Which Came First, the Music or the Food?
New favorite foods at Jazz Fest
If there is one thing we have learned from the 50th Anniversary of New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival (Jazz Fest), it’s that becoming a septuagenarian involves great risk and frequently cancelled plans. May we all live to see 70 and beyond, and may Mick Jagger, Stevie Nicks and John Prine all make full recoveries so that we may see them another day. While the musical lineup is prone to last-minute cancellations, the food lineup proves itself to be much more vigorous and dependable.
For years, my food choices were governed by items I couldn’t easily source at a restaurant within 15 minutes of my house. Being a New Orleanian, this ruled out some incredible dishes. This year I challenged myself to make some changes, “eat locally” and my palate was rewarded. As always, I recommend sharing with a friend.
New Favorites in Food Area I
Pecan Catfish Meunière and Fried Crab Cake w/ Smoked Tomato & Jalapeño Tartar – Gallagher’s Grill
A Creole classic and an American bistro staple, this combination of food hit the spot for a shared dinner. The fish is grilled, moist and flakey with the buttery sauce and crunch of the pecans adding dimension. The individual crab cake was a nice thickness with the breading on the outside and no noticeable breadcrumbs combined with the crab meat. Alternate your bites between the two selections and try dipping the catfish in the tartar sauce.
Boiled Crawfish, Louisiana Crawfish Etouffeé and Cajun Crawfish Rice – Smitty’s Seafood Restaurant
While I love these dishes, I was never inspired to order them at Jazz Fest. Boy, was I an idiot. The boiled crawfish were tender and had the perfect amount of heat. The etouffeé is a sharable dish, thick and rich and served with rice. The crawfish rice is a seasonal jambalaya-type recipe that is not regularly available at the restaurant. Plan to eat near the Grandstand so you can wash your hands after the boiled crawfish, or use the baby wipes you were smart enough to bring.
BBQ Brisket Sandwich, BBQ Chicken Sandwich and Smokey Bacon Greens – Smoke Street Catering
Full disclosure, I know these folks and I volunteered at their booth this year. But it was the first time I ate their food, and I can unbiasedly say that it was delicious. I’m a brisket snob and theirs is smoked perfectly. The chicken is grilled and it, as well as the brisket, is tossed in a BBQ sauce that balances sweetness with vinegar. Each are served on a brioche bun baked locally at Dong Phuong and topped with freshly-made coleslaw. The greens are further proof that everything is better with bacon and stew in a juice that is more sauce, less water.
New Favorites in Food Area II
Fried Okra – The Praline Connection Warehouse
I’m sort of lazy when it comes to standing in line for a side dish. But I kept my motivation going and waited patiently in a line that is usually pretty long for the popular Crispy Wings. I spent the time chatting with tourists behind me about what they had eaten so far, what they still planned to eat and what I told them they couldn’t skip before they left. Also, restaurant recommendations. The okra was crispy, if a little on the greasy side. I wish I had some Mad Chef seasoning blend to sprinkle on it, but I did have a packet of Crystal hot sauce from the Crawfish Monica I had the day before and that did the trick. Another good choice was dipping it in my Pheasant, Quail & Andouille Gumbo. I will be getting the okra again.
Key Lime Tart – Cecelia Husing
And on the seventh day, He decided He wanted pie and created Key Lime. This is one of my favorite pies to bake, so I don’t usually order it from anywhere. Thank goodness I did this time. The little tart is filled with a traditional key lime custard lovingly held in a thick crust. It’s topped with a perfect whipped cream that balanced that tang of the citrus. I hear people rave about the strawberry shortcake, but one dessert was enough for me on this particular day.
New Favorite in the Grandstand
Louisiana Crawfish Salad Roll – J & M Seafood
Y’all. This was the most perfect, refreshing, filling sandwich. It was just the right amount of food to keep me dancing without weighing me down. The crawfish tails weren’t rubbery, the mayonnaise wasn’t too thick, and the roll was soft enough that you didn’t lose too much of the filling when you took a bite. I’ve eaten lobster rolls in Maine and this interpretation of the eastern seaboard classic wins.
Um, Just Try It at the Cultural Exchange Pavillion
Colombo de Poulet (Martinican Chicken Curry) and Pão de Queijo (Brazilian Cheese Bread)
The Cultural Exchange Pavillion is an exciting aspect to the food lineup every year. It’s an easy way to make sure you try something new with each iteration of Jazz Fest. I had the chicken curry and I was underwhelmed by the seasoning. Which is to say, this is an excellent choice if you are a bit seasoning-averse. The cheese bread in no way resembled bread as we know it in the U.S. Rather, it was a serving of tangy white cheese balls that had been coated in flour and deep fried. They were atomic hot but didn’t get gooey. I can’t say I would order them again, but I’m happy I tried them. And do I really need another cheesy thing to love in my life?