One of my first food memories is related to New Orleans. I was just a toddler, and my father came back from a business trip there with a box of pralines. My parents sat me on the edge of the kitchen sink, fed me sweet little bites and kept saying “praline, praline” over and over. Oh yeah, life can be sweet.
New Orleans is still sweet, and what everyone knows about food in New Orleans–it’s central to the city’s identity and it’s fantastic–is still true.
In New Orleans, Sunday brunch is a real thing not, as Anthony Bourdain claims, a dumping ground for the week’s leftovers and second string cooks. It’s a real meal with real dishes. Witness breakfast at Brennan’s–a three course meal that begins with a gentle eye-opener of bourbon milk punch, continues with a mommy-made appetizer like a creole baked apple doused in heavy cream, moves onto a main course of eggs Sardou, Hussarde, Benedict, or Bayou LaFourche, and in a grand et cetera, finishing with dessert, expertly flambeed at tableside–crepes or bananas foster.
But it is not only at the institutions–Brennan’s, Antoines, Galatoire’s–where they care about food. The second generation restaurants like Bayona, Herbsaint, and Cochon move the tradition along. Even the “tourist traps” like Cafe du Monde and Mother’s are frequented by locals because they’re good.
No one seems to be phoning it in with turkey wraps or roast beef panini. A neighborhood place like Fat Hen Grill has taken the time to develop it’s own barbeque, jams, signature dishes, and a loyal Sunday morning clientele.
And at the intersection of my two favorite topics, food and urbanism, I love that a place like Galatoire’s, which still asks men to strap into a sport coat upholds its standards next to a Bourbon Street strip club called Little Darlings.
The lace curtains amid the general Bourbon Street debauchery (Overheard: “I’m kicking it off with a hurricane and then sticking with beer.” Now that’s a plan; think he’s thought that much about his Roth IRA?) strike me as fundamental human nature. Black is nothing without white, and good is just plain tedious without bad. It’s real, and accepting both, on the street and in our lives, takes tolerance and maturity.
Finally, one travel rule of thumb: never leave without a visit to the supermarket. You never know what local wonders you’ll find hidden on the top and bottom shelves.