“Food, glorious food…” That line from the musical Oliver summarized my recent inaugural trip to the 2014 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. Most people come for the music- and, I am sure that is reason enough. But, I had heard that the food offerings were, like the music, diverse and divine. To me, food was the reason. The music would provide a nice companion to my stand-up meal.
Having grown up in the South, I expected the menu to include: fried anything/everything, shrimp, crawfish, pork, crab, rice and the words “gumbo”, “po-boy”, “muffuletta”, “jambalaya” and “etuoffee”. Knowing it was Bayou country, I assumed alligator would be a menu item. I was prepared to eat most anything.
I also heard that the best way to decide which venue to sample was to look at the length of the line. Normally, I avoid lines. Now I found myself seeking them out and previewing the food as it passed by in the hands of a recent purchaser. One hand clutching the food, the other gripping a stack of napkins ready to catch the drippings from the likes of the slaw, the pork, the fried soft shelled crab. In the South, if it drips, its a winner. Messy just means you added enough ingredients.
I also noticed that the longer lines had condiment tables next to them- I guess so that the majority of the people didn’t have to walk too far with their prized purchase to complete their satisfying meal. Tables included squeeze bottles of mayo, ketchup, Tabasco, mustard, and lemon juice. ( I found the lemon juice served double duty as a condiment and much needed hand degreaser. Much needed.)
So here is how it went:
Day One: Fried soft shelled crab on po- boy bread. That’s how it is served. Piping hot fried crab, stuffed into the bread. Oh, and two dill pickle slices- the cheap kind like McDonald’s puts on their burgers. (In my house, we call those “s—tty pickles” and they are a must have on pulled pork sandwiches.) My additions- lemon juice and a little bit of mayo. Result: It was freshly fried, steaming hot on chewy po-boy bread, but it was a bit greasy, and frankly pretty tasteless. It could have used some salt and pepper in the batter. Or maybe I needed to pile an a few more condiments. Next, Mango freeze. Just as named. Mango pureed with ice- texture like a sorbet. Refreshing and a great palate cleanser. On to Crawfish Sack, Oyster Patties, Crawfish Beignets. Honestly, I just had a bite of each. I was already stuffed, but courtesy of my husband, it was just sitting in front of me. The clear winner- Crawfish Sack, bursting with little crawfish tails and cheesy sauce. Then, Fresh Squeezed Lemonade. Thankfully, not too sweet, but not quite tart enough for me.
Day Two: I started off the day with a brunch that included an amazing shrimp and grits at a friend’s French Quarter home- so I wasn’t as hungry as the day before. But, of course, I was there to eat, so…all I had heard about from other festival go-ers was the Cochon de Lait Po-Boy. The longest line. I made it my first stop of the day. No regrets. It was everything and more. Fresh Po-Boy bread, loaded with moist and tender pulled pork nestled in a Dijon based slaw. It needed nothing. Just a willing diner. The I sampled the Jambalaya. Yuk. The rice was way overcooked. Mealy. I threw it out disappointed that a Cajun staple was such a disaster. After that, I was feeling dessert deficient and grabbed both Strawberry Shortcake and Key Lime pie. Neither were worth the calories. Canned whipped cream, runny key lime pie, a too-sweet-and-not-enough crumbly biscuit at the bottom of the shortcake. The only really good part of either was the part that nature made- the strawberries and the key lime flavor. Could have skipped it.
I didn’t eat as much festival food as I thought I would. It all looked fantastically good, but each thing was so filling that it made power sampling too difficult for me. I had to live vicariously through the vision of food passing by me in the hands of strangers. There was an amazing array of choice and the food was served HOT, fresh and fast. Even the long lines went very quickly. I never waited more than 5 minutes for anything.
I’ll just end with:
“Food, glorious food!
Hot sausage and mustard!” ( and ketchup, and Tabasco, and mayo, and lemon juice) .
And, if you go to Jazz Fest don’t miss the Cochon de Lait Po-Boy. Really. Have one each day.
For those who want to know more, here is the Full Menu available at the Festival grounds.