Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Barbecue is at Home at Home

Pork butt rubbed and ready for an 18-20 hour soak in pecan wood. 

Barbecue is the anti-sushi. What I mean by that is, you should never try to make sushi at home. Sure you can purchase bamboo mats, headbands, special rice, and have a roll your own party that would make Bob Marley jealous, but you will never be able to match the sublime expertise of a great sushi house. Barbecue on the other hand is almost always better at home than in a restaurant.

That is not to say one cannot have a transcendent dining experience in a barbecue restaurant. My first exposure to real barbecue occurred on a sports trip to Huntsville where on the way we pulled into that hilltop mecca in Tuscaloosa, Dreamland. The thing that still sticks out in my mind about Dreamland was the salty, vinegar punch of the sauce. Later Dreamland sauce would show up in a college roommates care packages transformed into a late-night snack with just some white bread. Barbecue in Eastern Virginia meant whole hog cooked for half a week and chopped into a hash of pork fat and smoke and piled onto soft hamburger buns.

Travels to Texas revealed brisket and bulging sausages to be the way to go, but always my heart comes back to pork as the greatest expression of the barbecue arts. Locally, the brief, bright flame that was Smokin Buddha BBQieux was the best in town. It closed, but Rob Bechtold still plies his wares at the Avenue Pub on Sundays and Mondays. I'm due for a visit. Ubon's BBQ in Yazoo City lured us in with their pulled pork, but it was the inky blackberry cobbler that made us fall in love. (Ed. note: More on Ubon's and the rest of the Delta tomorrow.)

But all of those experiences only serve as inspiration to go home and fire up the smoker. Lately, my tinkerings have involved adding fennel seed to the rub and toasting the rub before applying. Fennel and pork are natural buddies and the toasting makes the spice rub robust enough to get a job at Nola.com. Of course next summer it may be all about lemon zest, salt, and pepper. Or maybe paprika and mustard powder. Just means it is time to get on the road and do some research.

And one last thing, this debate over the difference between grilling and barbecuing is stupid. Last weekend I slow roasted a leg of lamb, smeared with oregano, garlic, thyme, and rosemary for about three hours before blasting it over high heat to crisp the exterior. The meat was delicious. But both sides of that dumb argument would claim I violated some unwritten rule of outdoor cooking. Just get out there and cook.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Orzo & Summer Squash Salad

Good Lord, it's hot outside. The heat and humidity this summer have been insufferable. Staying inside means sky high electric bills; it's like Entergy has a nuclear plant dedicated to powering your air conditioner. Leaving the house is even worse. When you take that first step out the front door, it feels like you're wearing a warm, wet blanket.

Keeping cool is a theme that extends to the dinner table, and the stifling heat makes summertime meals a challenge as well. While it's perfectly acceptable to rely exclusively on Hansen's and Creole Creamery for your entire daily calorie intake, a little vegetation every now and then is a welcome change of pace. A few weeks ago The Folk Singer found this recipe for an orzo and zucchini salad, and we have adopted it as our own with a few tweeks. It's cool, refreshing, and has quickly become one of our go to summer dishes.

Orzo & Summer Squash Salad
  • 1 1/2 cups dry orzo pasta
  • 3 baby zucchini
  • 1 large yellow squash
  • 3 tbsp. olive oil
  • 3 tbsp. white wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp. crushed red pepper
  • 8 oz. feta
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh dill (optional)
  • salt and pepper
Cook the orzo according to instructions. Don't forget to add salt to the cooking water. Drain, rinse under cold water to cool down, and dry as best as you can.

Cut the zucchini lengthwise and then slice into 1/4 inch half moons. Chop off the neck of the squash and follow the same process as the zucchini. For the thicker base of the squash, I like to cut it lengthwise into quarter rounds and then slice. The main goal is uniform cuts. After prepping all of the veggies, hit them a few grinds of salt and pepper.

In a large bowl combine the olive oil, vinegar, and red pepper and whisk with a fork. Add the squash and zucchini and lightly toss to coat. Throw the bowl into the fridge to continue to chill while the orzo finishes cooking and cooling.  In a perfect world, the vegetables will marinate for an hour.

After the orzo has cooled, add it to the bowl with the squash and zucchini. Dice the feta and throw that in as well.  Same for the dill if you got it. Gently toss everything together and add more salt and pepper if needed. Serve with a grilled hanger steak and a bottle of properly chilled Joseph Drouin 2009 Côte de Beaune Villages ($25 from Hopper's Cartes des Vins).

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Shrimp, Corn, and Tomato

The combination of shrimp, corn, and tomatoes has rusticity and grace. The classic combination of those three stalwarts is a stew chock full of sweet corn and plump shrimp in a tomato laced broth. That is all fine and dandy, but the season for shrimp, corn, and tomatoes is not necessarily soup weather. So switching gears, it's time to make tacos filled with a bright pico de gallo.

Shrimp, Tomato, and Corn Tacos
Serves 4

Corn Tortillas - buy them or make them, make sure they are warm
5 pounds shrimp, peeled, and deveined
1 Creole tomato, diced
Half a white onion, finely diced
Tablespoon of oregano
Lemon juice
Olive Oil

Season your shrimp. Your choice. Salt and pepper work or one of those seasoning blends sitting on your spice rack. Let this sit for a few moments. Combine the tomatoes, onion, and oregano. Squeeze in lemon juice, pour in some olive oil, and season to taste. Stir.

Get a cast iron pan ripping hot. Add the shrimp, in batches, if necessary and cook for two to three minutes. Once those shrimp turn pink and curl, they are almost overcooked. Remove the shrimp from the heat and chop roughly. Squeeze lemon juice over the chopped shrimp and spoon into a tortilla, top with pico.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Victory in 1812

Beetin the Lime at Victory.
The month of the cocktail was widely celebrated in the July issue of OffBeat Magazine.  In this month's Eats Review, we take a look at Victory, an under the radar CBD watering hole which delivers first class cocktails.

Daniel Victory made a name for himself mixing up drinks at the Ritz-Carlton before opening his eponymous cocktail lounge with co-proprietor Andrew Emery. Victory sits on a lackluster block of Baronne Street just a few steps from office towers filled with thousands of cubicle dwellers who are in great need of an evening cordial to help wind down after the office grind. Cocktails at Victory begin with a complimentary tasting of the daily special, which on multiple occasions was so enjoyable that I ordered the same for my second and third rounds. The barkeeps are adept at attaining balance in a glass, and trusting their abilities is a sure path to refreshment. Read more about Victory in our full Eats Review online.

Two hundred years ago this past April, Louisiana was granted statehood. Ever wonder what life in New Orleans was like in 1812? The prospect of a hot July day without air conditioning is enough historical reenactment to dismiss any visions of grandeur from my mind. But forever the optimist, Rene instead looks at the glass half full (only because he drank the other half) by embarking on an examination of what drinks New Orleanians toasted with 200 years ago. He gets a little help from Neal Bodenheimer (of Bellocq and Cure) and cocktail aficionado Wayne Curtis, who explain that celebrations in New Orleans back then were not all that different from today.

Photo by renee b. photography.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Dooky Chase's: Is It Worth It?

The story of Dooky Chase's and the larger tale of African Americans in New Orleans is not mine to tell. It is not my history. But it is part of New Orleans' history, a key part in fact. I wont suggest, as others have, that eating at Dooky Chase's is some sort of African American history survey class. That one can understand the struggles and triumphs of a group of people in between the gumbo and the fried chicken. Let others do that; I am here to talk about the food. And the food is damn good.

Since that fateful August day, Dooky Chase's has only been open for lunch. Recently, they opened for Friday night dinner, but still your best bet to dine at Dooky Chase's is at lunch. Now, the crowning day at Dooky Chase's is Holy Thursday when Leah Chase crafts a peppery, green hued gumbo that brings in movers and shakers. Much like Communion and Thanksgiving, it is a day where the food you eat pales in comparison to the communal dining which takes place.

Lunch centers around a buffet stocked with a salad (skippable, save for the olive salad), starches, vegetables, beans, and if you are lucky fried chicken. But lets start with the greatest dish in the Creole battery: red beans and rice. Now, you may think shrimp po boys or chargrilled oysters are the standout dish round these parts. But you are wrong. Red beans and rice is the dish of New Orleans, and while no one makes them better than you, the version on offer at Dooky Chase's is pretty fantastic. The beans themselves are more herbacious than you may be used to bursting forth with thyme, perhaps rosemary, and maybe some oregano. The beans at first seem tame, but when you begin to cut into the fat rounds of chaurice, all is well and right.

Macaroni and cheese was the only disappointment, clunky and bland. Green beans, soft and tender, ride shotgun with discs of red potatoes. But forget all of that. If the fried chicken is out, focus your energy and effort there. The crust cracks under the slightest pressure releasing a torrent of chicken steam, known worldwide for its ant-wrinkle properties. The meat is moist and delivering a salty spice punch with each bite. I've been known to devour eight pieces at a time or for you ornithologists out there, a whole bird.

Following your repast and just when you may desire a nap, out comes a buttery bowl of peach cobbler. Just the thing you need before getting back to the office.

Dooky Chase's: Is It Worth It? Absolutely.
2301 Orleans Ave.
Lunch Tue. - Fri.; Dinner Friday.

Monday, July 23, 2012

If You Like Pina Coladas...

... then you should be counting down the minutes until Wednesday.

While the rest of us were getting caught in the rain last week, the good folks behind Tales of the Cocktail were gearing up for the 10th anniversary celebration of the world's premier cocktail festival.  Starting tomorrow, the French Quarter becomes the center of the mixology universe, with bartenders and liquor reps from all over the globe descending on the Monteleone to trade tips, introduce new products, and celebrate the majestic power of a well mixed cocktail.

This past Friday our compatriot Todd Price gave the run down on the history of Tales, its evolution over the past decade, and what the future may hold. He also gave out a few tips on how to make the most of your Tales experience, and you would do well to heed his advice. And just to be sure that you're suffering from information overload, we have a few recommendations of our own.

In the eyes of most locals, Tales has earned a reputation as a hipster convention, with the number of fedoras increasing exponentially with each year. While some people may feel out of place among the many attendees sporting skinny jeans and sideburns, I have found the Tales crowd to be accepting of all cocktail lovers, whether amateur or expert. Although most of us are probably not interested in learning how to make our own bitters or forage for our cocktail ingredients (yes, Tales has seminars on both of those), we appreciate the majestic qualities of simple but endless combinations of ice, booze, fruit, etc., and Tales offers a program diverse enough to appeal to cocktail enthusiasts across the entire learning spectrum.

One of the easiest ways to wade into the cocktail culture is to attend one of the Spirited Dinners, which are being held on Wednesday Thursday night. The dinners allow for amateur cocktail lovers to sit back, relax, and let the cocktails come to you. While many of the Spirited Dinners sold out long ago, there are a few with open seats and worth considering. Fans of the tiki culture (of which Rene is a proud member) need look no further than Donald Link's Calcasieu, which says Aloha to NOLA with a luau themed dinner. La Petite Grocery, Coquette, Tamarind, and Iris also have open seats available.

Finally, fans of the red solo cup* can relive their trash can punch days with the premier of a new event at this year's Tales: Street Food and Go Cups. On Sunday afternoon Lafayette Square will be encircled by a handful of the city's favorite food trucks who will be dishing out brisket tacos and gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches while bartenders mix up a few drinks which I imagine will be a bit more sophisticated than the everclear and kool-aid concoctions that we used to drink in college, which is a good thing because our hangover recovery time has increased from 3 hours to 3 days.


* I really hate that Toby Keith song.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Brisket Sandwich

The Ubon's BBQ Crew from Yazoo make what is truthfully called The Perfect Sandwich on Friday at Memphis in May. It is a celebration of community and friendship as teams flock to their tent to eat and talk shop. The sandwich is a simple thing really: smoked prime rib, pickle, onion, horseradish, mustard, and mayo on a hamburger bun. It is so simple, I ate about 3 of them and contemplated a fourth.

This sandwich has been haunting me. I lay awake at night wondering how long til next year's Memphis in May like a kid in April making his list for Santa. I may or may not be traveling through the Delta in a week or so, specifically so I can pass through Yazoo City for lunch and a Perfect Sandwich to go. A few weeks ago after over a month long drought since my last Perfect Sandwich, I broke down and decided to try and make one at home. I swapped out brisket for prime rib and made a few other tweaks. While the result was very good, it was no Perfect Sandwich. I should know better than to mess with perfection.

Brisket Sandwich

For the Brisket
1 4-5 pound brisket
Salt and Pepper - about 2 tablespoons each
Garlic - 2 cloves
A few bay leaves
Olive Oil - 3 good glugs

For the Sandwich
A soft well-made bun with a good crust (Maple St. Patisserie)
Real Horseradish (Whole Foods, among others)
Creole Mustard
Thin slices of white onion

To Make Brisket

The day before combine the salt, pepper, rosemary, and garlic in a mortar and pestle or food processor until it becomes a paste. Stir in olive oil. Rub this mixture all over the brisket and park in the fridge overnight. This general technique comes from Donald Link's Real Cajun cookbook, but I replace the thyme with rosemary because it grows in my yard.

Remove from fridge and smoke over your wood of choice at 225 degrees for about three hours. Then wrap in foil and continue cooking for another 2 hours or so, or until the meat pulls away easily. Let rest, then slice across the grain.

To Assemble the Sandwich

While the brisket cooks, grate horseradish (you want a tablespoon) and garlic into a mixing bowl. Add a few squirts of mayo and Creole mustard. Stir to combine. taste. adjust if necessary. The taste should take your breath away. Toast the buns, slather on the horseradish mayo on both sides of the bun. Throw on a few slices of sliced onion, the brisket, and then some pickles. Eat one, then two more. Then drive to Yazoo City.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Short Order Reviews

C'est La Vie Bistro: A great restaurant transports you. Be it to the South of France, a Caribbean beach, or a Chinese province, a meal can be a passport to any place you like. A bad meal makes you want to be any place other than the restaurant which has trapped you. We were held hostage most recently at C'est La Vie Bistro on Magazine. There was a nicely composed green salad with a garlicky dressing and a smear of herbed goat cheese spread across a slice of baguette. Nicely composed, save for the grey supermarket tomato which appearing at the height of tomato season is inexcusable. There were nuggets of snails swimming in a butter broth. The menu made mention of garlic, but we only got a rumor of it. The French Onion soup's broth was thin and watery. Entrees were a complete disaster. The coq au vin (below) had a vaguely medicinal broth with the consistency of well-shod mud with a layer of oil on top; an homage to French Army's struggles perhaps. Steak frites is a bistro staple, which translates from Medieval French as meaning, "you can't screw this up if you try." Well, they tried and succeeded. A grey, flaccid steak underseasoned from either salt or a grill sat next to overly salted fries. The entire transaction was a battle between the boring and overly flamboyant. Service was indifferent, but I am not. The bill couldn't come fast enough. Bogey.

Canal Street Bistro: Chorizo is funny business. It is a delicious pork sausage which carries the majority of its heat through its chile infected fat. However, when you cook chorizo it releases more fat than the Biggest Loser. This caused the chorizo quesadilla to sit in a pool of orange grease becoming a limp mess. The well-seasoned carnitas were a marked improvement and the inky black beans were the perfect counterpoint to a dollop of pico de gallo. Although I don't have anything nice to say about the chile con carne torta, I'll talk about it regardless. The meat was chalky and dry, the bread stale, and the sandwich was more one-note than Jimmy Buffet's song catalog. All the food screamed out for a well-placed shot of acidity or salt or both. Par.

Monday, July 16, 2012

All Hail the Turkey Neck

In spite of being wedded to a man who becomes giddy with excitement at the prospect of dining on the thymus gland of a young cow, The Folk Singer is (for the most part) an unadventurous eater. Over the past four years I have unsuccessfully attempted to convince her to eat tacos filled with soft chicharrónes, salty and rich sea urchin sushi, slow cooked trippa alla Romana, and spicy curried goat. Slowly but surely though I have been opening up her eyes to a world of deliciousness. Whereas she once vowed not to eat any animal which scores high on the "cute and cuddly" scale, she now will order lamb kabobs and or a wood roasted veal chop without hesitation.

But as I learned over the weekend, there are a few delicacies which are beyond the realm of possibility.
Biscuits and boiled turkey necks - breakfast of champions.
I have long believed that the best tasting food ever pulled from a crawfish pot is a turkey neck, and the downtown Rouse's has become my go to source for procuring this spicy treat almost year round without the hassle of firing up the propane burners. The kitchen crew at Rouse's knows that even though crawfish may not be in season, people still love to chow down on the potatoes, corn, and sausage that are de rigueur additions to every boil. So just about everyday the downtown Rouse's hosts its own little boil of accoutrements and package these up for purchase. Sometime they offer spicy boiled baby carrots and mushrooms, and on the weekends you can add turkey necks to the list of offerings.

It's nearly impossible for me to waltz by the boiled seafood station out Rouse's and pass up the opportunity to buy a package freshly boiled turkey necks. At about $2/lb, these may be the most affordable lunch option in the store. Turkey necks absorb the seasoned boil like a sponge, resulting in a stinging (but not overpowering) heat from cayenne pepper. The shreds of meat easily pull away from the bones as you perform your best Edward Cullen impersonation. The texture is not unlike beef debris but with a much richer flavor, like the morsels of veal which fall off the shank after a long braise in an osso bucco. I think they're incredible.

There's only one problem: TFS thinks that turkey necks are utterly revolting to the point where she has to evacuate to a different room while I am eating. I'll admit that the turkey neck is not the most photogenic of foods, but neither are sweetbreads, head cheese, or oxtails. (Wait, I am sensing a pattern here.) If Alon Shaya had decided that oxtails were too ugly to serve at Domenica, then the world would never know the wonder of his stracci and fried chicken livers dish. And that would be a very unfortunate occurrence.

So I say to hell with the beauty contest. Turkey necks may not be the prettiest of foods, but they are damn good eating. And that's what matters most. Who's with me?

Thursday, July 12, 2012

A Public Service Announcement

Please pardon the image quality (I believe that this still shot was taken with the same camera used to make the Zapruder film), but if you look closely at the top of the second column from the left, you will see the faint image of a red and white striped candy cane which is the official announcement that Christmas has arrived in July.

A few summers back I strolled into The Creole Creamery one Sunday afternoon in July to pick up a pint of salted caramel ice cream which was intended to last for the entire week but almost never made it to see Monday morning. It so happened that TCC co-founder David Bergeron was working behind the counter that day, and he had the unfortunate duty of informing me that salted caramel had been 86ed for the time being.

I used a few choice expletives to display my disappointment, and David's only response was to smile and say, "If we carried everyone's flavor all the time, then no one would want to try something new. But you're in luck: July is not over, so we still have peppermint available." And that's when I learned about one of the most important pieces of information regarding TCC's flavor cycle.

You see, the peppermint ice cream at TCC is the flavor that launched a 1000 ships. In the infancy years of TCC, peppermint was only on offer in the month of December for obvious seasonal reasons. There was only one problem: customers wanted peppermint year round. They were like addicts banging down the door of a dealer whose Colombian supplier went on vacation 11 months out of the year. In order to stave off a protest, TCC decided that the peppermint flavor would make a cameo appearance every July.

And as such, there are now 20 days left on the official July 2012 peppermint countdown. Lovers of the sweet, herbal, slightly spicy pink flavor are advised to immediately proceed to the either the Uptown or Lakeview location and stock up for the 4 month drought between now and December. Five gallon tubs are available by special order.

The Creole Creamery - Birdie
4924 Prytania Street
(504) 894-8680
Open daily at noon; Sun-Thur till 10pm; Fri-Sat till 11pm
6260 Vicksburg Street
(504) 482-2924
Open daily from 2pm to 10pm

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Pisco Sour

Ever since a run in with unlimited tequila shots, I have shied away from the Mexican distillate like a beaten dog to a new couch. This often leaves me being forced to sip some skunky south of the border beer at pool parties and Mexican eateries. But in a just world, every place serving tequila would be required also to have a bottle of pisco handy. But here is the thing, in taste and form pisco has next to nothing in common with tequila.

Pisco is a high proof, mostly Peruvian but also Chilean, form of brandy. Distilled from grape juice or must, pisco delivers a pleasing aromatic drink when enjoyed neat. But pisco really shines in a Pisco Sour. A sour is one of the patriarchs from which most drinks evolve and is simply a blend of alcohol, citrus juice, sweetener, and an egg white. The drink is a frothy, bracing refreshment that just may make you develop your own reason for not drinking tequila.

Pisco Sour

This is a simple proportion requiring you to remember just two numbers: 3 and 1.

3 ounces Pisco (Barsol is the most widely available, but use what you can find)
1 ounce simple syrup
1 ounce lime juice
1 egg white
Nutmeg (but only fresh and whole)
3 dashes of Angostura bitters

Combine the pisco, simple syrup, lime juice, and egg white into a cocktail shaker. Add ice, cover, and shake vigorously. I like to shake until I have recited all of the capitals of South America; don't forget Bolivia has two capitals. Strain into a chilled coupe, cocktail glass, or Tervis tumbler. Grate a small amount of nutmeg on top and add three dashes of bitters. Head to a pool or the beach.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Port of Call: Is It Worth It?

The d/b/a of this restaurant is Port of Call, but anyone who has crossed its threshold knows the F is silent. Before the great burger expansion, Port O' Call was by far the most talked about burger restaurant in the city. Port O' Call has all the hallmarks of a New Orleans Classic: long lines, shabby interior, limited menu, non-existent parking, and overproofed drinks. A few years ago, I accidentally walked six or so miles on an otherwise perfect spring Saturday morning, and the overwhelming majority of eavesdropped conversations seemed to suggest Port o' Call was the post-race lunch spot.

There will be a wait, but if you move quickly, and have a small party, you can score a few stools along the bar. You might as well go ahead and order a drink loaded with rum and fruit juices. It will come in a cup large enough to bail out a sailboat. It doesn't really matter which drink you choose, they all taste similar and deliver intoxicating results. 

Let's go back to the Burger Manifest Destiny, which swept across New Orleans in the last eighteen months. There are better burgers elsewhere than at Port O' Call. Juicier, thinner patties with crispier toppings, softer buns, and actual melted cheese. A burger cooked over medium elsewhere in town probably won't be mealy and dry. There are gourmet mayos, side orders worth a detour, and craft beers brewed by an ex-Belgian rugby player. Those are the burgers a la mode. The burger at Port O' Call has already won its awards; already had its time in the spotlight. But, and this is important, there may be no better place to eat a burger than in Port O' Call. 

Now, my interior decorating skills are often ridiculed by people with taste, but the inside of Port o' Call with its flotsam and jetsam speaks to my inner Tiki aficionado. The dark, wooden space is staffed with a cast of  salty bartenders. Early in the day, the customers have the well-worn face of a previous long night. Later in the afternoon, this will give way to people on their way to a long night. With all the fishing nets, sailing lanterns, and nautical bric-a-brac, it is a deep sea dive bar that I find it enchanting.

When ordered medium or below, the burger comes out juicy and soft underneath a crusty patina of char. The baked potato comes with Bacon Bits, which until bacon's resurgence as a major culinary force in the last ten years, were fairly popular. Now, of course Bacon Bits are a relic of another era. Of an era before farmer's markets and gourmet burgers before locally sourced, upscale pub food and Yelp fueled fanaticism. Before a world where every new restaurant looks exactly like the other one that opened a month ago. Same goes for Port O' Call itself. Every now and then, it is a welcome diversion to go back in time.

Port of Call: Is it worth it? Once every few years or so, yes.
(504) 523-0120
838 Esplanade Ave.
Closed Mondays.

*Lindsay's two cents: "You are crazy. My burger was terrible and the prices are way too high. This is definitely not worth it. You just like it because you want a Tiki bar to open."

Monday, July 9, 2012

Still Smokin'

The W - a little pork, a little brisket, and 2 ribs.
The celebration of Independence Day calls for all Americans to embrace our nation's most cherished pastimes - a trip to the beach, the explosion of illegal fireworks, and consumption of copious amounts of barbecue. In recent weeks I have fulfilled my patriotic duty by revisiting a local barbecue favorite which had fallen off my radar quite some time ago. The Joint holds a special place at Blackened Out, as it was the subject of one of our first restaurant reviews for OffBeat back in November 2008. I'm sad to say that it's been almost that long since I have ventured to the Bywater for barbecue. But like the say - there's no better time than the present.

As much as I love the charm of the original location, the Joint has successfully transported the ramshackle feel to a larger and (most importantly) more air conditioned building at the corner of Mazant and Royal, just a few blocks away from its birthplace on Poland Avenue. The crowd at lunch is an eclectic mix of blue collar laborers and female trend chasers in office garb. You still order at the register, but now there is a stand alone bar and total seating for about 40 inside. Follow the sign pointing you to the restroom, and you enter a narrow courtyard with patio seating shaded by umbrellas, where you can get a firsthand look at the enormous and impressive smoking rig.

Smoke chicken, ribs, and green salad.
The menu at Joint still runs the gamut, opting to cover the full range of regional barbecue instead of focusing on one specialty. While New Orleans cannot claim a particular category as its own, the spicy, rich links of chaurice that emerge from the smoker make a convincing argument that the question of who makes the best sausage is still up for debate. A 1/4 dark meat chicken had taut peppery skin which protected moist flesh that had plenty of smoke and a mild flavor. Traditionalists need look no further than the W, which features a sampling of the three most iconic cuts of barbecue. Moist shreds of chopped pork get a spritz of the Caroline style vinegar sauce before being scooped onto lightly toasted white bread for ease of transportation. Slices of brisket alternated between good and great, depending on how fatty the particular slice. Sadly, the ribs were disappointing on consecutive visits. The bones slipped right out from underneath a tough exterior bark and terribly dry flesh, a far cry from the fatty, al dente cuts that I remember.

Sides include the standard cole slaw, baked beans, and potato salad, which I never seem to order. Instead I usually go with the green salad with smoked onion and tomato dressing, which is a perfect way to appease your guilty conscience without sacrificing flavor or (in my case) to justify ordering the mac and cheese, a rich, creamy, cheesy concoction which acts like the call of the sirens for those of us who see no reason in restraining ourselves when it comes to indulgence. Rolls of paper towels are bottles of sauce are the only table decorations to be found, a sign that even though the Joint has moved to a bigger and better location, thankfully not everything has changed.

The Joint - Par/Birdie
701 Mazant
(504) 949-3232
Mon-Sat 11:30am - 10pm

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Most Valuable Burger

From food trucks to high-end warehouses of fine dining, the burger has become this season's must have restaurant accessory. This trend has been growing for years, but recently may have reached critical mass. As NOLA Defender pointed out yesterday, three new burger spots are slated to open in the next few weeks. This is all fine and well. But you can make a much better burger at home than any place in town.

A burger is all about the meat. It starts and ends with high quality meat ground freshly and handled simply. You can add anything you want to your burger, but please start with freshly ground beef. The type and ratio of cuts is important as well. Fifty percent of your total should be chuck. Chuck will provide the body and structure to your burger. The remaining fifty percent is up to you, but you want something with a fair amount of fat (flavor). Brisket ideally, but as Dan Stein laments, "All these burger places using brisket is making pastrami expensive." A good substitute for brisket is skirt.

And how do you get freshly ground beef if you don't have a meat grinder at home? Ask the butcher. Simply walk up to the counter and ask the butcher for a "Pound of chuck and a pound of brisket , ground through a thick grind, but not as thick as your chili grind."

To make your patty, be very careful. First, do not add anything to the meat. No salt, no Tony's, no  family secret marinade, nothing. I find six ounces is the perfect size. Make a patty by forming a ball and then lightly pressing down to the desired thickness. I like a quarter of an inch. Now park the patties in the fridge for about 30 minutes. This is a good time to heat up your grill or cast iron pan, which are the only two ways to cook a burger at home. Season the patties with salt and pepper just prior to cooking. I like to cook the burger until medium. At medium the fat has had time to melt and baste the meat, making for a juicier burger. Anything less and the meat can be chalky. This meat won't dry out if cooked more, but it will lose its appealing rosiness.

As for toppings, I like tomato, thin slices of onion, cheddar cheese, arugula, and Larkin sauce. Larkin sauce is a one to one ratio of mayo and stone ground mustard. You can find good buns at a decent grocery store. Buy them and toast them with some butter. Enjoy your Independence and a great burger.

Monday, July 2, 2012


We are feeling very patriotic this week here at Blackened Out Lady Liberty Emporium, and it's not only because my search yesterday for the cookie cake with the most frosting at Rouse's ended with the purchase of one decked out in the Stars & Stripes. We have watched approximated 173 hours of the U.S. Olympic Trials over the past week, and I have not felt so heavily invested in women's gymnastics since 1996 when Shannon Miller made bangs popular with every New Orleans girl starting Catholic high school that fall. The Fourth of July holiday bifurcates the work week, creating a monumental decision for everyone who wants to get the hell out of this office: Do you take off the two days before or the two days after July 4th? All of this talk of the red, white, and blue has made me wonder: What other reasons do I have to celebrate our great nation?

The answer came at about 6:30 last night in the Bywater.

Where else in the world can two guys from New York decide that the only way to satisfy their craving for their hometown pizza in their adopted city is to make it themselves. So they experiment, trying to find the precise combination of water and yeast to produce a perfectly thin, crackly crust and eventually discovering the winning formula. They then enlist the help of their friends and start selling pies on Sunday nights from a communal kitchen deep in the Bywater, relying only on word of mouth as advertising.

But in the smallest big city in the nation, the legend of Pizza Delicious quickly spreads. Soon customers from all over the area are making the Sunday night pilgrimmage to pick-up a pie with sauteed mushrooms and pancetta (a personal favorite) or roasted cauliflower and balsamic onion. People are calling in at 7:30am to resever their pickup times 12 hours later. The mayor happens to stop by one night for a slice. A second night of service is added. Articles are written, and accolades soon follow.

Two years later, the little pizza pop-up the could is in the process of opening up a permanent location just a few blocks from where it all began. But even though some things change, others still remain the same. Owners Greg and Mike still wore smiles of enthusiasm on their faces last night when they handed over my order - their newest creation made of braised brussel sprouts, chunks of speck, and pickled red onion. Likewise, my first taste of the pinwheel filled with pepperoni and mozzarella brought a flashback of euphoria. And despite our attempts at self control in holding off on eating until we get back home, the car ride back is still spent fighting over the last garlic knot in the pouch of tin foil.

America: Home of the free; home of the brave; home of the delicious.

Pizza Delicious - Birdie
3334 N Rampart
(504) 676-8482
Thur & Sun: 5pm till 11pm(ish)

P.S. - Even though many of us (including Blackened Out) are taking off of work after Wednesday, the workaholics at Pizza Delicious will be pumping out pies this week on Thursday and Sunday according to their regular schedule.