Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Dining in Dixieland: Where to Eat in New Orleans

NOLA is a town full of history, tradition and a true appreciation for good living. The food is the most soulful cooking with use of some of the freshest seafood in the US. The French Quarter  continues to be the heart of New Orleans and although common sense will tell you that quality local food won't be found on the touristy Bourbon Street Strip. The savvy traveler eats like the locals do and we found the Louisiana classics within minutes of a walk off of Bourbon St.  

Breakfast starts off right with a Cafe au Lait and Beignets at the Cafe du Monde. Since 1862, this humble coffee empire has satisfied breakfast palates with its unique coffee blend (mixed with chicory for a bolder more bitter flavour) and hot, fluffy doughnuts  generously dusted in powdered sugar. With the original shop located just south of Jackson Square in the French Quarter, this New Orleans staple cannot be missed! The Cafe du Monde also sells its signature roast, French roast and doughnut mix for sale to take a piece of NOLA home with you.

You may have heard of it and you may have seen it in pictures. But you could never imagine how BIG a true Muffuletta sandwich really is until you have the original in New Orleans from the Central Grocery. The shop is located on Decatur St. in the Quarter just steps from Cafe du Monde and a legendary NOLA institution.  Bring an empty stomach because the Muffuletta is not for the faint of heart. This classic sandwich is about 10 inches across of Sicilian bread and generously stuffed capicola, salami, pepperoni, ham, provolone, emmental and marinated olive salad.
The Original Muffuletta from Central Grocery, New Orleans

Continuing on the walk down Decatur Street (because you'll need to walk off that Muffuletta goodness) will lead you to the French Market. Bustling all day long with souvenir vendors, artisan stalls with local crafts and original market food, the French Market is the place to find some of the more 'exotic' yet traditional Louisiana favourites. You'll find the freshest meat and seafood, seasoned with fragrant Cajun and Creole spices. Here you'll find such local eats as Alligator Sausage and Crawfish Etouffee (Cajun shellfish stew served on rice).

 The King of Creole's Menu at the French Market
By far, the best New Orleans food can be found in a small deli counter at the back of a convenience store that sits quietly on the edge of the Quarter called the Verti Marte.  It's the home of the best jambalaya, fried shrimp and oysters, and the heart stopping 'All That Jazz' sandwich stuffed with ham, turkey, shrimp melted together with swiss chesse on soft French bread. This is the best kept secret in the French Quarter. We've been told Brangelina (NOLA residents just outside of the Quarter) squeezes their brood into the the tight aisles for a regular Verti Marte fix.  

Now you can't leave New Orleans without a hearty helping of seafood gumbo and red beans and rice. Coop's is a dive-y little tavern steps from the French Market with rickety chairs and Westerns playing on the tv.  We can't think of a better setting for savouring some down home Louisiana classics. A spicy, thick and warming bowl of gumbo is heartily stewed with shrimp, oysters, crawfish and crab.  It's easy to see why Southerners love their food when it is this good, hearty and soulful.
New Orleans in its recovery from Hurricane Katrina, continues to develop and succeed with an outstanding culinary and cocktails scene. While there are many fine dining and haute restaurants of note, the heart of New Orleans food is in the Louisiana home-cooked classics.  Make the trip down south with a big heart, bigger stomach and laissez les bon temps rouler...
---Michelle Tham

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