Spring in NOLA: Swamps, Shells, and a Dream Come True

We started bright and early the next day and went on the Honey Island Swamp Tour. It was like we were in some untouched fantasy land full of creatures, strange plants, and adventure! These guys do a great job by the way and I highly recommend them for a small group tour.

The Original Honey Island Swamp Tour

Afterwards what better to fill our swamp bellies but with some incredibly addictive Johnny’s Po Boys. Despite how famous and touristy this place is, it’s still legit eats! Soft-shell crab for me, oyster for Jordan, and a side of their sweet jambalaya to share!

Soft-shell Crab Po’ Boy

Fried Oyster Po’ Boy

Sweet Jambalaya

The only thing more killer than these po’ boys was the mega-nap Jordan and I took after…zzz…the….zzzzzz…

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One word: Middendorf’s! Waaaay back when Jordan and I started dating, one of our first conversations about food was about his days as a child in Mississippi. He spoke with such passion and affection for a place in Manshac, Louisiana that he and his family would go to on special occasions. It lies on the isthmus between Lake Maurepas and Lake Ponchatrain, and he’d spin yarns about sucking crawfish heads and tails over cajun spice-soaked newspaper table cloths. He’d also talk of the fried platters with such gusto that the memory became a food goal for me. And guess what, check off one ticker box for this girl!

“We’re with you through Thick and Thin!” – Middendorf’s

All manner of crustacean in this gumbo!

Fresh big boiled critters!

Middendorf’s Special Fried Thin Catfish

Old School Deviled Crab

Shrimp and Catfish

This was a dream come true, and Middendorf’s remains a living legend.

If you ever get to New Orleans and want a quick fun road trip around local parts, Middendorf’s is truly worth it!

Trust me on this! Git! Git!

Spring in NOLA: K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen

As food pictures and travel logs keep piling up so fast in my crazy life, I’ve decided to let my pictures do more of the talking for me, especially since eating is most of what we did in NOLA anyway! Hee hee! Enjoy!

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K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen – Legendary Chef Paul Prudhomme’s famous restaurant on Chartres Street. Classic and authentic New Orleans’ flavor, spice, and soul.

Fried Green Tomatoes with Shrimp Caper Dill Remoulade
Never had this version with a creamy Shrimp saute but it made the dish luxurious.

Chicken and Andouille Gumbo
Classically comforting – a milder version.

Crawfish Etouffée
Doesn’t get any more authentic than this. Deep layers of slow-cooked flavor in a buttery peppery brown sauce. Super fresh crawfish tails shrewn throughout. My first true taste of a NOLA classic.

Blackened Twin Beef Tenders with Debris
It takes two days to make Chef Paul’s famous and secret Debris sauce. So of course, I had to try it and I’m glad I did. It elevated what is not my preferred cut of meat to a sophisticated savory height. I highly recommend lapping up all remaining sauce with some warm cornbread.

Although we sadly had to pass up dessert given we’d licked each of our plates clean through dinner, what better treat than making some new friends!

Spring in NOLA – Musings and Munchies

March 24-27, 2011

New Orleans food is as delicious as the less criminal forms of sin. – Mark Twain

Eating our way through New Orleans had been a dream of ours since Jordan and I met. It all started when he brought me to John Roussos’ New Orleans’ Take-Out in Madison, Wisconsin. Yep, Madison of all places!

John Roussos is a NOLA transplant. He used to work at Antoine’s in New Orleans, but he followed his sweetheart (and wife today) to the Midwest where his cravings for Cajun Creole pushed him to open up his own place. And it’s been going strong ever since.

“Etouffee,” “Po-boy,” and “Creole,” were words I had never heard uttered until I ate at NOTO. And the first time hot red buttery Shrimp Creole hit my tongue, I was hooked.

So needless to say, expectations were high as we drifted over the swampy marshes around Louis Armstrong airport and landed softly on the tarmac.

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Our adventure started in the back of a big van which easily could have transported a tour group of people. But “taxis” in NOLA all seem to be big vans or SUVs anyhow. Our driver – a lively Jamaican woman – was cheerful and full of laughter as she deftly swerved us in and out of traffic lanes at 80 miles an hour.

No worry. We were in New Orleans after all. And the sun was a-shining.

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Quick shower. Quick change. Quick departure to our first eating excursion!

It was a short walk from the Omni Royal Orleans at St. Louis and Chartres to Coop’s, so we took our time and soaked up the beautiful architecture, 80 degree sun, and crisp refreshing breezes.

As we were walking and talking about lunch, a dude in front of us (carrying a bag of fresh shrimps) overheard and asked us where we were headed. We said “Coop’s Place.” He said “Follow me.” Turns out, he was a cook there. Any voodoo priestess would call that a very good omen.

This bar slash casual eatery would be perfect for lunch. Smelled like savory seafood when we walked into the dimly lit dark wood bar. Locals chatted as they drank down Bloody Mary’s. I glimpsed some nice lookin’ Po-boys on plates.

The chalkboard menu only got us more excited as we saw words like “jambalaya,” red beans,” “crawfish,” and more. We ordered in a flash – two cups of filé crab gumbo, the “Coop’s Taste Plate” and the “Fried Oyster Shrimp Platter.” We’d sample as much as we could goshdarnnit!

The jambalaya was a stand-out here and would be my favorite version of the dish throughout our entire four days. The rabbit and andouille combo was sweet, savory, and comforting. The rice was softer than I was used to but the plump kernels wrapped in the tender shredded rabbit meat coated the tongue in a quilted layer of flavors. The andouille’s smokiness tied it all together. So friggin’ good.

The fried platter was simple in preparation but I could not have replicated this at home without some real experimentation. The oysters were intensely sweet, juicy, unbelievable. The best fried oysters truly I’ve ever had. The batter was shatteringly crisp yet had body. I would realize later that this type of batter was how they did it New Orleans, and it made so much sense as it perfectly holds in the flavorful fresh seafood juices of oysters and shrimp.

It really couldn’t get any better than this to kick off our NOLA adventure.

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After lunch we explored the French Quarter. Sun warming our cheeks and our hearts after the rainy cold we left back home.

We took a stroll through the French Market while munching on some deep fried peanuts. You eat em’ – shell and all! Couldn’t pass up the homemade creamy pralines and “Shoe Soles” from Loretta’s New Orleans which are like they sound, big shoe sole-shaped pastries heavily dusted with sugar and cinnamon. Perfect walking food!

Then we came upon a mecca of hot sauces – Nawlin’s Café & Spice Emporium.

Jordan was in heaven. We must have tried every sauce on the shelf! I also picked up a treasure I wasn’t expecting. The Uglesich’s cookbook. The Uglesich’s are a NOLA legend despite their generations-long restaurant closing up shop twenty years or so ago. I’ll definitely be using this baby at home.

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Believe it or not, after a few hours of walking, we wanted a snack. And oh, lookie here! Central Grocery – home of the original famous muffaletta sandwich!

P.S. you didn’t think we could go a day in NOLA without having a muffaletta did you?
Worth it, y’all.

Pick up some olive salad and Zapp’s Crawtater chips on the way out by the way.

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Frommer’s had a nice walking tour online which I picked up, so for the next few hours we casually strolled through the neighborhoods. They were quiet, fragrant, and utterly gorgeous in the spring sun. Forget Bourbon Street. THIS is the real NOLA.

We stopped in for an espresso pick-me-up at the Royal Café – a charming place with an inset patio that you get to through a narrow alley from the street. I love the nooks and crannies of the buildings and streets here.

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We made it to the great Mississippi after weaving our way through a variety of excellent street performances from Jazz bands, puppeteers, and hippie kids. A large barge chugged on by as I watched the great waters churn against the rock embankment.

I had always had a romantic attachment to the South and the Mississippi since I was a kid because the stories from the South were so foreign and exotic to me growing up in Newcastle, Pennsylvania.

And when I met Jordan, he’d recant stories from his childhood adventures growing up in McComb, Mississippi, and my imagination went wild with dreams of catching crawfish, eating boiled peanuts, pulling fresh figs off the trees, and licking honeysuckle along the railroad tracks. It made falling for him pretty darn easy actually.

So sure, I was a little anxious about being disappointed since my expectations were so high.

But I can honestly say that New Orleans inspired something in me that surpassed my romantic musings. I felt something more permanent and solid within me standing there next to Old Blue – something I could grab onto and nurture as I breathed in fresh river water.

Yep, this would be a trip to remember.

Next up: Dinner at the iconic Chef Paul Prudhomme’s K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen!

An EDD-ters Tour of Italy – La Finale e arrivederci!

One bullet train later, I had to blink several times before it sank in that we were back where our culinary tour de forza began. One afternoon and night left in this magical country.

What can I say? I was bummed!

We decided to visit Piazza Navona on our last afternoon in Rome. The air was slightly cool and damp, and a creeping melancholy gave me quite a chill. Good thing there were plenty of roasted chestnut vendors about to fill the air with nutty sweetness.

So the big question now was where to have our final meal? Where could we find the culinary closure we’d need to sustain us for the long journey home?

Like divine inspiration from Neptune himself, a craving for fettucine al tartufo d’Andrea aroused my appetite. Trattoria d’Andrea – homey, delicious, comforting, authentic – answered the call.

In the meantime, it was impossible not to grab a snack at a small pizzeria on our way back to the hotel. Homemade pork sausage and straight-up tomato basil between chewy, lightly cheesy, crispy pizza dough. How can something so simple be so darn unbelievable!

At Trattoria d’Andrea, we started with antipasto vegetale – eggplant, zucchini, cipollini onions – generously flavored with garlic, tomato and breadcrumbs. The antipasto italiana was fresh and comfortingly salty sweet.

Although the house fettucini was my must-have dish, Jordan opted for the ravioli bolognese. Slightly tart and meaty ragu on chewy cheese-stuffed pillows.

By excellent fortune, before my truffle fettucini arrived, they mistakenly brought a fettucine con porcini by accident. Oh no! What to do?

Andrea also recommended a especiale di pollo which was a braised chicken with tomatoes. Fall-off-the bone tenderness in a sweet, sumptuous sauce. Beautiful.

It was such a wonderful meal and it encapsulated so much of the soulful impact Italy has had on me. The country appreciates people, art, food, and simply life itself. And this philosophy is intermingled with all my memories.

I’m so glad I was able to share some of my fondest memories with you all, and I hope they inspire you to visit Italy as well! I know I’ll be back!

But for now…

Arrivederci!