Sunday, 29 May 2011


I believe that Gumbo is the most iconic New Orleans dish (and I don't think many people would disagree with me on that one). I was so excited to have a "gumbo" lesson with Liz this afternoon. She had friends coming into town from Washington, DC and they were so eager to learn how to make "traditional" New Orleans fare--so Liz invited them (and me) to come over and learn how to make a roux based chicken, andouille and oyster gumbo.

After reading about the horrors of burning roux, and the struggles associated with getting gumbo started, I was a bit apprehensive about tackling this dish. But Liz is a great teacher, and guided us through the steps with ease. Liz is my culinary guru. She can make anyone (amateur cook, foodie etc) feel comfortable and confident in the kitchen.

Immediately Liz had her guests chopping up green bell peppers, green onions, andouille sausage etc. Liz pulled out a bunch of knives for us to work with ranging from a Japanese chefs knife (all the rage in the food world) to her grandfather's semi-rusted and slightly chipped chefs knife. In Liz's kitchen heritage meets high-tech, tradition meets fusion and expert cook works alongside apprentice...

For most of this culinary adventure, I stayed behind the camera, capturing everything on film while taking notes at the back of the kitchen.

Here is how we put the dish together (a true team effort):

Recipe for Gumbo
*1 whole chicken
*2 onions
*2 green bell peppers
*5 stalks of celery
*2 bunches of scallions
*6 smoked andouille sausages
*Olive oil
*3 bay leaves
*1 tsp ground thyme
*2 tbs black pepper
*1 pint of oysters

Night Before:
-Place raw whole chicken in a medium-sized slow cooker/crock pot. Pour water into the slow cooker so that the chicken is submerged (about 3-4 cups of water). Cover the slow cooker and set on low heat. Let cook over night.

Day of:
-Take chicken out of the slow cooker and place chicken on a plate. Save the juices in the slow cooker (this will become stock for your gumbo). Pull chicken off the bone with your hands and set aside.
-Chop onions, bell peppers, and celery into equal size pieces.
-Chop 2 bunches of scallions into 1/8 inch medallions (including the white bulb and half way up the green stalk).
-Cut 6 smoked andouille sausages into quarter inch thick medallions.

-Prepare 3 cups of white rice, and let cook while you make the roux and gumbo

The roux:
-Heat 1/2 cup of olive oil in a large soup pot on medium high heat
-Add 1/2 cup of flour to the pot (roux is made in a 1:1 fat-flour ratio), and stir until the oil and flour are well incorporated (the roux should be a butter yellow color). The roux should be the consistency of natural peanut butter. Let the roux cook on medium heat for 5-7 minutes stirring occasionally (the roux will come to a simmer--don't forget to stir!).
-After about 7-10 minutes on medium heat (perhaps a bit longer) the roux will start "to roux," meaning the roux will start to toast and turn a carmel/pink color. Once the "roux-ing" process starts, stir the roux often (so that it does not burn).
-Keep stirring the roux until it begins to "stick" then add the chopped onion. (NOTE: When the roux begins to stick to itself, it gets thicker and doesn't flow as much. Essentially, when you pull your spoon across the bottom of the pot, the roux should stay for a few seconds before its settles back along the bottom of the pot. The roux should be a nice caramel color as well).

The gumbo:
-Fold the chopped onions into the roux, add 3 bay leaves (make sure the bay leaves are submerged in the hot roux) and let cook for about 3 minutes.
-Add bell peppers, celery and scallions, fold the greens into the roux/onion base. Let cook on medium heat for about 2 minutes.
-Add the juices from the chicken (about 6 cups of chicken juice in total from the slow cooker. 3-4 cups of water put in the night before, the rest from the juices of the chicken).
-Add andouille sausage
-Add two more cups of water
-Add 1 tsp of ground thyme, 2 heaping teaspoons of black pepper, and a few dashes of Tabasco
-Let gumbo cook on medium heat for 20-25 minutes.
-Reduce heat to low and let simmer for 5-10 minutes (while you prep the table for supper)
-Add 1 pint of oysters (with the brine). Let oysters poach in the gumbo for 5 minutes, then salt the gumbo to taste

Plating the Dish
-Place 1/2 a cup of rice in the bottom of a shallow soup dish
-Ladle 1 cup of gumbo overtop the rice
-add gumbo file powder (normally 1/4 teaspoon per serving) and tabasco sauce to taste.

The beginning of the roux:

The butter yellow incorporated roux (1 part olive oil, one part flour):

The roux is beginning "to roux" or toast (note pink/caramel color on the bottom of pot):

Keep stirring the roux as it turns a nice toasted caramel color"

Once the roux "sticks," add onions:

Add greens, andouille and chicken:

Add two cups water:

Let simmer for 20-25 minutes (sausage floats to the top):

Once you've poached the oysters, plate and enjoy!!

Croissant D'Or (Part 2!)

The entire week I kept dreaming about the almond croissant at Croissant D'Or. Once I got back to New Orleans I had to make a trip to get this delectable pastry. The patisserie was packed with a Sunday brunch crowd when I arrived. I waited in line, snapped a few photos...I had a good laugh because there were a few other tourists in front of me frantically taking photos right and left with their iPhones. I like to think that I am not in their 'category' of tourist, but at the end of the day I think we are in the same boat! I have a long way to go to be considered even partially New Orleanian.
The croissant was wonderful: buttery, slightly glazed on the bottom and top, with a subtle almond paste spread throughout the flaky insides of the pastry. It was even better than I remembered. Yum!

Eat New Orleans (Part 2!)

So, I got back to New Orleans yesterday and slept. Then I slept some more, and eventually I went to bed early at 10:30 pm (traveling really takes it out of me). I woke up this morning craving New Orleans brunch food. I was too tired to trek uptown to Commander's Palace or some other infamous brunch place, so I settled on stopping by Eat New Orleans again. The specials board propped up outside the restaurant caught my attention as I stepped inside: pulled pork and goats cheese bread pudding--I was intrigued by this savory take on a traditional southern dessert. I also saw that they had a dessert of the day: red wine strawberry sorbet.

The savory bread pudding was served with two poached eggs on top with a cranberry mustard sauce drenched over the entire dish. The sauce was a bit strong for my taste, but the bread pudding was delicious: each bite tasted like Thanksgiving Day. Interestingly, I could barely recognize the pork in the dish. After having grits at BBB, the grits served at Eat New Orleans tasted so nondescript. I wouldn’t claim that I am a grits connoisseur, but I do miss the BBB grits.

The sorbet was excellent. It tasted mainly like a strawberry sorbet with a rich undertone of red wine and a hint of basil. Very refreshing!

Friday, 27 May 2011

Ajax Diner revisited

....after our epic journey to Rowan Oak, we meandered back to the town Square (the walk took 15 minutes--a far cry from our first attempt to get to Faulkner's house). We stopped by Emileigh's Kitchen to grab some baked goods. I opted for a "cowboy cookie" upon a local Oxfordian's suggestion. It was a really hearty cookie with chocolate, macadamia nuts and a bunch of other goodies. After that quick stop, Qiao decided that we head to Ajax for another "southern comfort" meal. I have to admit, I was a bit weary to eat two heavy southern meals in one day (BBB breakfast being my first), but I found the culinary courage! I ordered the Ajax burger dressed with mayonnaise, pickles and cabbage. I really liked the cabbage because it did not wilt from the heat of the burger. It was a goooood burger. I'd definitely get it again! Qiao got chicken fried steak and Tandra also opted for the Ajax burger. We all left happy, then walked off our dinner by shopping in the Square's many boutiques.

Falkner....Faulkner? Our long trip to Rowan Oak

This afternoon Tandra, Qiao and I set out to visit Faulkner's home, fondly known in Oxford as Rowan Oak. What could have been a 35 minute walk from Sara's house, turned out to be a 1 hour and 30 minute walk that took us along an overpass above highway 6 and back again. Sometimes, it is not good to trust google maps (especially in the South, where it is common to have two roads with the same name in close proximity to one another). Apparently, we wanted the other Old Taylor Road.

Once we got to Rowan Oak, the long and arduous walk was worth it. The grounds of Faulkner's home were gorgeous. I think the following pictures will explain the rest...

BBB: Big Bad Breakfast

My host was kind enough to drive me to Big Bad Breakfast (BBB) this morning at 7:10 am to pick up my to-go order of the Big Bad Breakfast Plate: two poached eggs, andouille sausage, grits, tomato gravy and a homemade biscuit. Yum. Everyone, and I mean everyone I talked to in Oxford said that BBB had THE BEST breakfast. Naturally, I felt inclined to make a trip, whatever the cost, to this infamous breakfast joint ( beauty wrest for me). It is located in a strip mall about 1 mile North of the Oxford town square. The building and its surroundings may be nondescript, but nothing about BBB or its food is bland. The diner has a very warm atmosphere: largely burgundy and creme decor. When I walked in, a lone man sat at the curving counter, hunched over his breakfast plate, chewing away at his large mouthful of scrambled eggs and biscuit. He didn't even look up at us--he was too consumed by the task of finishing his breakfast (I took this as a good sign).

After we got back to Sara's apartment, I unpacked my breakfast onto a real plate, and sat down with a content sigh.

The smell of perfectly cooked and seasoned grits was calming...and yes, the grits were the best grits I ever had in my life....ever! Seriously, I loved them! The andouille sausage was nice and spicy, the poached eggs (with traces of red vinegar still on them) oozed onto one half of my biscuit, and the red gravy dressed the other half of my biscuit. The biscuit was clearly homemade (it broke apart so easily), but the spices were not ideal for my tastes. I'm more of a buttery-goodness kind of gal, rather than a gritty-spicy biscuit gal.

Bottletree Bakery

I am in love with the Bottletree Bakery. As I mentioned in a previous post, I went there one of the first mornings here in Oxford, and fell in love with the bakery: with its enticing homemade artisan breads, brioches and pastries. Not to mention they make a killer mocha. I stopped back at the Bottletree with a few of my colleagues on Thursday afternoon. Strawberry humble pie...who knew? A shortbread crust and semi-sweet strawberry filling. I think the description stands for itself, but in case you need to make your mouth water a little more, check out this photo.

One of my favorite parts of the bakery is its cold drink cooler: a refurbished retro ice box. It is a bit hard to jiggle open the door, but the sturdy presence of this massive wooden ice box is aesthetically worth it!

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Oxford Farmer's Market Shop

This afternoon we observed Amy conduct an oral history at the Oxford Farmer's Market Shop, located about an 8 minute drive from the town square. The shop sells mainly locally sourced produce along with a small selection of specialty grocery items...the shop is lovely, and the owner, Liz, is knowledgeable and friendly. Best of all, the produce is affordable and of great quality. Check out these great pictures of what the store has to offer the community of Oxford, Mississippi.


Day 3 in Oxford, Mississippi brought our cohort of scholars to Soulshine Pizza Factory for pizza and tamales (upon Amy's suggestion). We sat out on the side porch to enjoy the "cool" 80 degree weather. The hot tamales were de-licious! They were much smaller than the tamales I have had up north, but surprisingly they are actually "large" for Delta tamales. These tamales were made with cornmeal and beef, and were much dryer than other Delta tamales which tend to be served with a type of sauce made of their own juices.

After sampling a few tamales we ordered our main dish: The Kitchen Sink pizza (marinara sauce, mozzarella cheese, chopped tomatoes, pepperoni, Italian sausage, sauteed bell peppers, sauteed onion, button mushrooms and black olives). YUM! The crust was a bit thicker than I am used to (what can I say, I love New Haven thin crust), but overall the pizza was really satisfying!

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Ajax Diner

I asked Amy what the "go-to" dining joints were in Oxford, Mississippi. She immediately responded: Ajax Diner! The quintessential place people think of when they reminisce about their childhoods in Oxford. She recommended that I get the vegetable plate or the hamburger for which the diner is famous for. So, when our workshop braked for lunch today, I proposed that we head up to Ajax for lunch. The diner is located smack in the middle of the town square in Oxford. I almost walked straight past it because its storefront was quite narrow, and its signage subtle.

We stepped inside to a bar/dining area, and then made our way back towards the crowded dining room which was strung with bulbous multi-colored Christmas lights. We tried to find a space for 5 people to sit, but had no such luck so we headed back up to the bar area and grabbed a booth (dragging a spare chair up to the end). Immediately we were presented with the lunch menu which sported items such as: fried catfish, chicken fried steak, po-boys and an array of "vegetables" including sweet potato casserole, squash casserole, red beans and rice, fried okra, cheesy grits, butter beans, green beans etc. I opted for the veggie plate on Amy's suggestion...ordering what I saw as an awesome trifecta of southern foods: cheesy grits, red beans and rice and sweet potato casserole. I have to admit that I have never had a sweet potato casserole with marshmallow topping, and I really enjoyed the gooey sweetness! The pecans that were smothered in the marshmallow topping also complimented the sweet potato well. The red beans and rice were spicy, just the way I like them. But you could still see all the individual beans (whereas, sometimes in NOLA, the beans are so cooked that they sort of become more of a paste). The cheesy grits were a bit too heavy on the American cheese for my taste, but I enjoyed sampling them nonetheless.

My colleagues ordered fried catfish, pork chops, the Ajax hamburger and another vegetable plate. All of us left full and happy as we strolled back towards Ole Miss.

YaYa's Frozen Yogurt: "A Healthy Twist on the Square"

I arrived in Oxford, Mississippi via the City of New Orleans Amtrak line on Sunday evening. We spent much of the afternoon happily staring out the train window at the varied and breathtaking countryside of Louisiana and Mississippi. There was a smooth and seemingly effortless transition from the Louisiana bayou with its bright green spring vegetation to the deep green foliage of Mississippi's forests (who knew nature could be so subtle?)

I'm staying with my colleague Sara in her chic apartment just a few blocks off of the main square. I'm in Oxford for the Southern Foodways Alliance's Gathering the Stories Behind the Food -- a workshop on how to conduct oral histories (note: I'll abbreviate Southern Foodways Alliance as SFA). Our program began in the late afternoon on Monday, so I had the early morning and afternoon to explore the town square. I originally set off to find Bottletree Bakery, which Sara recommended for its "tasty" homemade pastries, but alas, it is closed on Mondays! After turning back from the Bottletree Bakery, I took my time exploring Oxford's famous book shops: Square Books, Off Square Books, and Square Books Jr. What a fabulous family of bookstores: my academic mouth was watering as soon as I stepped into the spacious Square Books shop. Many of their books are signed by the author, so if you have any inclination towards "collecting" books, this store is addictive. I happily flipped through some of the most recent monographs released on southern culture and southern foodways in particular, and picked up a copy of Jessica B. Hariss' High on the Hog: A Culinary Journey From Africa to America (I couldn't resist!) After touring the other book shops and a few of the dozen or so designer boutiques peppered around the square, I headed into YaYa's yogurt shop for some frozen yogurt...

The icy air felt really good! Once I got my barrings, I noted that I was in a pleasantly lit Pinkberry-type frozen yogurt shop. But YaYa's is self-service, and had that "family owned" flare to it that mega-franchises like Pinkberry lack (I believe there are two YaYa's locations: one in Oxford, and one in Asheville, NC). I helped myself to a bowl, skimmed past the yogurt dispensers: Banana, Chocolate Mint, Vanilla Bean, New Orleans Pecan...I settled on "Original." You can never beat the beautifully complicated tart-sweetness of original flavored frozen yogurt! I dressed my dessert with a dash of granola, a good helping of fresh berries, a sprinkle of pecans and a drizzle of honey (I love when honey gets cold and sort of crystallizes over top of the frozen yogurt so you have to break it up with a spoon as you make your way through the dessert). The yogurt hit the spot (as frozen yogurts tend to always do).

After meandering around the city, I headed back to Sara's place. She fixed some potato salad for the SFA potluck dinner later that day, and I got ready to head into our introductory session in the Observatory at Ole Miss. Amy Evans Streeter is directing the workshop, and she introduced us to some of the work that the SFA has been doing over the past 13 years with their organization. Amy is the oral historian for the SFA and has conducted a significant portion of the SFA oral history projects (which are absolutely wonderful--check them out at under the documentary tab, and then under the oral history index).

The potluck dinner that evening was lovely. We got to know the other workshop participants and many SFA staff members including John T. Edge and Mary Beth Lasseter. We dined on BBQ pork and baked bean tacos, deviled eggs, potato salad and a delicious strawberry cake that Amy made. The cake was my favorite part: moist strawberry cake with a creamy semi-sweet tart strawberry icing...delicious!

Sunday, 22 May 2011

First Creole cooking lesson: Jambalaya

Liz has agreed to give me some cooking lessons this summer. I need to know how to make New Orleans fare in order to study it properly. So we picked jambalaya as our first dish. I have to admit that I was a bit creeped out by the unpeeled shrimp and the ham hocks that we bought at the grocery store (I've never been that comfortable working with meat, fish and shellfish in the kitchen). But I have to get over that, and fast (and there is not better time than now!)

I took a few notes on the preparation:

*1 lb unpeeled shrimp
*4 tbs olive oil
*1 onion chopped
*1 green bell pepper chopped
*2 stalks celery chopped
*8 oz cooked chicken
*2 bay leaves
*1 tbs of Creole seasoning
*3 uncooked sausage links
*3 smoked ham hocks
*1 tsp of thyme
*1 tsp of pepper
*juice of 1/2 lemon

-Peel l lb of shrimp (pull off the heads, the tails and the exoskeleton and place bits in a medium saucepan). Set peeled shrimp aside.

-add water to the medium saucepan full of shrimp exoskeleton bits and bring to a boil (this will become the stock for the jambalaya).

-heat an extra large pan on medium high, add 4 tbs of olive oil.
-chop onion, green bell pepper and celery into roughly quarter inch size pieces. Add to pan and saute (stirring occasionally). Saute on medium high heat until the onion and celery become somewhat translucent and begin to brown.
-pull 8 oz of chicken from a pre-cooked whole chicken (the rotisserie kind you can pick up at the local grocery store). It is good to use up the dark meat and then throw the bones and extra chicken bits into the shrimp stock that you are bringing to a boil. This will add richness to the shrimp stock. Add the 8 0z of cooked chicken to the large pan of vegetables. Stir. Reduce heat to medium.
-Once the shrimp/chicken stock comes to a boil, reduce heat to medium and let it boil for 10-12 minutes and strain. Set stock aside.
-add 2 bay leaves and 1 tbs of Creole seasoning to the pan of chicken and vegetables. Stir until seasoning is incorporated.
-add three links of uncooked sausage to the pan and let cook through. Once cooked, take out of pan and slice into "coins" and place back into the jambalaya pan.
-add 3 smoked ham hocks, 1 lb of brown rice, 1tsp of thyme, 1 tsp of pepper, and the juice of 1/2 lemon to the jambalaya pan. Stir and let cook on medium heat for about 5 minutes.

-add the shrimp/chicken stock to the jambalaya pan. Add more water to the pan if necessary (depending on what type of rice you use). Cover the pan and let cook on medium low for 30 minutes.

-add shrimp, reduce heat to low, cover and let cook for 10-15 minutes.
-dish out about 1 cup of jambalaya onto a plate or bowl. Enjoy!

Eat New Orleans

As I headed to the archive every morning, I kept passing by this little restaurant called Eat. I like the name: it is simple. The lime green awning kept drawing my attentions as I was passing by a countless number of pastel colored Creole cottages in the Quarter. So, yesterday I stopped by Eat for an early brunch. I arrived about 10 minutes after 9:00, so the restaurant was relatively empty. I grabbed a window seat, and ordered a cup of coffee. The menu was sheer genius. Any menu that has 4 variations of eggs benedict (my go-to brunch dish) is A-OK in my book! I opted for "Eggs Dauphine:" poached eggs perched on top of half-inch thick pieces of ham wresting on top of fried green it all of with hollandaise sauce. The dish came with fresh fruit and a giant homemade biscuit on the side. The first bite was pure heaven. I mean honestly, I've never met an eggs benedict that I didn't love. In the early morning light, I could see the steam rising off of the poach eggs as the golden yellow center poured over the ham and fried green tomatoes. Fantastique! And the biscuit...oh my...the biscuit was that perfect combination of sticky-crumbly dough with a slightly salty-sweet taste. Great with butter and jam! In addition to this amazingly delicious meal, the server I had was a doll. Most of the servers were in their twenties--a youthful staff. The patrons of the restaurant were also young: several artists came in with their guitars in hand. With a wink, one of these musicians promised to play me a song "the next time." In general, people in New Orleans are quite friendly. I love it here!

Saturday, 21 May 2011


When I visited the Southern Food and Beverage Museum the other day, I was talking to some visitors of the museum. I asked them what restaurants they recommended in New Orleans, and the woman suggested Nirvana, an Indian restaurant on Magazine Street. On Friday, after visiting the Historic New Orleans Collection in the French Quarter, I hopped on the streetcar and headed to Napoleon Avenue, and then walked to Magazine Street. It was H-O-T hot outside, and I was so glad to step into the air conditioned restaurant. I immediately liked the ambiance: midnight blue walls, mat gold painted chairs with red cushions. There were several paintings on the walls depicting scenes from various Indian epics. The waiter suggested that I try the lunch buffet (although I could order off the menu if I liked as well). THE FOOD WAS SO GOOD! I might even venture to say that this was the overall best Indian buffet I have ever been to. There was a wonderful salad bar with great fresh greens (which you don't often find at buffets). But the stars of the buffet were the many curry dishes, the paneer and the masala mushrooms! Yum, yum, yum! The flavors just worked so well together, and the spices were perfect: a solid medium hot. I like my Indian food to have some kick to it, and Nirvana delivered. I would recommend any Indian food lover to visit this fantastic restaurant! And the best part? The price! $10.93 for the lunch buffet (much cheaper than Tandoor in New Haven!)

Williams Plum Street Snowballs and Camellia Grill

Many years ago, someone told me that the Irish liked to eat their desserts before their main meal. When I asked why, the person responded jokingly that the Irish did so in case they died in the middle of the meal (at least they could have their dessert!) When I travelled to Ireland, I did not find this story to be the case, but I find it endearing nonetheless (better yet, it gives me an excuse to eat sweets before a meal...which was the case this past Thursday).

Thursday was one of those really hot days in New Orleans--where you step outside and the humidity immediately grabs you in a steamy hug. On my way to Camellia grill, I decided to walk to Plum Street Snoballs (also known as Williams Plum Street Snowballs). At this point, you are probably wondering what in the world a snoball/sno-ball/snowball is. Well, it is kind of like a snow cone, and it is kind of like Hawaiian shaved ice, but it also distinctly different than these two icy desserts. The shaved ice that makes a snoball a snoball is created by a unique machine called "Hansen's Sno-Bliz" which produces incredibly fine snow-like shaved ice that is then drenched in homemade syrups.

I was so lucky! I walked up to Plum Street Snoballs and did not have to wait in line! I arrived just after a group of 3rd graders had made their way through the small shop, and just before a troop of screaming 4th graders walked up in line behind me. I walked up to the screen door marked "in" and stepped inside the incredibly small space (about 10 feet by 8 feet). A young woman was operating the Sno-Bliz machine. She carefully packed my shaved ice into a chinese-takeout container, and another young woman asked me what flavor I wanted. Upon the suggestion of New Orleans food writer, Sara Roahen, I tried the cream of nectar syrup. This syrup is a creamy pink-orange color and is devilishly sweet. It is common for New Orleanians to ask for condensed milk as a topping for their snoballs, but I just stuck with the syrup this time. I ooched 3 feet to the left and paid for my summer treat. $2.20. Totally worth it! I sat on the sidewalk across the street and indulged in my forbidden dessert-before-the-meal. I could hear countless imaginary mothers saying, "You'll spoil your lunch!" But I didn't care. The snoball was so good (and I got the smallest size!)

After my renegade trip to Plum Street Snoballs, I headed up to Carrollton Avenue to Camellia Grill. I had meant to go to Camellia Grill when I was in New Orleans in 2009, but I never made it that far uptown (and I was not inclined to battle the long lines and chaotic atmosphere of this infamous New Orleans diner). So, I arrived to a somewhat empty and not-so-chaotic Camellia Grill around 2:00 in the afternoon. I sat down at the counter next to three middle aged men who were in New Orleans filming a movie. Our waiter swaggered over to our counter and deftly whipped out a few menus for us to look at, while also skillfully slapping an order sheet in front of each of us in a series of swift movements. A few minutes later he came back to scribble our orders down and call out the order to the cook--he did so with authority. I was amazed that the line cook actually remembered the 4 orders so easily (I could barely follow the coded communication). But these men were experts at diner cuisine. While I waited for my hamburger, I enjoyed people watching and chatting to the men next to me. They told me about their culinary adventures in the city: Dookey Chase's, Commander's Palace, Maggie Mae's. I suggested that they try the po'boys at Parkway Bakery and hit up Cochon Butcher for a pulled pork sandwich. Meanwhile, our orders arrived. The hamburger was simple perfection: bun, lettuce, tomato, grilled onions, a slice of American cheese, mayo and real beef. I think the key is in the real beef (so rare these days in the empire of fast food dining). This hamburger was a true guilty pleasure...good thing I am keeping up an exercise regime to stay in some kind of shape! For dessert I ordered a slice of homemade pecan pie (Yes, that is right...I had two desserts that afternoon) The waiters bantered with one another as they whipped up my dessert, slapping the pecan pie upside down on the griddle to heat it up and give it that extra "seasoning" from the griddle to make it o-so-good! The pie was delicious and the coffee was strong. A good combination. While I was working on my dessert, I noticed that my waiter had switched roles in the kitchen and was now acting as the griddle cook, then before I knew it, he was back to waiting on another couple (you have to be versatile when you work in a place like Camellia Grill where there could be up to 35 people sitting at the counter at a time). I would definitely come back to Camellia Grill (and I would make sure that I hit the restaurant at a non-peak time, so that I wouldn't have to wrestle my way through the crowd).

Croissant D'Or

Liz and I were walking to the Southern Food and Beverage Museum one morning, and we passed a little patisserie called Croissant D'Or. I asked Liz what she thought of the cafe, and she said that it was quite good. So the next day I ventured there for lunch. I liked the open exterior of the cafe with its wide cream walls and expansive bakery case (Yum!) I read online that the almond croissants were "the best," so I decided to try one. I also ordered a small quiche lorraine tart and a mocha (my favorite cafe drink). The quiche was served warm and was delicious. The crust of the quiche was thick and flaky (parfait!) The croissant, true to its review, was fantastic: an almond paste had been incorporated into the croissant (undetectable from the outside). The subtleness of the almond flavor was truly a work of art. The mocha, unfortunately was subpar--a bit watery, and lacked a strong espresso flavor. Besides, the mocha I had a wonderful experience out in the courtyard. There was a lively bunch of New Orleanians and tourists at the cafe. A vibrantly dressed street performer waltz into the courtyard around 12:30. She was dressed head to tow in Hawaiian silk flowers. She sported an umbrella that was similarly garnished. She picked up a conversation with the Japanese-born wife of an American army vet who was sitting at a nearby table. The street performer had taught in Japan for several years, and was excited to share her experiences with the native of Japan. I love these par chance meetings that bring two unexpected persons together--how wonderful! I will be returning to Croissant D'Or soon and will certainly be ordering another almond croissant!

Louisiana Pizza Kitchen

Much of my time in New Orleans is spent in the archives, researching the lives of somewhat obscure chefs and cooks in New Orleans. On a good morning I can wheel my way through 15 reels of microfilm. In between this research, I break for lunch. But my lunch break is so much more than eating: its my portal into New Orleanian culture which is so defined by its food. If I want to write about the history of New Orleans cuisine, I must have a good grasp of its restaurant scene. So, I started my exploration of NOLA cuisine with the Louisiana Pizza Kitchen. The restaurant had decent reviews online, so I headed past the French Market to this small corner restaurant. I immediately liked the ambience: cool exterior with a hip bar-like feel. From my seat I could see the pizza oven and the mastermind cook behind the crispy thin crust of LPK pizzas. My tummy was rumbling, and I was craving good pizza (with a Creole twist?) The service was really fast, and before I could properly look at the menu I found myself ordering a "Four Seasons" pizza and a black cherry soda. When the pizza came it looked delicious: heaps of artichoke hearts, sun dried tomatoes, mushrooms and a dusting of flour on the edges of the crisped crust. I started out with a knife and fork, but was too hungry to stick to such tedious practices, and just picked up the pizza in my hand. Anticipation mounted as I took my first bite, but bizarrely my taste buds were hit by an overwhelming taste of herbes de Provence. What?!, I thought to myself. Upon closer examination, I saw that my knight-in-shining armor cook had been a bit too liberal with his spices. I am not one to normally dislike food, but these herbs were too pungent for the pizza and overwhelmed the simplistic characteristics of good pizza: simple crust, cheese and tomato sauce. Well, at least I had my black cherry soda to cheer me up! If I head back to the Louisiana Pizza Kitchen, I will not order the "Four Seasons" pizza, but I would venture for a simpler pizza which showcases the delicate wood fired crust.