It is my second day in New Orleans and it is going to be a crazy day of eating. I am surprised I am up early after a difficult night. I fall asleep around 5am and wake to my alarm going off at 8am. I check the temperature outside on my phone so I have the correct clothing for the day. It is once again a cold morning, hovering around the low 40s.
I meet Chief Chowzter Orlando, Ricky Ly, in the lobby and we are both on our phones trying to decide on breakfast options while waiting for Chief Chowzter San Diego, Jennifer Lee. By the time she arrives with her husband, we agree on Lüke. I did not put two and two together when I step into the cab. In fact, even after stepping out, I am still oblivious until I walk inside the restaurant and see the array of cookbooks on a table that I realize this is John Besh’s restaurant. I am even more excited about our meal now, but we have to be very careful not to fill up too much — fried chicken is in two and a half hours!
The restaurant is charming with a bar to the right, which also houses the seafood display of the dining room and the kitchen to the back.
The dining room is smaller than I imagine, and is bustling even though it is still rather early. It reminds me of restaurants in Chicago.
The menu is enticing to say the least so we have to be even more discerning as to what to order. After much discussion, we decide to share three things before joining the others for fried chicken.
Naturally, Seafood Gumbo a La Creole ($6 cup/$9 bowl) catches my eye. It is darker than the one the night before and after one taste, I know it is pretty spot on. It tastes quite the way I expect gumbo to taste. In fact, it is JUST the way I know gumbo to be, albeit a tad too salty, but otherwise, very good.
How do you resist Omelet of Local Crab ($17) as a menu item? I always make it a point to order something local and this is the perfect example of using locally sourced ingredients. The sweet crab chunks are plump, house-made fromage blanc, tomato and pistou are all enveloped within the light, fluffy omelette. Served with French fries on the side.
I believe, although we all enjoy the first two items, Eggs in a Jar ($23) is the clear winner of the three. A generous portion of roasted jalapeno cheese grits sits on the bottom of the jar with two perfectly poached eggs on top. A light Hollandaise is layered on top of the two to create a lusciously velvety concoction when they combine together. Six crispy fried shrimp sit around the opening of the jar. The presentation is marvelous and it is the best shrimp and grits offering I have ever eaten.
After our meal, we have a few minutes to spare before our fried chicken meeting, so we stop by Merchant for a quick coffee. It is a short walk away and the cafe is busy. Minimalist decor in environmentally friendly colors makes for a very comfortable pause to the day. They even have live music while you enjoy your beverage.
Soon, we hop into another taxi en route to Willie Mae’s Scotch House for fried chicken. We are the first of our group of 20 (the others are on a po boy crawl) to arrive. Soon, our table is fully laden with fried chicken, red beans and rice, mac n cheese, corn bread, fried okra and more.
The fried chicken is tender and moist on the inside but rather greasy on the outside. It doesn’t matter because it is really good. I dip mine in some vinegary Louisiana hot sauce which cuts the oil some. I hear some Chowzters have a better experience the day before, with lighter batter coating the chicken. Nevertheless, it is good and a definite experience! I eat two pieces and move on to the sides.
I try a bite of everything. Skip the mac n cheese and corn bread but don’t miss out on the red beans and rice. Better yet are the butter beans and rice. The fried okra is a must!
I come to find out I am with a bunch of “professional eaters” and believe it or not, after fried chicken, we walk a mile and a half to join the po boy group at their last stop — Parkway Bakery & Tavern. Founded in 1911, the restaurant was affected by Katrina, causing business to come to a halt in August of 2005. Suffering six feet of water in the restaurant, the restoration took 4 months and in December 2005, Parkway reopened.
Our group takes up the entire outside area and the food comes quickly. Po boy sandwiches are dropped off at tables as they are ready. I am sitting with Chief Chowzter San Francisco Sandy Wada, her husband and Jeffrey’s (owner of Chowzter) buddy Wayne. Even though there are only four of us (other tables are six or more), we are getting the same amount of food as everyone else.
There is a total of five po boys, three sides and a dessert which hits our table. My absolute favorite is the Grilled Smoked Alligator Sausage Link ($7.65/$10.35) a flavor-packed sausage with incredible seasonings and a really nice snap to it.
Home-Cooked Hot Roast Beef with Gravy ($7.95/$10.95) is decent and makes an excellent sandwich for someone who loves French dip, although this is with gravy.
I like the Golden Fried Shrimp ($8.10/$11.95) but not as a po boy. I really enjoy the crispy shrimp, but when sandwiched between the bread (reminiscent of a super dry Vietnamese banh mi bread) the sandwich is like sawdust. Better to try Parkway Surf and Turf ($8.95/$12.95) where the shrimp and roast beef are combined together, but beware, this is a very messy sandwich indeed as it is generously slathered with gravy as well.
The two sides we receive are Sweet Potato Fries ($5.45) with chili ($1.25) and French Fries ($3.95) with chili. I definitely prefer the French fries version better.
My favorite side has got to be the Fried Pickles (although I do not see it listed on the menu) which are perfectly fried discs of pickles with a beautiful cornmeal crust. Our server is very proud of the remoulade even though it comes in a jar.
I hear the Home-Made Bread Pudding with Rum Sauce ($4.95) is famous here — or at least that’s what they tell me — so I take a bite even though I’m about to burst. It is dense, rich and the rum packs a punch. I understand why this is a must-try because it possesses great texture and consistency, but is just too sweet for my palate.
I hear we are going to a pre-dinner before dinner at Commander’s Palace tonight (which is a complete post on its own). I will be posting that and more next week. Right now I need a nap!
333 St Charles Avenue
New Orleans, LA 70130
Parkway Bakery & Tavern
538 Hagan Avenue
New Orleans, LA 70119