Tuesday, April 23, 2013

10 Great Foods at New Orleans "Jazz Fest"

You won't see food vendors with names like Emeril Lagasse, Paul Prudhomme, Leah Chase, Susan Spicer or other chef celebrities at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival 2013 (aka Jazz Fest), which runs Friday, April 26th to Sunday, May 5th this year, but you will find some truly delicious N'Awlins culinary classics and awesome music, and crafts. Experts say Jazz Fest attracts more food lovers than any other New Orleans event, Mardi Gras included.
New Orleans Jazzfest Food Court, April 27, 2012 (Photo: Lexi Van de Walle)
Like handicapping your agenda for a five year old at the Magical Kingdom at Disney, navigating the gigantic fairgrounds can be challenging for the uninitiated.  Festival goers need to be strategic about which of the 11 music stages to grab a seat at and when, and which of the 60 vendors to dine with.  Projected attendance is estimated at 400,000 fans over the seven days of events.

Operated by independent restaurants and caterers from Louisiana, some of which have snagged a highly coveted place at Jazz Fest for decades, the offering is a totally unique menu of local foods, including alligator, trout, crawfish, sweet potatoes, made with lots of spice, love and soul. 

Follow your nose and your stomach,  or follow the crowd -- the longer the line the more popular the dish. Here are some of my top 10 favorites in 2012 (servings are generous so don't forget to share).  
1) Crawfish Monica® is probably the most famous Jazz Fest dish. Pasta and crawfish in a creamy (and top secret roux-based) sauce that's so good the recipe and the name have a copyright. Kajun Kettle Foods has been at Jazz Fest for 30 years.  Line length: LONG. 

Note: This year there are 18 crawfish dishes (by some accounts over 150,000 pounds worth of crawfish will be served). 


Creamy, crawfish Monica (Photo: Lexi Van de Walle)
2) Pheasant, Quail and Andouille Gumbo -- a sophisticated and rich gumbo for game lovers that will not disappoint. Prejean's Restaurant, Lafayette, LA. Not everyone loves game, but if you do, this is gumbo is a must. Line length: MEDIUM-LONG. 
Pheasant, Quail and Andouille Gumbo (Photo: Lexi Van de Walle)
3) Cochon de Lait  - for the truly die-hard, this succulent slow-smoked for 12 hours and shredded suckling pig with cabbage and horseradish sauce served on a piece of French bread has the longest line of all the vendors at Jazz Fest (plan to wait 20 minutes during peak times). Love at First Bite (Walker's Southern Style Barbecue), New Orleans, LA. Line length: VERY LONG. 
Cochon de Lait Po-boy (Photo: Lexi Van de Walle) 





4) Mango Freeze - for a light, refreshing and delicious sorbet nothing beats this crowd pleaser as a snack, to cleanse your palette or for a healthy dessert. WWOZ Community Radio. Line length: MEDIUM.

Mango Freeze (Photo: Lexi Van de Walle)
5) Soft Shell Crab Po-Boy -- restaurants all over New Orleans specialize in this classic, piping hot deep-fried soft shell crab sandwich but eaters claim there are none as good as this po-boy at Jazz Fest (perhaps the crabs just like the music). Galley Seafood Restaurant, Old Metairie, LA. Line length: Varies, MEDIUM to LONG.

Soft Shell Crab Po-Boy (Photo: Lexi Van de Walle)

 6) Freshly Shucked Oysters on the Half Shell -- you can get all kinds of oysters at Jazz Fest -- fried on French bread or in a spinach salad, and Oysters Rockefeller  -- but, there's nothing more beautiful than the raw briny bilvalve that you can get inside the Grand Stand ($7 for a half dozen in 2012). After missing 2011's Jazz Fest due to the BP Oil Spill, these oysters are harvested from Louisiana's Black Bay and available again in 2013. They are not only huge, but also delicious.J&M Seafood, Kenner, LA. Line Length: LONG

Louisiana Black Bay Oysters (Photo: Lexi Van de Walle)
7) Vietnamese Spring Roll (goi cuon) with peanut dipping sauce -- these vermicelli and lettuce stuff shrimp spring roll are light and tasty. If you're trying to watch your calorie intake this is the "go to" meal. I had mine for breakfast with a cafe au lait and a bite of a sugary beignet. Ba Mien Vietnamese Cuisine, New Orleans, LA. Line length: MEDIUM

Shrimp, Vermicelli, and Rice Paper Rolls (Photo: Lexi Van de Walle)
8) Jama Jama and Plantains combo platter of spicy Jama Jama (sauteed spinach) and fried ripe plantains will set you back $8 and is a great lunch or late afternoon snack for another healthy and yummy choice. Bennachin Restaurant on Royal Street in the French Quarter, New Orleans, LA. Line length: MEDIUM.


Plantains and Sauteed (Spicy) Spinach (Photo: Lexi Van de Walle)

9) Beignets and Cafe au Lait from Cafe du Monde -- need I say more? Hot fried dough covered in powdered sugar (my stepdaughter's breakfast) and a cup of chicory coffee with milk (for me)......mmmmm!!! Cafe Du Monde, New Orleans, LA. Line Length: VERY LONG
Cafe du Monde's Iced Cafe Au Lait and Sugar Covered Beignets (Photo: Lexi Van de Walle)

10) Trout Baquet -- a generous portion of pan-roasted and super buttery local trout topped with Louisiana crabmeat. A full meal or for sharing -- this is great for dinner before the last show. Baquet's Li'l Dizzy's Cafe (29 years at Jazz Fest), New Orleans, LA. Line Length: MEDIUM.
Trout Baquet (Photo: Lexi Van de Walle)
Check out the complete listing ( Directory of the Food and Location at Jazzfest). I'm committed to try the fish tacos from Taqueria Corona, and some Alligator Pie and Alligator Sausage this year. Tell me what your favorite foods are.....

DRINKS
Strawberry Lemonade (Joyce's Lemonade) - on target to sell 30,000 gigantic cups at this year's week-long event of the most refreshing lemonade you'll ever taste, I can't imagine a day at Jazz Fest without it to counter the heat and the crowds and wash down the food.

My favorite Iced tea - Orange Mandarin -- was discontinued this year because the vendor couldn't get enought ingredients. It's been replaced by a new flavor Ambrosia (Black Berry). Also, try the Rose Mint by Sunshine Concessions. If you're from the North, go for the unsweetened tea. Sweet tea, which is flavored with honey, is my husband's favorite, and he's from the the South.


Strawberry Lemonade (Photo: Lexi Van de Walle)

SNACKS
Sweet Potato Chips with Powdered Sugar
Fatty's Cracklins
St. Francisville, LA
Sweet Potato Chips -- don't say "no" to these fried bits of heaven with a sprinkle of powdered sugar. It was hard to just have a taste and not devour a whole bag!


Fried Sweet Potato Chips (Photo: Lexi Van de Walle)

Oh, and between courses don't forget to enjoy the music. Here's a sample of the 2013 music line up: Billy Joel, Dave Matthews, Jimmy Cliff, Terrence Simeon, Dr. John, George Benson, Allan Touissant, Fleetwood Mac, Willie Nelson, George Benson, Earth Wind and Fire, Taj Mahal, plus dozens of Cajun and Zydeco, Jazz and Gospel bands (over 400 bands are scheduled).  Will I see you there? 





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