This was probably my favorite day of the trip. A large part that was due to us celebrating our third anniversary, but in all honesty I think it was some of the greatest variety of food we had in 24 hours.
We began our morning with the world famous ‘breakfast at Brennan’s‘, a catchy gimmick that began as a way of bringing customers to the establishment. It’s a three-course meal, traditionally served with a morning bottle of wine. We opted for some traditional AM drinks instead, a brandy milk punch for myself and a creole bloody mary for Hubby.
For my appetizer, I went nuts over the sweet southern baked apple with double cream. Certainly not the healthy version I make, but oh boy was this worth it.
Hubby, skipped the sweets and went straight for a savory bowl of oyster soup. Similar to a clam chowder, this shellfish was served in a rich, herby broth.
As an entrée, I went with the waiter recommended shrimp sardou. Oh my gosh. I no longer want cereal when I wake up. This spicy breaded shrimp was fried to perfection, served over slice artichoke bottoms and nestled in a bed of creamed spinach. Just when that couldn’t get any better, they covered it in a rich hollandaise sauce. Literally one of the best things I’ve had, especially as a first meal of the day.
For Hubby’s main course, he went with Brennan’s original that put them on the map. Poached eggs were plated over Holland rusks, Canadian bacon and Marchand de Vin sauce, then topped with hollandaise. It was like eggs benedict 4.0.
Then came the glowing menu item that brought me there in the first place. Dessert. Just the mere fact that they served it at 10am enthralled me. More importantly, this is THE place where bananas foster was created. It came about by Paul Blangé, after needing a use for an abundance of bananas. The dessert’s name was after Richard Foster, a friend of Owen Brennan, who was then New Orleans Crime Commission chairman.
This stove top sauce is made by sauteing butter, brown sugar, dark rum, banana liquor and cinnamon. The alcohol is then ignited to create pure decadence, served over a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Here, they prepared it tableside, making it as much of a show as an edible indulgence. In fact, for the viennese dessert hour at our wedding, the entire wall of our reception room dramatically opened up to reveal every kind of confection you could imagine, beginning with a bananas foster fire display. It was extra meaningful to celebrate our special occasion with the best of the best.
Hubby went for the warm, melty chocolate pecan pie with a frozen solid mound of ice cream over top. Wow. They know how to do dessert right. At any hour.
After a very filling start to our day, we took a breather before beginning our culinary history and tasting tour…about an hour later. Don’t try this marathon eating at home folks, we’re professionals.
This three-hour walking trip took us to some of the top spots in the area and encouraged us to explore not only the food, but the architecture of each restaurant, as well as the true meaning behind NOLA’s traditional fare. Our guide, Candy, made the adventure exciting and informative, for an outing I would highly recommend to anyone traveling to the area. There were only two other couples along with us, so we certainly had plenty of opportunities to share our passion and inquire about what we were learning. If history classes were like this in school, I would’ve been a study nerd.
We began by tasting seafood gumbo at Antoine’s, understanding how various influences were intertwined in the creation of this stew/soup. West African, French, Spanish, German, and Choctaw cultures each brought over a piece of the contributing ingredients. This began what they refer to as the ‘holy trinity’, celery, bell peppers and onions. You can tell what kind it is based upon the color: Creole style uses tomatoes, a lighter roux and mostly seafood whereas a Cajun gumbo doesn’t use any tomatoes and is usually made with meat. The dish is either thickened with file’, dried and ground sassafras leaves (same as in Root Beer), or okra. I was thrilled to enjoy the okra in this particular version. The southern vegetable offered an almost gummy element which resembled fat in a chicken soup. In a really great way.
Back in the day, there was actually a private entrance to Antoine’s, off to the side that locals knew to go through so they wouldn’t have to wait in line. Now, everyone enters through the same front door. Candy even explained that once you dined there a total of three times, you were given your own waiter from then on. Pretty cool, right? I asked what would happen if two families or couples sat together, and each had a different waiter. Her guess was that it would go to the person who made the reservation, but she promised to e-mail me an exact response to my burning question!
I was excited to visit the inner workings of the kitchen there and meet the chef as well!
We were surprised to learn not only the back story of so many of the establishments, but the fact that there was a lot more than met the eye. For example, if we had dined in any of these restaurants, we would have sat in one of the main rooms and perhaps noticed one or two adjoining, but on our tour we learned that some of them had handfuls of rooms and sat up 1800 people! Antoine’s, for example, had at least a dozen different places to eat, some including very private dining rooms with only a single table for private parties. Each spot was decorated to the nines with splashy red and turquoise color palettes, gold trim and memorabilia donning the walls. We were even taken up to the top floor where mardis gras dresses and royal crowns were stored behind glass.
Next, we sampled Shrimp Arnaud at Arnaud’s. This creole mustard based dish is served cold, almost like shrimp cocktail. The simple sauce consists of only three ingredients: Creole mustard, (I brought some back for my brother and I, but sadly they took it away at the airport. Good thing we ate our pie before we went through security.) smoked paprika and roasted peppers. It isn’t considered a remoulade because there is no mayo, which is just my style. It has a real kick to it and definitely something I look forward to recreating at home. As soon as I get some more mustard…
We then visited one of the dozens of praline shops (pronounced praw-leen), Leah’s Pralines, for its namesake and sugared pecans. We enjoyed tasting them there…and every other place that offered samples. We were advised to try them all, and we did. (Tomorrow I will tell you how we made them!)
The next dish was a bit shocking, even for a foodie like myself. We arrived at Desire Oyster Bar for one of NOLA’s specialties: turtle soup. Having recently tried bone marrow and previously had foie gras, I wasn’t going to let the opportunity pass me by. But the thought was difficult to surpass and I only had a sip of the broth. The flavor was very different and quite good, but that’s as far as I got. Either way, it was another check on my culinary list.
Our next stop was Tujague’s, for beef brisket with a horseradish based creole sauce. Woa, that one will wake you up! The potent sauce was a punch in the taste buds, yet an ideal accompaniment to the fork tender boiled meat.
To help cut the spice, the bartender shook us up some classics: A Grasshopper which originated at that exact bar (Creme de menthe, Creme de cacao and fresh cream), as well as a Sazerac, the local New Orleans version of a cognac or whiskey cocktail. Each glass gets coated with absinthe, then poured with a mixture of rye whiskey, Herbsaint and Peychaud’s Bitters. Cheers!
We continued on our journey for a sweet refreshment of pineapple mint sorbetto and creme brulee gelato at La Davina Cafe’ y Gelateria, which was a bit icier than the Italian version we are so familiar with. They also served us muffuletta, a well-known sandwich consisting of marinated olive salad (just like the bruschetta at Emeril’s) provolone, mozzarella, mortadella, salami and ham, often pressed down panini style. This particular one was served warm. A phenomenal savory explosion, mixing perfectly with the cool, creamy treat.
We ended our day with red beans and rice served outdoors in a courtyard from Creole Delicacies. This was typically referred to as a Monday dish because that was wash day. A pot of beans could simmer on the stove while the women scrubbed the family’s clothes. Often, ingredients leftover from weekend cooking such as andouille sausage and tasso ham, went into the dish as well.
After our big day out, we returned back to our suite where Hubby surprised me with a chilled bottle of champagne. We danced to our wedding song as we do each year, and celebrated our happy marriage….until it was time for dinner.
We went to the famous, extravagant Commander’s Palace. We were lucky to land a table in their beautiful garden room, with a wall of windows overlooking the spectacular courtyard. After our experience that afternoon, we knew to request to be shown around. Our waitress was wonderful and took us through the many rooms, explained the history, and showed us the incredible gardens on premise. We even got to tour around the kitchen there as well.
Hubby and I toasted with their French 75 (an upgraded take on a bellini, which will now be my new favorite cocktail), and a peach hued drink that actually belongs to my manly man. In fairness, he didn’t know it would be that color. And he made me hold it in our photos.
For an appetizer, I enjoyed a dish that I still dream about when I close my eyes. Hand-rolled truffled beet gnocchi with roasted brussels sprouts, spring asparagus, beech mushrooms, beet carpaccio, housemade tasso and a citrus infused olive oil. It was delicate, earthy, smokey, vibrant and just melted in my mouth. It was everything one want in a dish. My only criticism is I wish there was more.
Then, I went on to the pecan crusted gulf fish with crushed sweet corn, spiced pecans, petite herbs, Prosecco poached Lousiana crab (whaaat?!) and a side of decadent goat cheese gritz. What an extraordinary harmony of flavors and textures. Out of this world.
Hubby’s was equally insanely delicious. He started with the shrimp and tasso henican; Wild Louisiana white shrimp, tasso ham, pickled okra, sweet onions, 5 pepper jelly and Crystal hot sauce beurre blanc. It was as incredible as it sounds.
For his main dish he finished a filet mignon of black angus beef with caramelized garlic, hearty greens, and roasted butternut over three potato boulanger, cognac, sage & green peppercorn demi glace. I’m pretty sure this was his favorite thing he ate during the trip.
For dessert we shared a Creole bread pudding souffle’ topped with a warm whisky cream sauce. Much airer than many souffles I’ve had that tend to feel a little weighed down and a bit eggy. This one was so fantastic, we contemplated risking a chipped tooth by trying to eat the remains directly from the ceramic ramekin. We chose to stay classy and scrape it down to the bottom with our spoons instead.