Eggplant Envy

What is elongated, fleshy, goes by many different names, is chock full of bitter seeds and can be found in shades of purple? Why the eggplant, of course! What were you thinking? While “sexters” and Instagram might view this pervasive vegetable as something more salacious, food-lovers all over the world think the eggplant is nothing if not superbly good eats. Since eggplant is a tropical or sub-tropical perennial, it’s not uncommon to find this delicate, yet meaty vegetable at local farmers markets or tucked into neighborhood gardens. New Orleans chefs love to take advantage of its abundance from late May to early October, passionately weaving this pleasing purple vegetable into their menus from appetizers to the main course.

Over on Frenchmen Street in the Marigny, Chef Daniel Esses at Three Muses always offers culturally eclectic dishes serving everything from falafel-crusted mozzarella to Gulf fish tacos and a Korean bulgogi rice bowl with thinly-sliced ribeye and kimchi. A recent addition to the menu is his roasted eggplant bruschetta with mint crema and a tart pomegranate drizzle giving the dish a distinct Mediterranean slant. Best part? A small order will only set you back $9 which leaves plenty of breathing room for an order of crispy French fries with feta and gremolata or a cocktail like “The Port Heist,” the bar’s unique version of a whiskey sour.

Although the menu is constantly changing at The Old Portage Food & Drink, it’s well-worth the effort to catch them at NOLA Brewing’s Tap Room, The Black Penny in the French Quarter or Uptown at the French Truck Cafe regardless of what’s being served. Talented chefs Amarys and Jordan Herndon are always experimenting with new and delicious ways to make their diners drool from crispy pork rillettes with hot pepper glaze to a tantalizing shrimp toast made with Bunny Bread and avocado-lime mayo. A few months ago, their typically-terrific menu at NOLA Tap Room featured a dish of charred eggplant fried in a chickpea batter and served with smoked caponata (one can never have enough eggplant), a dish so rich and filling it could likely convert a devout carnivore to veganism.

If one is truly searching for egg-cellent eggplant dishes in the Crescent City, the obvious direction would be toward any one of our many Mediterranean restaurants, but the recently opened Tal’s Hummus might have something you’ve never tried before. Located in the corner building that once housed McClure’s Barbeque on Magazine Street, this Israeli street-food restaurant offers many of the usual suspects like beef and chicken kabob, hummus and labneh, but the star of the show is a toss up between their burrekas (cheese-filled puff-pastry pies) and the sabich, a pita sandwich brimming with fried eggplant, tzaziki, hard-boiled egg and amba – a tangy, mango pickle spread similar to chutney.

Though one might not expect it, the brand new specialty sandwich shop Turkey and the Wolf is dishing out a distinctly Mediterranean side that one might not normally pair with a fried bologna or chicken fried steak sandwich. Supposed “out of place” items shouldn’t be surprising considering the whimsical, devil-may-care attitude of owners chef Mason Hereford and Lauren Holton, so you may want to consider pairing your sweet potato waffle fry sandwich on raisin bread with a creamy bowl of baba ganouj rich with feta and served with several slices of toasted olive bread.

Because the pace of the New Orleans restaurant scene has reached frenetic heights over the past several years, it’s always good to go back to the old school and take advantage of those fabulous dishes from our favorites. Fried eggplant sticks and souffle potatoes with Bearnaise sauce at Galatoire’s, eggplant casserole at Liuzza’s Restaurant & Bar, Pascal’s Manale’s stuffed eggplant with ham, shrimp and crab meat … everyone has their own version of a local aubergine epiphany. One that will always stand out in this writer’s mind is the Eggplant Napoleon at the edge-of-the-Garden-District joint Joey K’s. Thick slices of fried eggplant are piled oh-so high, layered with fried shrimp and then draped in a crawfish cream sauce, a dish you’ll want all for yourself but, like sexting, is infinitely more enjoyable (and much less pathetic) when shared with someone else.

*Article originally published in the September 2016 issue of Where Y’at Magazine

**Chefs Amarys & Jordan Herndon from Old Portage Food & Drink now have brick and mortar digs Palm & Pine

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