Mr. K and I had a wonderful time in New Orleans, why did we wait so long to visit! We had three full days to explore and made an effort to try as many local delicacies as we could. I mentioned here that we were in America’s foodiest city for the Chowzter North American Awards ceremony and were joined by 40+ Chief Chowzters who all take the art of eating very seriously. There were constant tweets, instant messages and emails from my fellow chiefs who were all dedicated to squeezing in as many bites as possible. We started the first day at the iconic Willie Mae’s Scotch House, which is famous throughout the land for their legendary fried chicken.
Willie Mae’s restaurant was declared a James Beard American Classic in 2005 and it has so much local love that the Southern Foodways Alliance helped rebuild it after Hurricane Katrina, watch an amazing documentary about it here. It is noted in John T. Edge’s little black book of favorite chicken places that is published in his opus, “Fried Chicken: an American Story” and is basically on every reliable list of fried chicken to be found. We arrived when they opened, around 10:30 AM and there was a line, apparently there is always a line of devotees here at the temple of fried chicken…
My oh my, that fried chicken was something else! The crust that develops from the freshly fried wet batter looks heavy but has a wonderful crackly texture that is surprisingly not greasy. Whenever an order came out, noses followed the trail of the mesmerizing aroma that wafted after each plate.
The gorgeously crunchy crust had so much flavor that I gnawed every delicious morsel off the bone, the meat inside was juicy and tender, each bite made me want to take another…
The red beans and rice were spicy and flavorful and I had to resist the impulse to finish the plate.
Here is the beautiful tableau… It was hard to not gorge on this stuff, but we had a busy day ahead of us!
We walked off our snack of fried chicken by power walking through a colorful neighborhood out in the 5th ward to the Parkway Bakery and Tavern , which is known for their Poorboy sandwiches with 25 or so variations on the menu. The original Parkway Bakery opened in 1911, began serving the “poor boy” sandwich in 1929 to feed the workers at the nearby American Can Company. Over the years it closed in 1993 then reopened 10 years later in 2003 by Jay Nix who continues the tradition of a family owned and operated business serving comfort food and drink.
The name Poorboy sandwich was coined during the late 1920’s, when the New Orleans streetcar conductors went on strike. The owners of the Leidenheimer Baking Company vowed to feed their striking brethren for free. When one of the strikers entered their shop, the call went out: “Here comes anther po-boy!”
We sat in the back enclosed patio, our Chowzter group took up about half of the space. Plates soon began to arrive at each table for us to sample a variety of poorboy sandwiches.
A poorboy (also “po-boy”) is traditionally filled with batter-fried shrimp or oysters, andouille or spicy Italian sausage, soft-shell crab and catfish. The term dressed means it includes lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise, and pickles and is served on a distinctive New Orleans–style French bread that has a lightly crisped crust, and an interior as airy as cotton candy from the local Leidenheimer Baking Company. In recent years, roast-beef po’boys (with Swiss cheese and beef gravy) has risen in popularity. What struck me is the similarity of the poorboy to the Vietnamese Banh Mi sandwich, which are also served on a similar type of light crusty baguette, but to me are vastly more interesting and flavorful with the addition of pate and pickled carrots, daikon, cilantro and slices of spicy jalapeño. This is the Roast Beef french dip, which was slathered with horseradishy mayonnaise.
The Parkway Surf and Turf is full of slow cooked roast beef topped with golden fried shrimp covered in gravy
Golden Fried Shrimp, are lightly battered and fried and served dressed. We thought the sandwich seemed a bit dry and wished for more mayonnaise or sauce.
Grilled Smoked Alligator Sausage Link was my favorite sandwich! It had a lovely snappy casing that was filled with rich garlicky smoked meaty flavors
The Hot Roast Beef with Gravy was tender and delicious.
We shared a couple orders of Fries topped with roast beef debris gravy, the other one was made with sweet potato fries.
I was completely gaga over the Dill Pickle Chips, which were served with a spicy creole aioli dip. The pickles inside were tart and juicy and I wish more places serve these!
We managed to polish off the Homemade Bread Pudding with Rum Sauce, which was delicious but so rich and heavy after the round of poorboy gluttony.
The aftermath of our feast…
We went our separate ways, some of us to nap (me), others continued their quest to taste all that the Crescent City had to offer. Last stop of the day was for the Chowzter North America Awards 2015 which featured a 3 course dinner at the venerable Commander’s Palace in the romantic and beautiful garden district .
The Commander’s Palace opened in 1880, the menu reflecting the best of the city, both Creole and American heritages, where it eventually came under the stewardship of the Brennan family, which seems to have ties to all of the restaurants in New Orleans. Celebrated Chefs Paul Prudhomme and Emeril Lagasse both took turns at the helm, and the current chef Tory McPhail won the coveted Best Chef: South, at the James Beard Foundation in 2013
The man hosting the awards ceremony liked to tell bad jokes but with great humor and much fun was had by all. The dinner menu offered us decadent dishes to distract us from the agenda. We arrived late and had to stand until they could set an auxilliary table for us in a separate adjacent dining room.
While we tried to keep out of the way of the wait staff, platters of appetizers came by and I could not resist the fried oysters with shoestring potatoes in a ridiculously decadent rich spicy sauce.
The main event was in a large semi-private dining area, that kind of overflowed into the regular dining area…
We retreated to our table in the other room when the courses were served. Tim and David at the next table over.
We began with Turtle Soup, a Commander’s classic made from alligator snapping turtles, which is a farm-raised fresh water species available all year long. I am not sure how I feel about eating turtle, but was somewhat gratified to learn that these are not the turtles that we kept as pets as a kid, instead it’s made with snapping turtles that bite.
Next we enjoyed the Commander’s Romaine Salad, hearts of romaine, parmesan, pressed eggs, pecan smoked bacon and french bread croutons with classic black pepper-buttermilk dressing. Topped with a lot of bacon, but delicious and one of the few dishes we had that featured fresh vegetables…
The Tournedos of Black Angus Beef, topped with whiskey smoked onions, roasted mushrooms, creole smashed new potatoes and black de viande was decadent and delicious.
My favorite entree was the Pecan crusted fish, topped with champagne poached jumbo lump crab, spiced pecans and crushed corn sauce. Every bite was sublime, full of excellent textures and melt in your mouth rich flavors.
I loved the Creole Bread Pudding Souffle, the rich bread pudding whipped into a light fluffy souffle, with ethereal meringue and whiskey sauce added table side. This was so good that I finished it, stuffed as I was…
We requested the Bananas Foster which the server prepared on a cart at our table, which was quite the papparazzi moment!
We watched him cook the bananas in butter, brown sugar, Caribbean rum, banana liqueur; then set the pan ablaze; and poured the mixture over a scoop of rich vanilla bean ice cream.
Here’s a group shot, I am holding my trophy below the red balloon..
And that concludes another day of me partaking in life’s endless banquet…