Beignets to gator, New Orleans has it all

Friday, November 8, 2013, Vol. 37, No. 45

This past week, some of us from work traveled to New Orleans for a conference. New Orleans, even though it has gone through a major overhaul due to Katrina, is still New Orleans. It’s full of unexpected excitement, frivolity, color and tons of little shops, both in and outdoor, in which to stroll.

One night, while we were sitting at a restaurant, a high school band happened to march by our window. And since most of the restaurants are open to the street, we felt like we’d come to watch the parade.

The architecture is still amazing. Some of the old buildings are just beautiful. Our hotel had a rooftop pool, workout room and sitting area, so a few times during the week my son Bobby and I snuck up there and took a few night shots of the city. It was extremely pretty.

Jess, my lovely daughter-in-law, was able to schedule some time off work, and so we had a good few days of visiting together. With both of our schedules, our times to visit with each other are few and far between.

We got out during the day while Bobby and Don were in meetings and walked around, browsing through the shops, eating beignets, taking pictures and marveling at some of the odd folks we saw. We were true tourists!

Oh, did I mention eating beignets? I wish I had one now. A trip to New Orleans isn’t complete until you have visited Café Dumont to nosh on a few beignets and sip some of the strong chicory coffee. It actually is so strong that it wipes out the sweetness of the beignet.

That was the start of our culinary tour. From there, we had alligator po’ boys, gumbo, red beans and rice, jambalaya, shrimp and grits, and duck. We tried it all before we waved goodbye.

At least two of us did. The other two had the ordinary steak and potatoes at just about every meal.

I think the best thing I ate (besides the beignets, which I could have just eaten those the whole time) was the gumbo. It had shrimp, rice, and sausage and it was so tasty. Just the way I like it.

I thought the red beans and rice was good, but certainly not as good as mine. Also, when I asked for a bit of shredded cheddar cheese to sprinkle on the top, the waiter’s jaw dropped. He said he had never heard of such a thing.

The Legendary Hot Brown

(These ingredients make two hot browns)

2 oz. of whole butter
2 oz. of all-purpose flour
16 oz. of heavy cream
1/2 cup of Pecorino Romano cheese, plus 1 tbsp. for garnish
Salt & pepper to taste
14 oz. of sliced roasted turkey breast
2 slices of Texas toast (crusts trimmed)
4 slices of crispy bacon
2 Roma tomatoes, sliced in half

In a two-quart saucepan, melt the butter and slowly whisk in the flour until combined and a thick paste (roux) forms. Continue to cook roux for two minutes over medium-low heat, stirring frequently. Whisk the heavy cream into the roux and cook over medium heat until the cream begins to simmer, about two to three minutes. Remove the sauce from the heat and slowly whisk in the Pecorino Romano cheese until the Mornay sauce is smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste.

For each hot brown, place one slice of toast in an oven-safe dish and cover with seven ounces of turkey. Take the two halves of Roma tomato and set them alongside the base of turkey and toast. Next, pour one half of the Mornay sauce to completely cover the dish. Sprinkle with additional Pecorino Romano cheese. Place the entire dish under a broiler until the cheese begins to brown and bubble. Remove the dish from the broiler, cross two pieces of crispy bacon on top, sprinkle with paprika and parsley, and serve immediately.

OK, that might be something just a few of us Southerners do, but I love my red beans and rice with some chopped onion and grated cheddar on top.

Regardless, the food was great. Shrimp and grits is always delicious. Jessica had an order at one meal, and it was yummy.

I’ve had blackened shrimp and grits on Isle of Palms in South Carolina, a little place called The Sea Biscuit Cafe. That was really good, but I’ve not had it since. I’m afraid I’d be disappointed, so I’m waiting until we go there again before I eat it again. That wait might doom me!

One of the things I tried was hot brown, served at “the original Pierre Maspero’s.” This restaurant was on the next block from our hotel, so we visited it a few times.

This was an interesting restaurant where the dining area was decorated with old, exposed-brick walls, copper tabletops, arched walkways and copper pots hanging from the ceiling. It was definitely a “kitchen look” I could have it in my own house. I loved it.

The first time we ate there was for breakfast the morning after we arrived. I ordered the hot brown. It was a good breakfast sandwich, but it was different from the hot brown I had in Louisville at the Brown Hotel. History says that’s where the hot brown originated.

Which one did I like the best? They were both good, but I think I favor the original over the New Orleans style simply because it isn’t as lavish. Remember, most things in New Orleans are a bit more lavish.

I have a picture of the hot brown sandwich I ate in New Orleans, but I have a recipe for the original hot brown served in Louisville. The Brown Hotel kindly has that recipe posted on their website.

If you get the opportunity to travel to New Orleans, spread your wings, get out of your box and experiment – that’s what New Orleans is about.

But maybe just keep it on the “food level.” Experimenting too much in New Orleans can get a bit scary. Enjoy.