You Got Cajun in My Creole!
The difference between Cajun and Creole cuisine lies chiefly in distance between city and countryside. Cajun cooking came from the Acadians who settled in the swamps and bayous of rural Louisiana and adapted the recipes of French heritage to their new location. Their cuisine is like their music: robust and full of flavor (and despite the reputation, not necessarily spicy). They used available ingredients like sausage, seafood, poultry, and rice in single-pot stews that fed large families and farms. Creole dishes, on the other hand, were developed by French and Spanish city dwellers and feature fancier sauces and ingredients. Today, the two cuisines have a happy marriage, blurring the distinctions and inviting other influences. Our advice? Disregard the classifications, try it all, and decide what you prefer.
The Louisiana diet will kill a man as surely as the sword. —King of the Hill
Long before there were pop-up restaurants, there were back-room deli counters in unassuming corner stores. It’s how a lot of French Quarter residents still eat, because it’s fast, cheap, diverse, available ‘round-the-clock, and often surprisingly good. Take it out or have it delivered, and be sure to ask for utensils. True locals eat while leaning against a wall or seated on someone’s front stoop.
* Frady’s (This one’s in the Bywater at 3231 Dauphine St.; [tel] 504/949-9688; Mon–Fri 8am–6pm, Sat 9am–3pm). Best choice: Hot sausage or oyster po’ boy.
* QuarterMaster (1110 Bourbon St.; [tel] 504/529-1416; 24/7). Best choice: Basic po’ boys, especially the French-fry po’ boy, and greasy burgers.
* Verti Marte (1201 Royal St.; [tel] 504/525-4757; 24/7). Best choice: anything in the deli case or from the mother lode of a menu, especially the day’s specials, like Grandma’s Boardinghouse Meat Loaf or catfish Bienville. Salads, specialty sandwiches, and loads of veggies.
Whole Lotta Muffuletta Goin’ On
Muffulettas are sandwiches of (pardon the expression) heroic proportions, enormous concoctions of round Italian bread, Italian cold cuts, cheeses, and olive salad. One person cannot (or should not) eat a whole one—at least not in one sitting. A half makes a good meal; a quarter is a filling snack. They may not sound like much on paper, but once you try one, you’ll be hooked. Vegetarians swear they’re delicious done meatless.
Several places in town claim to have invented the muffuletta and also claim to make the best one. You decide: Comparison-shopping can be a rewarding pastime.
The lunchtime line can be daunting but moves fast (and it’s part of the aura) at world-famous Central Grocery, 923 Decatur St. ([tel] 504/523-1620). There are a few seats at the back of this crowded, garlic-scented Italian grocery, or you can order to go. Best of all, they ship, so you can satisfy your craving or throw an envy-inducing party. Eat it across the street on the banks of the Mississippi for an inexpensive, romantic meal ($18 for a whole, with tax). The impersonal staff at Central Grocery starts making and wrapping their sandwiches early in the day, so they’re ready for the rush. Don’t worry about freshness; it actually helps when the olive flavors soak through the layers. Open daily 9am-5pm.
Are the hot muffulettas at Napoleon House better or blasphemy? It’s a different taste sensation, and a heated debate. Feeling experimental? Drive to Nor-Joe’s Importing Co., 505 Friscoe, in Metairie ([tel] 504/833-9240), where the ginormous, outstanding muffulettas, constructed with iconoclastic ingredients like prosciutto and mortadella, have their own cult following. Then there’s Cochon Butcher, whose house-cured meats form the basis of what may be our new favorite ‘letta. Okay it is. There, we said it.
New Orleans is one place you can eat and drink the most, and suffer the least. —William Makepeace Thackeray
Once upon a time, while waiting for Casamento’s doors to open and just moments from an oyster loaf, three youngish tourist gals struck up a chat (as happens nearly automatically in New Orleans) with the three Uptown ladies-of-a-certain-age ahead of them. They were St. Charles–born and –bred, dined at Casamento’s weekly, and offered us NOLA newbies some well-tested tips. This one still sticks (and sounds best when read with a high-pitched, breathy lilt): “You simply must go to any of the fine, old French restaurants, and when you do, why you just order anythin’ flamin’.” Meaning, go to Antoine’s, Arnaud’s, Commander’s Palace, or Galatoire’s, and get bananas Foster, baked Alaska, café brûlot, or anything prepared tableside and involving conflagration. Naturally we bought the ladies a round, and to this day we’re still following their fine advice and living by the “anythin’ flamin’” creed: Indulge a bit, relish fun, and while one needn’t embrace drama in all aspects of life, when it comes to dessert, by all means bring it on.
Single-source, third-wave, cold-pressed, pour-over-only people might be satisfied at one of these spots. Might. All except purist Spitfire offer some variation on pastries and light savory fare. See also Salon by Sucré, District Donuts Hand Pies and Willa Jean.
* Addiction -- (French Quarter): 909 Iberville St. (www.addictioncoffeehouse.com; 504-475-5900; Mon–Sun 7am–7pm).
* French Truck -- (Lower Garden District): 1200 Magazine St. (www.frenchtruckcoffee.com; [tel] 504/298-1115; Mon–Fri 7am–5pm, Sat–Sun 8am–4pm); (Uptown) .4536 Dryades St. [tel] 504/298.1115. Weds-Fri 7am-4pm; Sat-Sun 8am-4pm. (www.frenchtruckcoffee.com.
* Merchant -- (CBD): 800 Common St. (www.merchantneworleans.com; [tel] 504/571-9580; Mon–Fri 7am–5:30pm, Sat–Sun 78am–4:30pm).
* Revelator -- (CBD): 637 Tchoupitoulas St. (www.revelatorcoffee.com). Daily 7am-6pm.
* Spitfire -- (French Quarter): 627 St. Peter St. ([tel] 504/384-0655; Mon–Thurs 8am–7pm, Fri–Sat 8am–8pm).
* Solo Espresso -- (Bywater): 1301 Poland Ave. (www.soloespressobar.com; [tel] 504/408-1377; Mon–Sat 8am–3pm).
* Stumptown -- (CBD): 610 Carondolet St. (www.stumptowncoffee.com/locations/new-orleans; [tel] 504/900-1180; Daily 7am-7pm).
A Snoball’s Chance
Shaved-ice clone, let us assure you: It’s no such thing. These mouthwatering concoctions are made with custom machines that shave the ice so fine that skiers envy the powder. And the flavors—including exotic ones such as wedding cake (almond, mostly), nectar (think cream soda, only much better), and orchid cream vanilla (bright purple that must be seen to be believed)—are absolutely delectable (the better proprietors make their own flavored syrups). Order them with condensed or evaporated milk if you prefer your refreshing drinks on the more decadently creamy side, or go further—some shops have started spiking them with booze. Or double the decadence with a hot rod—a snowball stuffed with ice cream. At any time on a hot day, lines can be out the door, and like so many other local specialties, loyalties are fierce. You should stop in at any snoball stand you see, but the following are worth seeking out. Hours vary, so call ahead; most open midday till 7 or 8pm and many close for winter. Go with a sweet tooth and get plenty of napkins.
The snoballs at Hansen’s Sno-Bliz (4801 Tchoupitoulas St.; www.snobliz.com; [tel] 504/891-9788) are a revered city tradition, still served with a smile by third-generation owner Ashley Hansen, who officially took over after her grandparents died in the months following Katrina (and won the 2014 James Beard “American Classic” award). Those grandparents invented the shaved-ice machine in use here and elsewhere, and concocted their own proprietary syrups. Snoballs come in a souvenir cup. Try the bubble-gum-flavored Sno-bliz. Plum St. Snoballs (1300 Burdette St.; www.plumstreetsnoball.com; [tel] 504/866-7996) has been cooling New Orleaneans for more than 70 years, serving favorites in Chinese food containers. Fans of Pandora’s (901 S. Carrollton Ave.; [tel] 504/289-0765) say its ice is the softest anywhere, and the flavor list is so long it’s taking over the neighborhood. You’ll have to fight the hordes of school kids in line, even, it often seems, during school hours. Bywater upstart Piety Street Snoballs (612 Piety St.; [tel] 504/782-2569) is attracting the foodie crowd with its fresh-fruit extracts and novel flavors, like Vietnamese coffee and hibiscus pomegranate.