Feast Like You’re Festin’

As much as we all love the music, art and food at the annual New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, we can’t all go. Maybe you came here during those two magical weeks for work, not to play, perhaps you suffer from enochlophobia – an intense fear of crowds or, it could simply be that you couldn’t scrape up the dough. Whatever the reason, we understand your plight and we’re here for you.

For out-of-towners, Jazz Fest is, admittedly, an efficient way to get a glut of local culture, music and food in one fell swoop, but all of that incredible food (and music!) is available on a regular basis all across town; you just have to seek them out, and that’s where we come in.

Boudin Balls at Toups’ Meatery

Not far from the festival grounds on N. Carrollton Avenue is a restaurant everyone should have on their radar called Toups’ Meatery. Owned and operated by Chef Isaac Toups and his wife Amanda, this Mid-City spot has been open for over a decade serving elevated Cajun cuisine with a French/Creole slant and an emphasis on everything meaty. From crispy turkey necks with pepper jelly and pork belly corn dogs to their irresistible cracklins, it’s a carnivore’s fantasy. Toups makes everything in house, and that includes their spicy boudin which can be had rolled up into balls, breaded in panko and deep fried to a golden brown, resulting in a crunchy exterior and almost creamy interior. Three large boudin balls are served with a spoonful of Cajun mustard for $7.

It sometimes seems like festival in New Orleans can’t be a festival in New Orleans if they aren’t serving Vacresson’s sausage po-boys; from the Oak Street Po-Boy Festival and French Quarter Festival to Jazz Fest and beyond. Strangely enough, festivals were the only place to score Vaucresson’s sausages since the levee failures of 2005 wiped out their operations in the 7th Ward. But inch by inch, they grew back into being thanks in no small part to the “Sausage King” Vance Vaucresson, the family’s third generation of marvelous meat makers and the man who re-launched Vaucresson’s Creole Cafe & Deli on St. Bernard Avenue in 2022. Are you craving that Vacresson’s hot sausage po-boy you could only find at the fest? Well, now you can just go get one almost anytime you wish, and it’ll only set you back $12!

Crawfish Boil Hand Pies at Windowsill Pies
*Image courtesy of Brian Bain

It’s hard not to love and crave a crawfish pie. Made with the trinity and a roux, it’s like have étouffée wrapped in a flaky pie crust. What could be better than that? Maybe, just maybe, a crawfish boil pie from Windowsill Pies? Located on Freret Street, this tiny cafe is owned and managed by pie masters Nicole Eiden and Marielle Dupré who have been wrapping our hearts in their incredible pastry crusts since they started slinging their pies a decade ago at local farmers markets. Though their sweet pies are certainly something to rave about, their seasonal crawfish boil pies are exceptional. All of the essentials found in a great crawfish boil – garlic, potatoes, onions, corn, mushrooms, seasoning, and Louisiana crawfish – are ensconced within a flaky and buttery crust. A 6-inch pie that feeds two is only $17, but you can also get a hand pie for $5.50 leaving plenty of room for dessert!

Speaking of crawfish, let’s discuss the spectral-like phenomenon called crawfish bread, appearing for Jazz Fest and vanishing when the fairgrounds close on second-weekend Sunday like a visitor’s inhibitions on Bourbon Street. You may not believe it, but this elusive creature can be had outside the fest. At Gabrielle, a “Cajun food restaurant with New Orleans flair,” chefs and owners Greg and Mary Sonnier are cooking up dishes like BBQ shrimp pie, and dark roux gumbo with duck, rabbit and Guinea hen, but they also offer that classic Jazz Fest treat. Made with Louisiana crawfish, cheese and butter, Gabrielle’s crawfish bread is a seasonal, take-and-bake item sold on full 12” loaf of Leidenheimer and big enough for the whole family. That’s not bad for ringing in slightly over budget at $20 plus tax.

Everyone loves Miss Linda’s Yakamein, a bowl guaranteed to cure even the roughest hangover. Made with shredded boiled beef, seasoned beef broth, spaghetti noodles and a hard-boiled egg, Yakamein gained national recognition thanks to Anthony Bourdain when the recipe re-emerged after Hurricane Katrina. Now you can find Yakamein all over the city, from the smallest gas station to white tablecloth restaurants, but today’s pick is from Three Muses on Frenchmen Street. Owned and operated by the illustrious Miss Sophie Lee (a jazz singer in her own right), this cozy venue offers the best of three worlds: cocktails, food and live music. Slurp down a bowl of Yakamein and be serenaded by jazz pianist Tom McDermott, or turn of the century tunes from the Bad Penny Pleasuremakers.

But what about dessert? You can always grab a Mango Freeze from Morning Call Coffee Stand, or a sno-ball at Hansen’s on Tchoupitoulas, but you can’t beat the classic, Crescent City donut, the powdered-sugar-laden beignet. You can get them at the usual spots (Cafe Du Monde, etc.), but have you ever tasted one of the pillowy monsters at Cafe Beignet? Open for a little over 30 years, this coffee shop began on Royal Street and has since expanded to four locations, but our favorite is on Bourbon Street. Featuring an expansive courtyard dedicated to the preservation of New Orleans’ unique musical culture (with nearly life-size bronze statues of Al “Jumbo” Hirt, Antoine “Fats” Domino, Pete Fountain, Chris Owens, Ronnie Kole, Louis Prima, Allen Toussaint, and Irma Thomas), it’s choice to kick back at Cafe Beignet, munch till you’re dusted in a blanket of powdered sugar, sip on cafe au lait and enjoy live jazz music from local bands on the daily.

*Originally published in the April 2023 issue of Where Y’at Magazine

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