Posts by Robert

RSJ’s Top 10 New Orleans Dinner Spots

Posted by on Aug 15, 2017

The following is the third in a four-installment summer-column series covering my top 10 dining experiences for breakfast, lunch, dinner and brunch in New Orleans. There are a few items to note: This list purely subjective. Everyone has varying tastes and preferences. This is not a ranking of overall quality from a critical/review standpoint. This is my personal list. These are my personal favorites. Everyone has personal connections to restaurants. These happen to be mine. According to the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau, there are more than 1,400 restaurants operating in New Orleans today. That’s an impressive number for a city with a population of only 390,000. There are obviously hundreds of restaurants I have yet to visit, though there are dozens of others in each category that I have dined in, that didn’t make the list. The primary guideline I followed while making this top-10 list was that I had to have visited the restaurant at least once in the past five months. Most restaurants that are listed involved three or more visits. I keep a lot of food notes in my phone. Restaurants continually move up and down in the order of my personal rankings. Those listings are always a snapshot in time. There are no “musts” that are required to be on the RSJ dinner list. Ultimately, a top-10 dinner restaurant must be one that I would gladly visit again and again, and one which would be highly recommended to friends who might be visiting New Orleans. Again, this is my personal list, today. It’s a snapshot in time. Shaya— one of the hottest restaurants in town for the past couple of years— is not on the list. That’s not because I don’t like Shaya. Save the email. Carrollton Market is on my to-do list, everything I have heard is excellent, and a former chef from one of our restaurants is Chef de Cuisine, but I have yet to visit. Narrowing a list to 10 is tougher than one might think. Again, this is not a list based on critical analysis and professional evaluation standards. It’s personal. I look at the list this way: If I only had 10 dinners left to eat in New Orleans, where would I go? 10.) Ming’s Chinese— I love Chinese food. For years, Five Happiness was my go-to in this segment. If we’re on the North Shore we eat at Trey Yuen. I could have easily put the uber hip Red’s Chinese in this slot based on the Kung Pao Pastrami, alone. But ultimately the shrimp toast at Ming’s won the day. This place doesn’t have the atmosphere of Trey Yuen, the local tradition and menu size of Five Happiness, or the hipster vibe of Red’s Chinese. But it has good, solid, Americanized Chinese food, and the absolute best shrimp toast I have ever eaten from New York to San Francisco. 9.) Pizza Delicious— I love a restaurant that appears to have started on a shoestring. Turkey and the Wolf is hot right now for a lot of reasons. One of the things that impresses me the most at Turkey and the Wolf is that they seemed to have opened the place on the cheap, seemingly out of a thrift shop. I love that. The opening of a restaurant is typically an expensive proposition. Like Turkey and the Wolf, the Pizza Delicious guys opened in, what looks like, a converted garage with concrete block walls, concrete floors, and the best pizza in town. Pizza Delicious is the embodiment of the American dream— two college roommates began making pizzas and selling...

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RSJ’s Top 10 New Orleans Lunch Spots

Posted by on Aug 9, 2017

The following is the second in a four-installment summer-column series covering my top 10 dining experiences for breakfast, lunch, dinner and brunch in New Orleans. There are a few items to note: This list purely subjective. Everyone has varying tastes and preferences. This is not a ranking of overall quality from a critical/review standpoint. This is my personal list. These are my personal favorites. Everyone has personal connections to restaurants. These happen to be mine. According to the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau, there are more than 1,400 restaurants operating in New Orleans today. That’s an impressive number for a city with a population of only 390,000. There are obviously hundreds of restaurants I have yet to visit, though there are dozens of others in each category that I have dined in, that didn’t make the list. The primary guideline I followed while making this top 10 list was that I had to have visited the restaurant at least once in the past five months. Most restaurants that are listed involved three or more visits. It wasn’t a requirement, but after finishing the list, I noticed that all of the places are casual, which is certainly no surprise to those who know me. I have never held a lot of love for formal lunches. I keep a lot of food notes in my phone. Restaurants continually move up and down in the order of my personal rankings. Those listings are always a snapshot in time. There are no “musts” that are required to be on the RSJ lunch list. Ultimately, a top 10 lunch restaurant must be one that I would gladly visit again and again, and one which would be highly recommended to friends who might be visiting New Orleans. Again, this is my personal list, today. Galitoire’s— one of the most classic lunch spots in the country— is not on the list. That’s not because I don’t like Galitoire’s. I have great memories of dining in that restaurant from the time I was five-years old. Friday lunches in Galitoire’s are the ultimate New Orleans’ dining experience. I know that. Save the email. I look at the list this way: If I only had 10 lunches left to eat in New Orleans, where would I go? 10.) Verdi Marte— So to respond the above question posed, “where would I go?” The answer for #10 would be, “nowhere.” I would stay in my apartment and call Verdi Mart to deliver my lunch. Tourists might pass Verdi Mart a dozen times and never consider scoring a meal from the small, cramped and cluttered convenience store on Royal and Governor Nicholls. To me, Verdi Marte is 100% pure New Orleans. Where else can one get a can of cat food, a roll of toilet paper, killer gumbo, and a fried oyster po-boy? The place is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and the menu is massive. I’ve never been in the kitchen, but it has to be substantially larger than it looks from the outside to be able to support a menu that sizable. I first started eating at Verdi Marte in the early 1990s when the Soniat House was the go-to hotel for my wife and me. The Soniat cottage was one block away from Verdi Marte. Not much has changed since then. It burned and was rebuilt, but to me it looks— and tastes— the same as it always has, and that’s a good thing. 9.) El Gato Negro— One might ask, “What is a Mexican restaurant doing on a New Orleans dining list?” The answer would...

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RSJ’s Top 10 New Orleans Breakfasts

Posted by on Jul 31, 2017

The following is the first in a summer-column series that will cover dining in New Orleans. Over the next four weeks I’ll list my top 10 dining experiences for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and brunch in New Orleans, one of the nation’s top-three restaurant cities. There are a few items to note: This list purely subjective. Everyone has varying tastes and preferences. This is not a ranking of overall quality from a critical/review standpoint. This is my personal list. These are my personal favorites. According to the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau, there are more than 1,400 restaurants operating in New Orleans, today. There are hundreds I have yet to visit. Though there are dozens of others in each category that I have dined in which didn’t make the list. The primary guideline I followed while making this top-10 list was that I had to have visited the restaurant at least once in the past five months. Most restaurants that are listed involved three or more visits. There a few “musts” that are required for a perfect RSJ breakfast joint. The place should know how to properly cook eggs (you’d be amazed at the number of places that overcook eggs), the bacon needs to be high quality, the orange juice should be fresh squeezed (substitute the word coffee for those who drink it), when pertinent the breads should be skillfully baked in house 10.) Gracious Bakery and Café— 2854 St. Charles Avenue. There are two locations, the second is in Mid City on the Jeff Davis Parkway. Looking at my notes, the counter experience was “awkward” and the interaction between the employees behind the counter and the guests was “hesitant.” But the breads were “excellent,” and if one is looking for a good egg white sandwich, this is the place to go. The freshly baked breads, alone, will bring me back, often. 9.) New Orleans Cake Cafe & Bakery— 2440 Chartres Street in the Marigny. This little jewel is just a few blocks from our apartment. I can walk there, grab a few hot biscuits to go, and be home while they are still warm. Their homemade jams and preserves are some of the best in town. The corned beef hash, salmon and eggs, and grits dishes are all winners. 8.) Elizabeth’s— 601 Gallier Street, I don’t know if the chefs at Elizabeth’s are responsible for inventing praline bacon, but this is the first place I ate it. When I first heard about it, my friend, Bill Kirby and I drove down to the Bywater, sometime in the early 2000s, ate breakfast at Elizabeth’s, and then drove back to Hattiesburg. There is almost always a line at Elizabeth’s. In my opinion, this was the first in the new wave of New Orleans breakfast joints. It’s funky and the energy level is high. Many places serve praline bacon these days, and to be honest, I am not a huge fan of the stuff. But people dig it, and it sells well all over town. 7.) Horn’s— 1940 Dauphine Street, in the Marigny. This is a good, solid breakfast joint. Horn’s probably has the best neighborhood feel and vibe of any restaurant on this list. The Crabby Wife— a crab cake with fried eggs, crawfish etouffee and a biscuit— is one of my main go-tos at Horn’s. It’s hard not to feel like a local when eating in that building. 6.) The Ruby Slipper Cafe— four locations. My favorite of the four is in the Marigny at 2001 Burgundy, just a block or so from Horn’s, in an old bank that Bonnie...

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Watermelon, Watermelon, Watermelon, Spit!

Posted by on Jul 17, 2017

While dining with friends last week, the lunchtime discussion turned to “What is Mississippi’s most quintessential food?” Several options were discussed— blueberries, fried chicken, sweet potatoes, catfish and watermelon. I think arguments can be made for all those foodstuffs. If pressed, I would probably have to say fried catfish. But for the sake of today’s column, we’re going with watermelon. We are in the peak of watermelon season. Being in the food business, it helps to know the seasons of food. But even if I didn’t know that this is watermelon season, a 15-minute drive up U.S. 49 would tell the story. One can’t travel 20 miles on a Mississippi highway in the summer without passing a man selling watermelons out of the back of his pick-up truck on the side of the road. I love people who set up on the side of a road and sell homegrown vegetables. They go by many names— truck farmers, pushcart peddlers, hucksters, truck patch farmers, and truck peddlers. I call my guy, “The watermelon man.” Sometimes he’s “The sweet potato man.” It’s a true Mississippi treasure to have these guys set up on the side of the road. The use hand-painted signs on scrap pieces of wood. I love that. To me, it’s one of those charming things that adds color and flavor to life in this state. It is “Pure Mississippi.” My friend and collaborator, watercolor artist, Wyatt Waters, loves painting watermelons. I’ve never asked him why, but I suppose it has something to do the whole “quintessential” thing. He’s a southern guy who loves all things Mississippi. Waters and I have performed at over 150 dual demos since we started working together. Sometimes the dual demo is for a charity, other times it’s to promote a book, many times its affiliated with a speaking engagement to a corporate convention or the annual meeting of an organization. During the dual demo, I demonstrate how to cook a four-course meal from one of our books while Waters paints a still-life watercolor. We banter back and forth, and usually feed those in attendance. We have hosted demos for as few as 24 people and as many as 600. At the end our 90 minutes. My crew and I have fed the audience lunch or dinner, and Waters has completed his still life. Waters usually picks objects to paint in his still life that loosely relate to the event or group we are hosting. Watermelons make it into the still life quite often. Years ago, Waters and I were hosting a dual-demo event in New York’s Flatiron District. The entire event was based on a piece I wrote that ended up in our first book entitled “My South.” The event was called My South and featured chefs and artists from all over the region. Waters and I headlined and hosted a dual demo. Worried that he wouldn’t be able to find a watermelon that lived up to the standard he had grown accustomed to with Mississippi watermelons— even though America’s largest city has dozens fresh markets stretched out among the Five Boroughs— Waters packed a watermelon into his carry-on luggage. That is 100% pure Wyatt. It was only a couple of years after 9-11 and, to my surprise, the crew somehow allowed him to carry the watermelon onto the airplane. He lugged that watermelon all over Manhattan for a couple of days until we did our dual demo. The event was a huge success, and I will admit that the Mississippi watermelon that Waters chose was a perfect specimen. Recently Waters was on...

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RSJ’s Top 10 Summer Foods

Posted by on Jul 10, 2017

Now that we have almost reached August, it seems a perfect time to stop and appreciate the culinary bounty available to us as residents of the Deep South during summer. The following are my top 10 summer foods 10.) Peas— I almost put fresh mint in this category, but that’s an herb and not a food. Though memories of summer lunches at my grandmother’s house always included a mint sprig in the iced tea. I chose peas instead. It doesn’t matter what type. Pink-eye purple hull peas, lady peas, they’re all good. I even like the smell that comes from the hull when shelling peas. I always make a pork stock using ham hocks and a little shaved onion, and cook the peas in that liquid. The stock holds well in the freezer and can also be used with greens and/or beans. 9.) Tomatoes— This should probably be higher on the list. But I am not a big fan of eating raw, sliced tomatoes, and this is my list so tomatoes end up at #9 on the strength of tomato sandwiches, alone. Give me some white bread, homemade mayonnaise, freshly sliced tomatoes straight out of the garden, a little crumbled bacon (I actually add a small amount of the bacon grease back into the mayonnaise— a trick Barbara Jane Foote taught me), and a sprinkling of salt and pepper and you have the quintessential summer sandwich. 8.) Grilled Burgers and Steaks— This was an easy one. Grilling hits its peak during the summer months. Demand drives beef prices up to their highest point around the Fourth of July. If you love “cooking out” summer is the season. Steaks, burgers, chicken, ribs, and brisket are all made better when cooked outside. 7.) Blueberries— Mississippi is ground zero for blueberries in the South. Our soil and climate are as perfect for that fruit as the Napa and Sonoma land and weather is for grapes. An ancillary benefit is that blueberries always make the “healthiest foods” lists. My favorite use for fresh blueberries— as a topping for oatmeal. 6.) Homemade Ice Cream— This should probably be higher up on the list, too, but when it got to the top five, the balloting was tight. There is something about the consistency of homemade ice cream— specifically homemade peach ice cream— that appeals to me. It is smoother and creamier than store-bought ice cream. I assign emotions to food. I have always believed that pancakes are “love.” It’s true. When have you ever eaten pancakes outside of a restaurant that weren’t made by someone who loves you. If pancakes are “love,” then homemade ice cream is “happiness.” Seriously, can you think of one time in your life that you weren’t happy while eating homemade ice cream?  5.) Shrimp— I consider myself blessed for many reasons. High on that list is living my entire life one hour north of the Gulf of Mexico. My childhood summers were spent in the salt waters of the Mississippi Sound and the brackish water of the Pascagoula River and its tributaries. We used to pull up next to shrimp boats on their way back into the docks and trade them beer and sandwiches for shrimp. I always knew that we ended up on the better end of that trade. 4.) Sweet Corn— Garrison Keillor once said, “Sex is good, but not as good as fresh sweet corn.” One day I might agree with that ranking. I love sweet corn, though. I can eat good, fresh sweet corn raw off the stalk while standing in the garden. The best way...

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