Better to have loved lost bread…
by Kim Ranjbar
Call it pain perdu or French toast, its still delicious to me. Down here in New Orleans, we use both names for that crispy, moist, eggy, sweet concoction and we have more ways of preparing it than there are ways to sing the 12 Days of Christmas. Traditionally, stale French bread is cut into thick slices, soaked in a custard bath, browned in butter and baked to cook through. This well-loved, custardy dish is finished with a light dusting of powdered sugar and commonly devoured with a steaming cup of chicory coffee.
Restaurants all over the city have taken this simple recipe and made it their own with the use of different breads and varied toppings (and stuffings, oh my!) that are enough to make the child in you giggle with delight. One such place that features a combination of two New Orleans favorites in one dish is The Ruby Slipper.
Located both downtown on Magazine Street and in Mid-City on South Cortez, The Ruby Slipper is one of the city’s favorite breakfast spots, seeing as you’ll often find a line trailing out of the door every morning. The menu features omelets, pancakes and benedicts, but the star of the whole show is the Banana’s Foster Pain Perdu made classically with New Orleans French bread and topped with the Crescent City’s most famous dessert, Bananas Foster, made with butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, dark rum, and (of course) fresh bananas. As a salty accompaniment to this sweet treat, the dish also includes a side of applewood smoked bacon…after all, what is breakfast without bacon?
Another great breakfast spot that is usually known for its famous “Womelet” (Belgian waffle and omelet in one), is Fat Hen Grocery located on the corner of St. Charles Avenue and Cherokee Street. Chef Shane Pritchett, the former Executive Chef at Emeril’s Delmonico, is always hard at work in the kitchen perfecting his award-winning barbecue, but he takes time out to create some incredible breakfast dishes including French toast. When it was in season, the restaurant featured a Strawberry Rhubarb version, but like the seasons, the menu has changed to incorporate a Caramel Apple French Toast made with buttery brioche, Granny Smith apples and a thick caramel sauce.
Down in the French Quarter, hidden on Exchange Place, the Green Goddess is still going strong with Chef Paul Artigues now at the helm. The tiny restaurant still features a delectably eclectic menu and though they are not open for brunch, they feature a fabulous dessert that one could eat anytime, day or night. Their Brûléed Apple French Toast features the locally-famous, Vietnamese French bread from Dong Phuong Bakery on the Westbank that is stuffed with a brandied-apple filling, pressed on the grill, topped with melted manchego, brûléed sugar and served with chicory cane syrup. Try not to drool…
Speaking of stuffed, there’s another piece of perfection served for breakfast daily at Criollo Restaurant & Lounge, the brand new eatery inside the historic Hotel Monteleone in the French Quarter. Chef de Cuisine Joseph Maynard doesn’t dance around his pain perdu. Simply dubbing it “Lost Bread,” his dish features plantain-stuffed brioche bread drizzled with honey-pecan butter. You would even have enough dough left over for a side of country ham or sizzling smoked sausage.
For a very different dough, step inside Cake Cafe & Bakery on the corner of Chartres and Spain Street in the Marigny. This neighborhood bakery has quickly become a neighborhood favorite for their delicious sandwiches on a variety of breads, chewy, perfect bagels and super-friendly staff. Stop in one morning and absorb the scents of freshly-baked goodness and enjoy their version of pain perdu. It’s a French Toast featuring their own Challah, a traditional Jewish braided bread, drizzled in a house made orange-pecan syrup.
Finally, but certainly not the last, follow the crowd of tourists to Dickie Brennan’s Palace Cafe on Canal Street. Executive Chef Darin Nesbitt, who has been with the Brennans for more than 14 years, applies his vast culinary knowledge and love of this city to every dish he creates, well-noted in his New Orleans Pain Perdu. Employing classic techniques, the dish features thickly-sliced, local French bread served with a sweet pecan-praline sauce, fresh seasonal berries and spicy andouille sausage. Who’s ready for breakfast?
*Article published in the December 2012 issue of Where Y’at Magazine
**Fat Hen Grocery and Cake Cafe & Bakery are closed