February 19, 2013

New Orleans Eats, Part One: Jacques-Imo's, Cafe du Monde, Central Grocery

 
I spent a few days in New Orleans last week at the end of Mardi Gras with friends who are native to the city. We did a fair share of eating and drinking and basking in the post-Mardi Gras glow of the Crescent City. Just about everything we ate, at every hour of the day, was top notch. Some highlights:
Real-deal Nawlin's-style, Creole cooking at Jacques-Imo's uptown.
 
The place is always packed, reservations are always hard to come by, and I'm told folks wait two hours some nights to get it. But it's worth the effort. Jacques Leonardi, the animated owner seems to always be present in the dining room; cracking jokes, entertaining kids, and making it feel as if you are eating at a table in his own home.

The duck and andouille sausage gumbo.
Crawfish etoufee. Don't think I was visiting NOLA and not eating crawfish etoufee at least once. And no complaints with Jacques-Imo's rendition pictured above.
The how-to-gain-five-pounds in one dish-roasted quail stuffed with foie gras, mushrooms, and bacon. Decadent and so freaking good.
Some very good Creole-Cajun soul food here in a rambunctious setting that reeks of New Orleans.
Made the obligatory stop at the original Cafe Du Monde for beignets. When the place is crowded, which is always, this location of Cafe du Monde rakes in over $5,000 per hour. A nice draw considering Cafe du Monde is basically a coffee shop selling little squares of fried dough topped with powdered sugar.
Beignets and a cafe au lait is great way to start a beautiful post-Mardi Gras day in the French Quarter. Especially if you are a little, or better yet, a lot hungover.
Had to stop by the landmark Central Grocery for a Muffuletta. A slice of Italy in the heart of the French Quarter.

While the muffuletta is the star, Central Grocery is a gem of a shop. It was founded in 1906 by Salvatore Lupo, an Italian immigrant and has been a landmark of the French Quarter ever since. Central Grocery is reminiscent of the Italian markets I remember frequenting in NYC and CT as a kid. A vast selection of mostly Italian, but also French and Creole food products including olive oils, cheeses, canned tomatoes, pastas, pastries, and more.
One could get lost poking around the shelves of Central Grocery for hours. But pay attention, and don't be holding up the line and shit. People are serious about getting to this muffuletta. Whole or half is the only decision you have to make.
The muffuletta at Central Grocery is one of those things that defies its own simplicity. Salami, ham, cheese, mortadella, "special olive salad," and olive oil. Big deal, right? However, the combination of the rich meats and briny olive spread on light and airy Leidenheimer's sesame bread is magical.
That's it for now...New Orleans Eats, Part Two coming soon... Jacques-Imo's Café on Urbanspoon

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