A Rambling Food Hunt

Written by Mary Ann Fitzmorris March 04, 2024 09:20 in Dining Diary

There were two events recently that we talked about on the Food Show (airs 2-4pm weekdays on 990AM WGSO) with each of the planners.

We have been to John Folse’s Bourbon & Boucherie at his White Oak Estate & Gardens in Baton Rouge. It is a wonderful event that is educational and really. really tasty. We have not been to the other one whose organizers were on the show.

The Cookoff for the Coast happens annually in Violet, a place I have heard of but never been. We would go there, mainly because I had not been down there. I love Chalmette because of its powerful sense of community, and I wanted to get a close look at this phenomenon.

The Cookoff was at Docville Farm. a place well-known down there, but I knew nothing about it. My GPS directed me there, and it was interesting to finally put an image in my mind to Violet. It looked predictably like the end of the world until I turned around. The road to Docville Farm passed through some fisherman properties, which were also predictable, with boats and nets everywhere.

The road to Docville Farm was leafy and beautiful, with fencing on both sides. There were cars everywhere and cops directing traffic. I was glad we arrived at the very end, because it wasn’t a scene for Tom. He elected to stay in the car for me to run in and have a quick look around. It was a charming scene as competitors waited for the results of the judging.

Teams of people cooked dishes in three categories: flying, swimming, and crawling. Only in Louisiana would no one blink twice at that. I didn’t get a chance to see any of the dishes, but I saw plenty of booths with pelts. We only stayed a few minutes, long enough for me to get an idea about the event, which was small enough to be a very enjoyable way to spend a beautiful afternoon. 

But we were hungry bu this time, and I planned to pass back down through Chalmette and into the Bywater to have brunch on the patio at N7, a place I have been trying to get to for a long time. The menu doesn't interest me particularly, but the patio does. It would be a great day to go, and safer than trying it at night. There was a surprising amount of traffic for mid-afternoon on Saturday, and we didn’t get down there until brunch had ended, leaving me to figure out another plan for a patio lunch.

Val’s came to mind. It’s the Mexican place in the old gas station on Freret directly across from the new Rouse’s. I’ve been curious about it since it opened, a little before COVID. We arrived at 3 on a Saturday and there were only a few tables outside that were open. All were in the sun. It was suggested that we sit inside, which gave me an opportunity to see inside. I didn’t see much seating there, as one would expect from an old gas station. It is indoor/outdoor with garage doors open so you’re sort of eating outside even if you are inside.

Our cute young server arrived to explain that all food is served family style, as she delivered a small stack of plates. We ordered Queso Fundido with housemade Chorizo, as well as Guacamole and chips, an empanada, and tacos. We also had an order of crispy fish tacos and Cochonita Pibil, or pork.

The chips arrived first. It was a large bowl of very fresh guacamole, flanked by a smaller bowl of salsa and an even smaller one of crema. It was interesting that the best thing was bigger, the middle one middlin', and the smallest not worth serving, almost like they anticipated the interest. The chips were plentiful, large, thick, crispy, and warm. Everything you need and want in chips. 

I loved the guac, which was bright avocado green and heavy on the lime flavor. This guac was perky and irresistible. The crema had an unusual taste, and I don’t mean that as good. It was just okay. I felt the same way about the salsa, which just sort of sat there, in my opinion.

The empanada came and I was wowed by it. Essentially a meat pie, it was piled high with ”stuff” like delicious pickled onions and cotija cheese intermingled with greens like whole cilantro leaves and the like. There was salsa drizzled alongside cheese sauce. You couldn't really even see the empanada. The shell for this was light and crisp and crumbled easily, releasing all the meat to intermingle with the pickled onions and cheese. An interesting clash of tastes and textures. Delicious.

The next thing to arrive at the table was the Queso Fundido, which came in a skillet accompanied by housemade tortillas wrapped in parchment. These tortillas were the coarsest tortillas I have ever encountered. When I broke into the toasted cheese shell in the skillet, it was pretty solidified. At the bottom was a layer of crumbled housemade chorizo. 

I didn’t care for this chorizo, which seemed to have an odd flavor. I suddenly realized the flavor was meat. Real meat, like the kind you’d have in Europe. Too strong. I didn’t care for this whole combo, which was too bad, because there was a lot of it.

The tacos came next. The Cochonita Pibil was a large pile of shredded pork that was marinated with achiote. This was spicy with habanero and topped with more pickled onions. The flavor of this pork wasn’t especially interesting, except for the heat. The pickled onions were again delicious with a strong vinegar flavor. The thick coarse tortillas were beneath it all.

Tom loved his crispy fried fish taco, which was indeed crispy fish buried under a pile of slaw and more pickled onion with all of this on top of that same coarse tortilla. This was another one of those contrasting tastes and textures that made for an interesting and very tasty bite of food.

It might seem like I didn’t like this lunch, but I did. There was a 50/50 ratio of things we liked and didn’t which doesn’t seem like a good mix. The place was cool, the service efficient and friendly, and while a lot of the food was not to my taste, it was well-done, of great quality, and seemingly next-level. There are plenty worse places to hang out on a beautiful afternoon.