NEW ORLEANS - Friday nght it was R'evolution, a new, cutting edge twist on Cajun/Creole cooking. Saturday, it was all about tradition. And flames.
We had breakfast at Brennan's on Royal St., an institution in New Orleans for years and years. It's the birthplace of Bananas Foster, with rum and butter that's set ablaze tableside for you, then dished out with vanilla ice cream.
It's said, and I believe I've got this right but please no lawsuits if it's a bit off, that the owner once asked his French chef to come up with something unique. New Orleans being a big port and the entry point for millions of bananas back in the day, the chef one day announced his creation while the owner, Mr. Brennan, was at the table with a friend, Mr. Foster. Brennan is said to have to told his friend he was going to make him famous by naming the dish after him, and so he has.
If you're lucky, you might get a pretty good show from one of the long-time, tuxedoed waiters. Ours was fine, but I couldn't help wishing we had the large, round-shouldered waiter in the corner who was doing countdowns and flirting with the ladies as he prepared the dish. Still, our guy had flames going that seemed to lick the ceiling. Ditto for a speciality strawberry dish soaked in lemon and orange juices and also set aflame. Not bad, but soggy strawberries should be best be left for Comfort Inn's on the highway in Tennessee, methinks.
They start you off at Brennan's with fresh bread, including crispy strips of perfect baguettes topped with cinnamon-sugar, which makes you feel like a kid again and go down far too easy.
They do all sorts of egg and shrimp and oyster dishes for breakfast, including seafood with hollandaise sauces and tons of other creamy bits. I'm not one for hollandaise or anything goopy on my food, so I steered clear and went for a fabulously tasty omelette with cheddar cheese and andouille sausage, that Louisiana delight that's usually found in gumbo in these parts and is way too hard to find in Toronto.
The turtle soup is nice and rich and gently spicy and they make a very tasty French onion soup and a not bad oyster soup, as well.
Following a tour of the French Quarter and an afternoon getting organized for the Krewe du Vieux Mardi Gras parade through town (more on that in a future edition of Star Travel), we had dinner at Arnaud's, another local institution.
It's a beautiful spot on Bienville St. with a real, classic French feel to it; lots of glass and white columns and a tiled foor that feels like a classy spot on the Cote D'Azur. Or something like that.
They bring around a fun potato souffle that's like a puffy potato chip that you can dip into hollandaise sauce or gobble down on its own. The crab cakes were moist and meaty and delicious and I had a shrimp creole dish that was nicely kicked up on the spice-o-meter at my request. I didn't think a lot of the local Pompano Duarte with tomatoes and garlic on top, to be honest.
We had a nice creme brulee for dessert. But the best part of the evening was another old-fashioned display of tableside pyrotechnics. Instead of flaming a pan of bananas and rum, this was called Coffee Brulot. They warm up an orange that's spiked with cloves and also toss cloves, cinnamon, orange curacao and other treats into a pan and set the fire going, then ladle hot coffee and the spice mix into a glass that's rimmed with sugar. I like my coffee with creme but you don't want to mix citrus and creme, I was told, so I took it black. And quite enjoyed it.
They have a small display area/museum upstairs with old Mardi Gras costumes and photos from back in the day that makes for a nice post-dinner treat, so be sure to ask about it. Or you can try the lively bar next door or, if you wish to get very silly, duck onto Bourbon St. and try a nasty drink like a Hurricane or a Hand Grenade.
Arnaud's, and Brennan's, are both old-time New Orleans. Tuxedoed waiters, impeccable service, a real old-school feel and good food. Not cutting edge or anything, but a wonderful place to connect with the NOLA of old and a great spot to take an elderly aunt or uncle, I'd think.
I didn't have much time in the afternoon but I did manage to find a muffelatta place near my hotel, Soniat House. Muffelatta is a tasty mix of Italian deli meats on a soft bun with a crunchy exterior, topped with olive oil and spices and a mix of, I believe, chopped green olives and carrots. Absolutely stupendous. And $5 for a half sandwich; a real steal!
More tomorrow on Houmas House, a plantation about an hour outside of New Orleans.