New Orleans

Small-town culinary greatness: Patty Queen’s Cottage

Small-town culinary greatness: Patty Queen’s Cottage

One of the pleasures of touring rural France, Italy, or Spain is discovering amazing country restaurants far from population centers. The U.S. has some places like that, too. But few of them can match the Cottage Restaurant & Cafe (427 Farmington Ave, Plainville, Conn.; 860-793-8888, cottagerestaurantandcafe.com) for staying power and consistently terrific food. Located at a nondescript crossroads in Plainville, Connecticut, a little southwest of Hartford, the Cottage should be celebrated as a Nutmeg State treasure. Full disclosure: We met Patty Queen at a 1996 book party celebrating the publication of Julie Stillman's Great Women Chefs (https://goo.gl/Rxutaq). Queen was among the youngest chefs featured. Ever since, we've been driving more than 100 miles to eat at the Cottage three or four times a year. We're...Read More

Shopping for signature tastes of New Orleans

The New Orleans School of Cooking (524 St. Louis Street, 504-525-2665, www.nosoc.com) is located in an early 19th century molasses warehouse in the French Quarter. Every day of the week, its hands-on and demonstration classes introduce folks to the fine points of such Louisiana classics as jambalaya, shrimp remoulade, pralines, and bread pudding. Its Louisiana General Store, located in the same building, is also the most convenient place to peruse a carefully curated selection of food products essential to Creole and Cajun cooking. The shelves are packed with the products preferred by—and in some cases developed by—the school's instructors. I stopped in one afternoon and soon found myself engaged in conversation with staff member Cierra Briscoe (above). She is equally fascinated with food and fashion...Read More

Mixing it up with authentic New Orleans gumbo

A hearty bowl of gumbo is a powerful argument for open borders. It took four different cultures to create Louisiana's leading contribution to American cuisine. French settlers contributed the cooking technique, while the Spanish brought bell peppers, onions, and celery—the so-called “trinity” of seasonings. Africans added okra for flavor and as a thickening agent. For variation, some cooks thicken their dish with the filé powder favored by the local Choctaw tribe. Local choice Made with sausage and either shellfish or poultry, gumbo is a forgiving dish that allows each cook to put a personal stamp on it. I sampled many versions when I was in New Orleans and was never disappointed. But I ate my favorite at the Gumbo Shop (630 St. Peter Street, 504-525-1486,...Read More

New Orleans starts morning on the sweet side

Beignets are the official state donut of Louisiana and perhaps the most famous of foods in New Orleans. (A later post will discuss gumbo, the other signature New Orleans dish.) But back to beignets. The squares of yeasted pastry dough are vat-fried and then treated to a thick dusting of confectioners' sugar. They are said to have originated in France and made their way to New Orleans with the Acadians who fled the Canadian maritime provinces when Britain took over in the mid-18th century. I'm not sure that the French would appreciate having their light-as-air pastries dubbed as donuts. You can try beignets any time of day or night at Café du Monde (800 Decatur Street, 504-525-4544, www.cafedumonde.com). This city institution, established in 1862, is...Read More

Chef Slade Rushing puts zing back in Brennan’s

If you favor a light breakfast, you will have to adjust your thinking in New Orleans. Every meal, it seems, is an excuse for excess. French Quarter stalwart Brennan's (417 Royal Street, 504-525-9711, www.brennansneworleans.com) epitomizes the local penchant of beginning the day with a celebratory breakfast. The meal might start with a glass of sparkling wine mixed with pear and cinnamon purée and proceed through a couple of courses—and then dessert. After all, Brennan's is credited with introducing Bananas Foster. In 1946, family patriarch Owen Brennan opened the restaurant that launched a dining dynasty. Brennan's has been housed in an instantly recognizable bright pink building since the 1950s. It had fallen on hard times before Ralph Brennan and partner Terry White purchased it in 2013....Read More

Commander’s Palace lives up to the legend

Enjoying a leisurely four-course Reveillon dinner (see previous post) is probably the best way to revel in the holiday spirit in New Orleans. But a fine meal is by no means limited to dinner—or to the historic French Quarter. For office parties and ladies who lunch, many restaurants also offer midday holiday menus. Among them is Commander's Palace (1403 Washington Ave., 504-899-8221, commanderspalace.com). This dining institution is housed in a bright blue building in the Garden District, where American interlopers shunned by French Creole society built their own grand mansions in the 19th century. The St. Charles streetcar carries passengers from the edge of the French Quarter to the Garden District in trolleys decked with garlands. Emile Commander opened Commander's Palace in the 1880s. It...Read More

Panna cotta Christmas style

As I mentioned in the last post, Broussard's served a dynamite version of panna cotta tweaked for the holiday season. Not only was it an intense pink and redolent of peppermint, it also had a luscious chocolate topping. While my homemade attempt doesn't indulge in some stray raspberries as a garnish, it does boast that winning combination of peppermint and chocolate. Many restaurant chefs offer panna cotta as a dessert option because making it doesn't require a pastry chef's skill set. In fact, it is about as easy as making Jell-O. Still, it's rich and satisfying and can be made to look fabulous. This recipe is a simple adaptation of the restaurant classic, but scaled down to dinner-party volume. To make it even easier, the...Read More

Eat, drink, and be merry in New Orleans at the holidays

As a New Englander, I always secretly pitied people who had to celebrate Christmas in a warm climate. But after one day in New Orleans, I realized the error of my ways. Even in December, potted trees and ferns flourish on wrought iron balconies and poinsettias and camellias bloom profusely. All it takes are a few red bows and some twinkling white lights to deck the city for the holidays. With decorating out of the way, New Orleanians can spend more time at the table. Great food is a city birthright and I can't think of another place where you can eat better—or at a more reasonable price—than New Orleans at Christmas. Until the Civil War, Creole families enjoyed lavish feasts after Mass on Christmas...Read More

Down home flavors from New Orleans

Whenever we’re in New Orleans, our favorite spot to splurge on a night out is Restaurant August, the linchpin of chef John Besh's six eateries. Not only is Besh a supremely talented chef and restaurateur who understands both great food and the whole concept of a great night out, he’s also one of the nicest guys in the business. His fried oysters with pepper spoonbread or his lacquered pork belly with crawfish, olives and blood orange are the very definition of refined Southern cooking. (He also serves a mean whole roast sucking pig with grits, roasted onions and blackberry jam. Mm-m-m-m.) It’s no surprise that he’s won a slew of professional accolades, including recognition as Best Chef Southeast from the James Beard Foundation. So when...Read More