A year ended in New Orleans, and a new one began. I have returned home feeling rejuvenated, inspired, and about five pounds heavier than I was when I left, but c’est la vie.
I had the opportunity to sample some regional favorites—gumbo, jambalaya, gulf fish, beignets & po’ boys, to name a few—at some of the most well known and highly regarded restaurants in town. Our best meal may have been at Commander’s Palace, but my boyfriend and I agree that our happiest memory from the trip was our lunch at The Clover Grill on New Year’s Day, as we waited patiently for our cheeseburgers (“cooked under a real American hubcap!”), shakes and tater tots and watched the Saints game. I’m generally not a big football fan, but it was impossible not to get caught up in the euphoria among the Saints fans in the tiny diner—especially the line cook, who cooked eight burgers simultaneously while never taking her eyes off the TV, cheering exuberantly at every touchdown and field goal the home team scored.
The people of New Orleans love their football team, and they love their city—and on top of being resilient, warm, and upbeat, they’re also incredibly hospitable and gracious to tourists. Bartenders, waiters, waitresses, cooks and innkeepers are happy to make recommendations and tell you all about the cuisine, and they will do everything to make sure you feel happy, satisfied, and above all—welcome. Never have I felt so welcome at restaurants as I did in New Orleans. (New York, take note!)
The other thing I noticed—and genuinely appreciated—is that people take their time. Even with all the crowds in the French Quarter, the rushing, hustle and bustle I have come to consider the norm in New York was entirely absent in New Orleans. The focus isn’t so much on how fast you can get somewhere as it is on living. Even a place like The Clover Grill, which serves what most of us know as fast food, isn’t rushing the food off the line to its customers; the focus is to make the food the best it can be—not to make it as fast as possible.
This being the time of year to make resolutions and set goals, I’ve been thinking about what I want to do in the kitchen this year. I have a collection of brand new cast iron pots, several new cookbooks, and various ideas and experiments that have been kicking around my brain for awhile. As great as all that is, my experience in New Orleans really reminded me of why I love to cook, and why I love to eat: Tasting the experience. The savoring. The delight. The ceremony. The sharing. The adventure of trying something new (in my case, turtle soup), and the comfort of having a simple, sweet delight in the middle of the afternoon , like a beignet from Cafe Du Monde.
I brought home a box of beignet mix, as well as a box of pralines (which didn’t last more than a day), and a few more treasures that will aid me as I bring the flavors of New Orleans into my kitchen…
And in lieu of hot sauce…
I’m excited for the new year. I’ve got big plans for the blog and even bigger plans for my kitchen. (Also just realizing now that I can make jambalaya in my new Dutch oven. Yay! But where to find andouille sausage???)
Hope everyone had a great holiday, and cheers to new adventures—in the kitchen and well beyond.
Happy 2012, y’all!
Correction: A previously published post listed a restaurant as The Corner Grill. It is actually The Clover Grill (and it was featured in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button!). I make mistakes like this when I write late at night.