Independent Eating

Written by Mary Ann Fitzmorris July 07, 2020 07:01 in Dining Diary

Fourth of July weekend was a big eating weekend. It started after the show on Friday evening, when we dashed off for the Southern Hotel Happy Hour, which I discovered the week before with a friend. The weather was made to order, still warm but an evening breeze made it quite comfortable. There were no seats inside around the wonderful piano player, so we sat right next to him outside, just a glass between us.

Prices were great. Tom got a Bananas Foster drink which was as beautiful to look at as it was to drink, and I am not a drinker. It came in a shallow but wide goblet on a high stem, which would make a glass of water classy. It was brown and clear with an inch of foam dusted with nutmeg. A sniff revealed the nutmeg aroma, and the foam was light and airy. The drink tasted exactly like Bananas Foster. I got an $8 glass of Brut champagne.

When I was there last week we didn’t eat, but this time it was dinner. The food came from the hotel restaurant, Oxlot 9, and that is always a great start. We ordered the housemade fries with parmesan and an insanely delicious aioli. If there is a chicken sandwich on the menu I am compelled to try it, in the perennial search for the next sandwich star. This one is always great. On a very nice brioche with housemade pickles, the now-standard orange sauce oozed from the sides, flanked by a buttermilk dressing for dipping. If I had to complain about something at Oxlot, it would be that too often the fried something is dark, which makes me wish they’d change the oil more often. This was guilty of that. The fries were just the opposite - golden crispy brown. The dark crust didn’t make me want to give back the sandwich though. It was as tasty as ever. 

But the last thing on the table was definitely the thriller. For me, anyway. I do love boudin balls, but I don’t order them everywhere. Here seemed like a safe bet today. There were three to an order, pretty large, perfectly uniform, crispy and not-too-dark brown. They came with a small pile of pink pickled onions, and served over a schmear of delicious aioli. What was special about these boudin balls was...everything. I have never seen the like. One bite revealed that there were a lot of meat shreds here, studded with rice and spices in a crispy shell of panko bread crumbs. These boudin balls were so outstanding I couldn’t believe it. More meat, less rice, crispy shell. I ordered so fast that I didn’t notice the ceviche at the bottom of the menu. Tom was already full when I noticed it, so we’ll do it next time.

Fourth of July made us feel we needed to do something special. We have a great grill, the ever-faithful Big Green Egg, and it was a holiday famous for grilling. We had to grill something. 

Tom and I went out to get a few things. I tried to find Appaloosa Beans, which were in the previous day’s Edible Dictionary. I could only get pinto beans from Whole Foods, so those would be the basis for the baked beans. I haven’t made baked beans from dried beans since we did a barbecue booth at the school fair when the kids were little. Twenty years ago. 

We got baby back pork ribs, and some sausage, because a requisite for a hot grill here is sausage. We tried a new blend in the product line for an advertiser on the radio show. DD Sausage out of Bogalusa has a new Jalapeno and Cheddar sausage. We had our doubts, which were immediately assuaged after one bite. 

And we got some organic long grain white rice, and a watermelon. All rice in this house now has to be made perfect, using the Gerard Crozier “perfect” rice recipe Frank Brigtsen gave us. The recipe came from the booklet of recipes he’s been selling on his website. Also in the booklet is a cornbread recipe that we had to try, using the heirloom cornmeal we bought from the Bellegarde pop-up. 

I’m always shamed by ML for grilling with a boring coating of Creole Seasoning. I tried to be better, mixing beer with harissa and a sweet jelly. The smell of this frightened me, and it never made it to the pork. The sausage on the grill would have been fine by itself. The idea of cheddar in sausage was questionable, but the charred sausage off the grill was spectacular. The casing was crisp, and the cheddar melted to make the interior moist, with notes of sage and exactly the right spice level. We could have stopped right here. It’s a little disturbing how many “meat snacks” are consumed in this house.

I went on to make the perfect rice, but it was a little less perfect this time. I got cocky with this rigid recipe. One part of it instructs to time it exactly 17 minutes. I’m not a stickler for details, but details are essential to make this rice “perfect”, and I proved that this day.

The baked beans were also disappointing. Again, I didn’t remember the recipe exactly, and it was important to do it that way. They went back and forth between the grill and the oven, and in one pass I burned myself so deeply on the forearm I am still dressing it. On top of all that it was a disappointing batch. I remember these beans as way better than this.

Only the cornbread was satisfactory, and only to ML. I am generally disappointed in the heirloom products from Bellegarde. They are ground too fine for my taste, so everything we have made seems limp to me. But ML was delighted with this cornbread. It’s overall color was green, made so by the smoked jalapenos, and smoked corn.

The only thing that was exactly as expected was the seedless watermelon. The best imaginable way to end a Fourth of July meal is icy cold watermelon.

On Sunday we went off in search of food. Restaurant Des Familles in Lafitte seemed like a good idea. We had time to drive. it was a holiday weekend, why not? It turned out the why not was because it was a holiday weekend. We reserved a table on Open Table, which is always very reliable. The weather was dreadful so I called the restaurant to advise them that we were 15 minutes late. It took awhile for an answer, and it was brief: “We are closed for the Fourth of July.” Since we were inundated with torrential rain this brief sentence was enough to make us do a quick U-turn. Heading back across the river we stopped at Elmwood at the new Boulevard in the old La Madeleine location. It’s a very welcoming storefront.

They’ve been open since Memorial Day but there was a 30 minute wait. Our lunch turned out to be so pleasant it was well worth the wait.

We started with grilled artichokes which are not as good as Houston’s but they are very good. A little extra crispy around the edges, these are a little well-cooked, with a really great aioli.

I got the Club Salad, which was piled high with greens and nice plump (and tasty-something rare) tomatoes with chopped egg and bacon and avocado. More like a tossed Cobb. I liked this salad except for two things: the grilled chicken seemed like pulled poached chicken. I wanted slices of crusty chicken breast rather than piles of thinly pulled chicken. And the pieces of vegetables were uncomfortably large, making it difficult to eat. Long strips of carrots didn’t fit easily into a bite, etc. There was a dizzying array of dressings, and I got a roasted garlic which I quickly exchanged for Bleu cheese.

Tom was downright giddy about his entree. Pan-seared redfish with crabmeat in a Meuniere sauce, accompanied by Maple-glazed carrots and peas. These very thin sliced carrots were studded with peas and coated with a sweet maple glaze we found very appealing. Dessert was Apple Walnut Cobbler. Overflowing with walnuts in a sweet sauce over apple cobbler, this was all topped with a large scoop of Haagen Dazs Vanilla Bean ice cream.

This with two iced teas came to $91 including tip. It seemed pricey but it was very enjoyable. Great staff, pretty surroundings, this was everything we were looking for.

We ran into Jameel Qutob, the proprietor of Maple St. Cafe. He was there with his extended family enjoying a lazy Sunday afternoon meal. This is the perfect place for that. Good Old American food on the great American holiday weekend.