A Culinary Adventure, From Gardens and Markets to Restaurants and Home Kitchens
Oct 1, 2013
04:26 PM
Local Flavor

Finding Fabulous Food in the City of Soul

Finding Fabulous Food in the City of Soul

PHOTO BY OTEHLIA CASSIDY

The veggie combo plate at Nile Ethiopian Restaurant in New Orleans

The magic of New Orleans has always eluded me. I have never partied in the streets during Mardi Gras, or bar hopped until the wee hours of the morning in the French Quarter. I certainly never flashed anyone for beads on Bourbon Street, nor ate “real” gumbo or jambalaya.

Truthfully, I never felt like I was missing anything. But when my husband suggested that we celebrate our fifth wedding anniversary in New Orleans, how could I refuse? A lover of jazz music, and a pro at “taking it easy,” my hubby had been there twice. Admittedly, there were a few details about his past trips that he had a hard time remembering, but he knew he always wanted to go back.

As soon as tickets were booked, restaurant recommendations started pouring in from my foodie friends. They swooned about the amazing soul food—jambalaya, gumbo, fresh seafood, bread pudding and fried chicken. Okay, I’m definitely in. My husband would pick the music venues, and I would choose the eateries.

Not only was the food amazing, but the mystique of the city captured me immediately. The beautiful architecture, slow pace, friendly people sitting on porch stoops talking to their neighbors, cracked sidewalks and late buses. Okra, peppers, spices, rice, beans, chicken parts and greens. New Orleans is a city full of soul, flavored with plenty of heat. Just the way I like it.

Here are some food highlights, and a lowlight, from our recent trip. NOLA was a great place to celebrate our wedding anniversary, and our love for adventure and for each other. It’s a trip both of us will never forget.

Cafe Du Monde French Quarter
This landmark cafe only serves two items, beignets and coffee (including Café au lait), and they do it well. Not only is the service super-efficient, but the beignets are golden on the outside and puffy and soft inside. A breeze flows through the open-air walls, putting you immediately into a tropical mindset. Only warning—don’t wear black. Unless you like wearing powdered sugar as an accessory.

Trolley Stop CafeCenter City
Great place to get a huge a** southern breakfast for a great price. Enjoyed by locals and visitors alike. Hubby had the banana split waffles topped with banana cream, pineapple sauce, strawberries, whipped cream and banana. I went for the grits, sausage, eggs, biscuit and gravy. A side of bacon “for the table” and we were full for the day.

Praline ConnectionFrenchmen Street
Get your big a** southern dinner here. Or just skip right to dessert—I like the rich bread pudding with amaretto praline sauce. Share the combo plate with a friend, and make room at the table for the tender and flaky fried catfish, well-cooked greens, red beans and rice, BBQ ribs, fried chicken and gumbo. The chef obviously takes pride in the food; we told him it was delicious as he peeked out from the kitchen during dinner. His response? “I know!”

Nile Ethiopian Restaurant – Magazine Street
I am a sucker for Ethiopian food, and this restaurant delivered. The veggie combo was loaded with beet salad, greens, various lentil dishes and potatoes. Hubby got the lamb curry, which boasted tender succulent lamb in a delicious and flavorful sauce. 

Bennechin West African Cuisine – French Quarter
The lunch specials offered a filling meal for under $10. I had the coconut rice and roasted chicken with greens. The rice lacked flavor, but the chicken was tender and savory. Golden fried plantains offered a sweet note. The jollof rice with beef was reminiscent of our travels in Africa. 

Killer Poboys – French Quarter
This sandwich joint located at the back of the Erin Rose Bar makes amazing po’ boys sourcing most of the ingredients locally. We tried the Dark and Stormy, featuring Iowa raised pig (guess we couldn’t leave the midwest behind completely) from a family farm. The pork belly was marinated in ginger, rum and cane syrup before being roasted and served on a bun with slaw. I loved that the cabbage was lightly dressed, and that a beer was just a doorway away. Vegetarian options available. Don’t miss this spot!

Coop’s Place – French Quarter
A busy “dive bar” in the French Quarter. We tried the fried chicken and the  jambalaya with rabbit and shrimp. The chicken was delicious and the atmosphere was boisterous and fun. The portions were a bit small for price, in my opinion. But the real downside to this dive bar was the friendly saw palmetto bug (aka cockroach) that greeted us while we were eating. A trip to the bathroom revealed an outdoor kitchen covered by a tarp, where the cooks are stirring large pots of stew. A local friend summed it up well “there are better and there are worse places to eat in NOLA.” 

Williams Supermarket Jackson and St. Charles – Center City
Sometimes you find best food in most unassuming places, like a corner grocery store. Head to the back where you can order rice, beans, po’ boys, fried chicken and gumbo. “Not the gumbo you find in a restaurant, but the “real” gumbo,” we were informed. It is chock-full of sausage, big shrimp, crab leg and, if you want, chicken neck. The ladies will even tell you how to get the meat off that chicken neck. No matter what you order, they’ll “put some love into that for ya.” 

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About This Blog

Writing has always provided an anchor for my passions, which focus deeply on food, dance, environmental conservation and culture. I grew up “helping” my dad cultivate a prolific garden that produced too many radishes and watching my mom make almost all of our food from scratch, including horehound candy. Meanwhile I took my first African dance class in high school, which ignited my continuing quest to travel to West Africa, via Europe and South America, to study dance.

Through my travels, I learned that we are all connected by food, and our basic need to eat. Since moving to Madison in 1998 to pursue degrees in conservation biology and dance, I have developed an appreciation for the richness of our local food community, and a great desire to share it with others. What started as a personal food blog, A World of Flavors, has since grown into a business teaching cooking classes and leading local and international food tours.

I look forward to sharing culinary adventures with you through my Madison Magazine blog Local Flavor and monthly Dining In recipe column.

  – Otehlia Cassidy
Follow Otehlia on Twitter @madisoneats

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