Gluttony Is A Sin (Unless The Food Is Good)

My wife and I took a break from the politics of destruction in our nation’s capitol last weekend and made a quick dash to New Orleans.

The madness of Bourbon Street, fortunately, transcends political party. And it usually makes more sense. Especially after a Hurricane from Pat O’Brien’s.

If you’ve never been to New Orleans, you owe yourself a trip. If you are somewhere between the ages of 21 and 30, I highly recommend a Friday or Saturday when LSU plays an SEC rival. The French Quarter will be filled with partially developed frontal lobes and you will fit right in. There is a collective, Bacchanalian joy running up and down the street that is both infectious and exciting. Of course, I’m also fairly certain the seven deadly sins make a nightly appearance, although it’s sometimes difficult to tell the difference between sloth and just plain passed out. I’m not, I say in my most fatherly voice, advocating you participate in any of them, but they are definitely on display.

Those of us who have reached an age where we realize the night before isn’t worth the morning after can still enjoy ourselves. That Hurricane from Pat O’Brien’s tastes just as sweet to us as it does to them. We just know the calories will last longer than the hangover.

But the real joy in New Orleans isn’t the music, scantily clad women and men, raucous parties, cheap t-shirts, or daiquiris for sale on every corner.

It’s the food.

I should note that New Orleans’ recovery from Hurricane Katrina is a remarkable example of the collaboration between governmental aid and private entrepreneurial spirit. Low interest loans, tax abatements, and a willingness to take a chance on small business ownership can transform an area, even when it’s been washed out and devastated.

And thank goodness some of those small business owners can also cook.

We began our trip with lunch at Mothers, home of the World’s Best Baked Ham. They’ve certainly had a lot of practice. Mothers has been serving since 1938. Remarkably, after Katrina, the owners sought out employees displaced by the storm and brought them back to work. There’s something about that kind of consistently good employment that helps food stay tasty. My wife had the Ferdi Special, a roast beef po’boy with ham. It’s not for anyone with vegetarian tendencies. Unlike too many chain “food” stores today, Mothers lets the natural juices from the meat keep the sandwich moist. But not too moist. The bread stays firm and holds the meat. They are famous for their Ferdi, but don’t deny yourself the fried shrimp po’boy: pickles, shredded cabbage, a hint of mayo and fried shrimp with just a hint of cajun flavor. It was a veritable symphony as the flavors worked together.

That was lunch day one. How, we wondered, sitting at the table with our bellies full, would we ever eat again.

We managed.

But we got smarter when we ate lunch the next day because we shared the Redfish Amer at the Star Steak and Lobster House. For lunch. Talk about living high on the hog.

Or in this case swimming with the fish. The little steakhouse seats about 30. I recommend you get there about 11:30 because our waitress said the chef cooks up her sauces about that time.

And you want this Crawfish Cream Sauce when it first comes out of the pot. I suspect this stuff would go well on anything, but I recommend you pair it with that lightly fried Redfish, garlic potatoes and broccoli. I’m convinced, by the way, that you can tell the quality of a restaurant by how they cook their broccoli. Best broccoli ever–The Palm in San Antonio. Star comes in a close second. The key to good, fresh veggies is they have to be steamed or sauteed so they are starting to soften on the edges but remain crisp enough to retain their flavor. Never, I insist, steam vegetables for more than seven minutes and for heavens sake stop drowning them in garlic. Broccoli, done right, is a deep green color and crunches as your teeth come together.

And Star did it right. With a light flour coating, sauteed just enough to brown the crust, the fish held together on the fork in the way only redfish can.  But the real culinary delight was that Crawfish Cream Sauce. I’m a big fan of letting food speak for itself. I understand the desire of restaurants to create distinctive flavors, although too often that simply means they cover the dish in pepper. That’s okay if you are serving cheap cuts of meat. Fajitas are spicy mostly because the meat would be inedible if we didn’t do something to it. Catfish is the same way. That’s food you eat to fill up.

A crawfish cream sauce, though, should let us feel the crawfish and complement the flavor of the redfish. The salt, pepper, and other spices should lurk in the background and surround the fish on our tongue.

You might imagine we were done in, but thank goodness there are three meals a day.

Anytime I check into a hotel, I ask for food recommendations. That’s a dicey game. I got sent to a restaurant in Atlanta once where they only served fruit flavored beers. I still have nightmares. If it can be turned into a syrup, it doesn’t belong with barley and hops.

Score one for the desk manager in New Orleans, though.

“You gotta head down to Coops,” he said pulling out the map. “It’s a little bit of a walk, but the Rabbit and Sausage Jambalaya can’t be beat.” He looked up smiling. “Best in town.”

Recommendations like that make you wonder if his brother owns the place. I should warn you that Coops isn’t for the faint of heart or those looking for a quiet, romantic getaway. The music is loud, the grill is sitting about 50 feet out the back door, and seating is limited.

And I don’t know if the jambalaya can be beat or not, but they have the best fried chicken I’ve ever had. Seasoned, the menu says, to perfection with Coop’s bayou blend and that’s not a lie. The chicken isn’t southern fried with that thick batter. When I fry my chicken, I dip it in the flour, eggs/buttermilk, then flour again. That creates that thick, hearty fry that crunches and fills you up.

I’m guessing Coops is an eggs/milk and then flour kind of place. Do it once, do it right, then fry it up. The outer edges had that crunchy, crispness with just enough cajun seasoning to let you know it was there, but it wasn’t interested in blowing your sinus cavities wide open. The chicken stayed moist under the crust, cooked all the way through.

But the real treat here was the Chicken Tchoupitoulas my wife ordered. Boneless chicken breast sauteed in a cream sauce with shrimp and tasso. It came with green beans cooked with that same attention to detail as Star paid to the broccoli, but who really cared that night. The cream sauce was able to balance a little cajun swing with the moist, perfectly cooked chicken breast below. “We’ll share,” she said. Until she took a bite. Some people just get greedy when the eating is good.

Let’s just say there were no leftovers. The entire weekend.

Because it was New Orleans and gluttony is only a sin unless the food is good.

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About John Wegner
John Wegner is a Professor of English where he also serves as the Dean of the Freshman College. He and Lana, his wife, have been married over 25 years. They are the parents of two great sons who (so far) haven't ever needed bail money.

4 Responses to Gluttony Is A Sin (Unless The Food Is Good)

  1. Nick says:

    I live five hours from New Orleans, and I’ve never been…unforgivable after reading this! Won’t happen soon enough, but I will make this happen. Thanks for some recommendations, and reminders of the better things this life can offer 🙂

  2. Gluttony may be a sin, but passion sure isn’t. If you’re passionate about something, and you know when to say no, I’d say you’re good. Also, I’m jealous of your trip, and suddenly very hungry!

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