Emeril Lagasse’s crawfish cream sauce over angle hair.
Outside of NOLA
- Maison Premiere, a New Orleans-inspired nook in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. My good friends Josh and Krystof pull out all the stops when it comes to the decor and atmosphere. Order from an extensive list of oysters and appetizers, but don’t forget to try their classic and Absinthe-infused cocktails as they are worth the trip itself.
- Ragin Cajun in Houston, TX. Modest and legit. Order a bucket of crawfish to enjoy with company.