|From top left, Muffuletta at Central Grocery, Ferdi Special at Mother's, Oysters at Felix's, Beignets at Café Beignet|
New Orleans is a mecca for street food, snacks, and sandwiches. It is hard to find another American city that invented and popularized such a wide variety of distinctive street foods. Many of these foods owe themselves to the city's culturally diverse history -- French pralines and beignets with cafe au lait, Italian muffulettas, Irish Channel po' boys -- as well as the city's proximity to gulf fishing, bringing plentiful oysters and other shellfish. All of these dishes came into being in the early 20th century or earlier: Café du Monde began selling beignets and café au lait in 1862; Central Grocery invented the muffuletta in 1906; the po' boy was thought to have been invented in 1929, Mother's has sold "debris" po' boys since 1938; Felix's Oyster bar has been selling oysters for over 80 years. A food tour of New Orleans' street food is both delicious and a look back into the long history of the city.
|Ferdi Special at Mother's: topped with copious amounts of "debris"|
|Half of the Shrimp Po' Boy at Parasol's|
However, my favorite was actually the fried shrimp. It was the best po' boy I had in New Orleans. The shrimp were perfectly cooked: tender but not rubbery with a huge amount of flavor. Unlike many fried shrimp dishes from the Northeast, the breading here was light and added a nice crunch. The French bread was also excellent, with a flaky outside and soft inside.
Mother's is a long-lived and Marines-loving establishment in the Central Business District. It's specialty is baked ham (boasting that they make the "world's best"), as well as "debris," which they helpfully define on the menu as "the roast beef that falls into the gravy while baking in the oven."
The debris was fantastic with great meaty flavor and there's really no reason to order anything at Mother's that doesn't involve debris. Their Ferdi special, named after a loyal customer, has crispy baked ham topped with hot roast beef, with debris on top of that. It's huge. The ham and the debris were excellent; oddly, the roast beef was ordinary.
Some other reviews said the service was bad and unfriendly, but we never had a problem.
The Muffuletta and other Sandwiches
|The famous Muffuletta Sandwich at Central Grocery. Half, at left; quarter, at right.|
Central Grocery is an interesting place. On first look it does appear to be a grocery, complete with Mediterranean specialties, pastas, spices, and cheeses. But virtually everyone is there for the muffuletta and since there is one line for everything, I can't imagine someone waiting 30 minutes or more just to buy some dried pasta.
The sandwich certainly lives up to the hype. It is made on Sicilian sesame bread, which is an Italian flat bread, similar to focaccia. The bread is filled with layers of Italian meats (salami, Italian ham) and provolone cheese. The key is the olive salad that's put on top, which combines green and kalamata olives with giardiniera (mixed pickled vegetables). The result is a spicy, briny, mess of a sandwich, but delicious. The sandwich comes in two sizes: a "half" which is the size of a normal sandwich ($7.50), and a "whole" which is twice that and therefore gigantic ($14.50). My one knock on the sandwich is that between the olive salad and the cured meats, it is very salty. But still a must-try sandwich.
|Pork Belly Sandwich with cucumber and fresh mint at Cochon Butcher|
|The Kim Jung-Il flag at Cochon Butcher|
Oddly, however, the restaurant has a weird infatuation with Kim Jung-Il, the recently deceased leader of North Korea. While waiting for my sandwich, they gave me a flag with Kim Jung-Il's likeness to place on my table so the waiter knew where to bring my sandwich. And the person who took my order knew an incredible amount of facts about the former leader.
|Fresh Oysters at Felix's|
|Char-grilled Oysters at Felix's|
Fresh minced horseradish and bottles of ketchup and hot sauce adorn each table at Felix's, giving customers the ability to make their own cocktail sauce. This was a nice touch, as many places offer under-horseradished cocktail sauce.
|Eggs Stanley with Fried Oysters at Stanley|
Stanley's did have an excellent bloody mary with pickled string beans instead of celery.
Beignets and Pralines
|Beignet and Café Au Lait at Café du Monde (left); Beignets at Café Beignet|
Beignets are deep fried French doughnuts and are extremely popular, especially at Café du Monde, a coffee and beignet institution in the French Quarter that regularly sees hour-long waits despite its cavernous interior that appears to have room to seat 100 people. Its beignet mixes and coffee cans are sold at virtually every tourist store in the city. The beignets are crispy, sweet, and cakey doughnuts with plenty of powdered sugar on top. And while the history of DuMonde and its beignet execution are both great, it's incomprehensible to wait an hour for a table there.
|Pralines at Southern Candymakers|
You might as well go there if it's your first time in New Orleans, but wait at the take-out line, where I waited "only" 20 minutes. (They're also highly inefficient: the same person both took my order and then went into the back to make the coffee and get my beignets, while the person behind me had to wait to place his order).
Pralines are another French-influenced dessert popular in New Orleans. The New Orleans variety is soft and creamy, almost like fudge, and is usually filled with chopped nuts like pecans or almonds. Those sold at Southern Candymakers in the French Quarter are particularly good, and you can see them being made by hand as you walk into the store.
Here's a map and details of the street food in New Orleans:
View New Orleans Street Food in a larger map
Parasol's Bar & Restaurant: 2533 Constance Street, New Orleans, LA 70130; (504) 302-1543; parasolsbarandrestaurant.comMother's Restaurant: 401 Poydras Street, New Orleans, LA 70130; (504) 523-9656;
Central Grocery: 923 Decatur Street, New Orleans, LA 70116; (504) 523-1620;
centralgroceryneworleans.com (an absolutely useless website)
Cochon Butcher: 930 Tchoupitoulas Street, New Orleans, LA 70130; (504) 588-7675;
Acme Oyster House: 724 Iberville Street, New Orleans, LA 70130; (504) 522-5973;
Felix's Restaurant & Oyster Bar: 739 Iberville St, New Orleans, LA 70130; (504) 522-4440; no workable website
Stanley Restaurant: 547 Saint Ann St., New Orleans, LA 70116; (504) 587-0093;
Café du Monde: 800 Decatur Street, New Orleans, LA 70116; (504) 525-4544;
Café Beignet: 334B Royal Street, New Orleans, LA 70130; (504) 524-5530;
Southern Candymakers: 334 Decatur Street, New Orleans, LA 70130; (504) 523-5544;