Having not left Utah for nearly two years thanks to the pandemic, my wife and I finally escaped the Beehive State recently for a much-needed change of scenery. Specifically, we flew to New Orleans for R&R and some outstanding food and drink in that one-of-a-kind American city. So, in this week’s Utah Bites we’re leaving Utah to appreciate and explore NOLA, with the hope that you’ll be lucky enough to do the same sometime soon. It’s one of my favorite food cities on the planet and you’d love it too.
Our first stop after checking into the marvelous Hotel St. Vincent in New Orleans’ beautiful Lower Garden District was La Petite Grocery Restaurant & Bar for dinner. This lovely bistro-style eatery dates back to the late 1800s when the Creole-style cottage was turned into a store called the Central Tea, Coffee and Butter Depot and would eventually morph into a full-service grocery store called Frank W. Mackie Grocer. Fast forward to 2004 when La Petite Grocery opened its doors, and then to 2010 when James Beard Award winner Chef Justine Devillier and his wife Mia Freiberger-Devillier took over the restaurant, which they still own and operate.
The dish that prompted me to make a reservation at La Petite Grocery was Paneed Rabbit ($34). It’s hard to find rabbit on menus in the U.S. in general, and even more difficult to find it in Utah. So I jump at the chance – no pun intended – to relish rabbit whenever possible. This delicious dish was breaded and fried boneless rabbit loin – think rabbit schnitzel – served with scrumptious herb spaetzle, heirloom carrots, sauerkraut, and sauce Robert, which is a finished brown mustard sauce made with onions, mustard, and white wine.
As for Faith, my wife, she opted for La Petite Grocery’s take on a Southern classic: Shrimp & Grits ($27). In this case, fresh Gulf shrimp were plated on a bed of creamy grits with charred corn, shiitake mushrooms, and tasso ham. We were off to a great NOLA start!
Whenever I visit New Orleans, a must-stop is an out of the way joint that my NOLA friend Jamie introduced me to many years ago. It’s a funky Mid-City restaurant and bar called Liuzza’s By the Track, so named since it’s located adjacent to the Fairgrounds and Race Course. I make the pilgrimage to Liuzza’s for their amazing Barbecue Shrimp Po Boy ($15.95), which is a hollowed out, hot and crusty French pistolette stuffed and overflowing with Worcestershire-spiked shrimp in a molten hot lava sauce that is irresistible.
We’d planned that evening to go to dinner at a fancy, much-acclaimed NOLA landmark but after such a large lunch at Liuzza’s, decided instead to do a self-guided New Orleans oyster tour. We started at my favorite oyster dive, called Felix’s, in the French Quarter, which is right across from my other favorite oyster spot: Acme. Our self-proclaimed “Bad Mothershucker” at Felix’s rained oysters on the half shell upon us while entertaining those at the oyster bar with Barry White tunes and others. A great time was had by all, especially when the bill came and we discovered we’d been treated to about a dozen oyster freebies.
The next stop was at Drago’s. My NOLA friend Jamie promised me that the legendary Charbroiled Oysters at Drago’s would be life-changing. But I was skeptical, since I like my oysters still alive, not charred, broiled, boiled, grilled, sauteed, or cooked in any fashion. Well, Jamie was right: Drago’s’ large, plump, juicy oysters are amazing. They are brushed first with a garlic-butter-herb sauce, then dusted with a blend of Parmesan and Romano cheese and cooked in their shell on a hot grill. A Charbroiled Oyster from Drago’s in NOLA is one of the best things you’ll ever put in your mouth.
Our oyster tour wound down at Arnaud’s French 75 Bar where, in addition to their famous Oysters Bienville ($15) and Oysters Arnaud ($15), delectable bar snacks such as Smoked Pompano Bourgois ($15.50) are served. This was house hickory-smoked fresh Gulf pompano, sliced thin and accompanied by sour cream, capers, minced red onion and toast points. We also enjoyed a dish that at first I thought was a bit silly sounding: Boudin Wontons ($8). But boy was I wrong! Boudin is great in just about anything, including a breakfast burrito from a place called Mojo Coffee across from our hotel. The French 75 Bar Boudin Wontons were wonderful, served with spicy pepper jelly.
For lunch the following day we visited what I consider to be the Feldman’s Deli of NOLA – Stein’s Market & Deli. There’s a line at lunchtime daily at Stein’s for their overstuffed Jewish deli-style sandwiches which range from classics like the Tuna Melt, Beef Tongue, Reuben, and Italian Hoagie, to a Vegetarian Panini and a Caprese sandwich. I loved the traditional Corned Beef on Marbled Rye with Swiss ($11.99), a sandwich that is hard to improve upon.
Herbsaint Bar and Restaurant in New Orleans is Chef Donald Link’s flagship restaurant and the cornerstone of the Link Restaurant Group, which also includes Cochon, Peche Seafood Grill, La Boulangerie, Gianna, Calcasieu, and Cochon Butcher. The award-winning chef is one of my favorites and I really looked forward to dining at Herbsaint. We certainly weren’t disappointed, and considered our Herbsaint dinner to be the best of the bunch while we were in NOLA. Of course, one must indulge in gumbo when in Louisiana and Chef Link’s Chicken, Tasso and Andouille Gumbo ($9) was every bit as delicious as I’d expected, with a rich depth of flavor that only a perfect roux base can provide.
Faith selected a sensational starter which was Louisiana Shrimp and Fish Ceviche ($15) with cucumber and pepitas. By the way, one of the aspects of dining in New Orleans restaurants that made them so enjoyable – or maybe “safe” is the better word – is that without fail, EVERY bar and restaurant we walked into required proof of a COVID vaccination and masks to be worn when not seated and eating. That made us feel much more secure and safe than when we are dining in many restaurants at home.
As for me, I can rarely resist duck confit and so I ordered the Muscovy Duck Leg Confit ($35) which came with dirty rice and a citrus gastrique. The duck may have been the best duck confit I’ve ever eaten; the only disappointment was the dirty rice, which was drier than expected.
Meanwhile, Faith hit another home run with her Herbsaint entree of Grilled Pompano with fresh greens and a delicious sauce that, unfortunately, I forgot to make notes about and now is just a fabulous fading memory. Although the markups are eye-popping, Herbsaint also has one of the better wine lists I’ve seen in NOLA, skewing heavily toward French wines.
Our final stop in NOLA, before heading to the airport to return home, was at Gris-Gris for lunch, where Executive Chef & Owner Eric Cook – a New Orleans native – turns out astonishingly tasty elevated comfort foods like his signature Oyster BLT, Oyster & Caviar Po Boys, and perennial favorite, Shrimp & Grits.
Gris-Gris has a wonderful upstairs patio where we commandeered a table and, once again, I found myself with a bowl of gumbo in front of me. And yet again, it was outrageously good. The Chicken & Andouille Gumbo ($6/cup or $9/bowl) is Paroisse de Vermillion-inspired gumbo with Louisiana popcorn rice. The gumbos at Gris-Gris and Herbsaint motivate me to up my gumbo game.
Faith is a seafood lover and was thinking about Gris-Gris Shrimp & Stone Ground Grits, but ultimately settled on Cast Iron-Seared Blackened Swordfish with zucchini, cherry tomatoes & charred lemon. It was another excellent choice.
And for my last NOLA meal, I ordered what on the Gris-Gris menu is called “My Mom’s Chicken & Dumplings” ($15). How could I resist? My favorite dish growing up was my Mom’s chicken and dumplings and so I had to taste Chef Cook’s version. Well, his was a winner. The homemade dumplings are thick and hearty like my mom’s were, bathed in a fantastic, rich tasting broth with roasted carrots, hand-pulled chicken and fresh herbs, and served with big, thick slices of Texas-style toast. If you’re looking for the ultimate comfort food, this is it. And, kudos to Chef Cook for keeping his prices very affordable. He just recently opened a second restaurant, called Saint John, which I can’t wait to try the next time I visit NOLA.
Next week: It’s back to Utah for more tantalizing Beehive State cuisine.
Photos by Ted Scheffler
Culinary quote of the week:
“New Orleans food is as delicious as the less criminal forms of sin.” — Mark Twain
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Originally trained as an anthropologist, Ted Scheffler is a seasoned food, wine & travel writer based in Utah. He loves cooking, skiing, and spends an inordinate amount of time tending to his ever-growing herd of guitars and amplifiers.
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