When you plan and often host Thanksgiving for a minimum of 30-35 family members each year, its OK to ask for a break once in a while. And so, this year, with no guilt, 25 of us (you heard me) decided to break away from the norm and plan a destination Thanksgiving. ‘Nawlins hear we come!
It wasn’t easy getting an Airbnb big enough for our group, but we lucked out. Right by the garden district, walking distance from Magazine street where all the action is! To pay homage to our destination, Gumbo HAD to feature on our Thanksgiving menu. In true foodie-family style, we had not one, but two types gumbo: seafood as well as chicken & sausage simmering away the entire afternoon! While. thanks to Marley Spoon meal kit delivery service (by Martha Stewart), our Thanksgiving menu planning and shopping was all automatically taken care of. Remember me telling you about it in a recent blog post? Our boxes of supplies got delivered the day we arrived, complete with the turkey, and all we had to do was to get cooking!
New Orleans is such a great food city! And each person who visits NOLA has their own list of favorites they will swear by. I proudly admit, that I actually created a food-crawl sheet, complete with a map, lists of restaurants, bars and menu items to try at each place. It was to serve as a guideline, because I knew that it will be impossible to do it all with so many people. We barely scratched the surface (so to speak) but still had a blast doing it!
For some in our group, it was their first visit to the city, so Cafe du Monde was on the agenda from the very beginning. I am amazed at how big an operation it has become over the years. Lines are ridiculously long. Seating tight. The must haves here, of course, are the beignets and chicory coffee. Mission accomplished!
Housed so close to Magazine street and the famous Shaya restaurant, I had booked our tables months in advance. This was one meal we were all looking forward… until all the news started surfacing about chef John Besh. It made me uneasy to give such a place our business, but then thankfully chef Besh stepped down from the day to day operations of Shaya. A marriage of Israeli staples and southern flavors, the food was awesome and we were all delighted we dined there.
For years, I have wanted to try Willie Mae’s fried chicken. The force behind this legendary establishment was Willie Mae Seaton who recently passed away at the age of 99. But the restaurant still attracts fried-chicken lovers in droves, from near and far. Right around the corner from Willie Mae’s is its biggest competitor, Dooky Chase’s. Our group decided to taste test the fried chicken from each place and vote on the winner. General consensus: Willie Mae’s was crispier, well seasoned and more flavorful while Dooky Chase’s fried chicken was juicer and meatier. Both good, neither wow.
Another place that somewhat disappointed me was Parkway Bakery & Tavern, famous for their Po’ Boys. Get ready for long lines and hard to find parking spots, people! This place is clearly famous! As for the Po’ Boys – they were quite meh. To this day, my favorite Po’ Boy ever, is what Bob LeRose of Bobby Q’s used to serve in his Westport restaurant. The dish was taken off the menu a few years back – but the taste of that yummy batter fried shrimp and remoulade sauce is still fresh on my mind. I did love the batter fried pickle chips at Parkway. An item, not on the menu, so you need to know to order them.
And now for my absolute favorite meal of this trip! Maypop by chef Michael Gulotta. I met chef Gulotta at Atlanta Food & Wine festival earlier this year. In a hands-on class he taught at the festival, I learned that he loves to create dishes with spices manually ground with mortar and pestle. The result is such incredibly fresh notes of spices that linger and dance lot longer on the palate. One can imagine how time-consuming it must be to grind all the spices and seasonings by hand for a good sized restaurant. But chef Gulotta is very adamant about doing it this way. His flavors are inspired from fast east and the ingredient combinations he uses are playful and mesmerizing at once. Take note: next time you are in NOLA, you MUST visit Maypop and Mopho (casual place for Pho and Banh Mi etc) – his two restaurants. He is doing something different … a true labor of love…. worth the high accolades he receives from his diners who turn to lifelong fans.