On the Side: Cornbread

Exploring cornbread in New Orleans, arguably one of the most Southern of sides.

Perfect with a spicy bowl of chili or crisp, fried catfish and collard greens, cornbread is that ubiquitous Southern side that always seems to be taken for granted, but is missed when its not there. By and large, most cornbreads are made from five basic ingredients – cornmeal, flour, baking soda, butter, egg, and buttermilk – a relatively inexpensive staple. But people do love to jazz it up and make it their own, and the variations run the gamut from savory and spicy, to so sweet you could eat it for dessert.

Cornbread can most frequently be found at home, whether your maw maw is crumbling it in her buttermilk for breakfast, or dad’s filling a cast iron pan to put on the grill. But that doesn’t mean our restaurants are bereft of this corny bounty. In fact, some are so tasty, you might be encouraged to up your cornbread game at home.

Case in point, the ever popular Pineapple Upside-Down Cornbread at Meril. It’s really hard to go wrong with any dish at any of Emeril Lagasse’s restaurants, but Meril (named after the celebrity chef’s youngest daughter) was created to be a little bit different. Not only is it more affordable than most of Emeril’s high-end establishments, the menu mainly focuses on small, yet shareable plates inspired by flavors from all over the world. Dishes range from roasted carrots with tahini and spiced honey, to Brussels sprouts drizzled in a nuac cham, or spicy rigatoni with caramelized onions and Pecorino Romano cheese. Along with their fried turkey necks (only $13), one of Meril’s signature items is their sweet and savory pineapple upside-down cornbread served with a bacon marmalade and we promise, it’s one you won’t want to miss. Yes, it might be a little over the top with one large “muffin” ringing in at $9, but all it takes it one taste to know it’s money well-spent.

If you want a little more bang for your buck, head down to one of Bywater’s favorite breakfast joint Elizabeth’s. Chef Byron Peck has fully embraced the former owner’s creed of “real food done real good,” offering scrumptious plates of creative cuisine, all made from scratch. Located on the corner of Gallier and Chartres streets, Elizabeth’s features a comfortable, super-casual atmosphere with killer cocktails and food that’ll leave you more than satisfied. Among dishes like Red Neck Eggs served on fried green tomatoes, and Banana’s Foster French toast, Chef Peck also offers fried chicken served atop a crisp, thick cornbread waffle all drizzled with sweet cane syrup for only $16.

Not only is it ridiculously affordable and tasty, and features a kitchen helmed by talented chef Martha Wiggins, Cafe Reconcile is a place where you can help at-risk youth in New Orleans while enjoying a soul food lunch at the same time. Located in Central City on Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard, Cafe Reconcile is a community-supported “incubator” where young adults are encouraged to grow and hopefully, go on to become skilled entrepreneurs in New Orleans and the rest of the world. Visit for lunch Tuesday-Friday and enjoy a bevvy of good eats from jerk chicken and paneed pork loin to red beans and rice. Now, you can add a $4 order of their buttery, spicy jalapeno cornbread to any order, or you could opt for their version of a BLT with fried green tomato, bacon and lettuce on jalapeno cornbread toast for only $12.

Thick slabs of cornbread are frequently found in hot plates around town from the small, pink, soul food joint Queen’s Cuisine on Airline Drive in Kenner (brah) to the vegan Sweet Soulfood on North Broad. But it is interesting how it sometimes pops up where you’d least expect.

Take for example Marjie’s Grill on South Broad. Opened nearly six years ago by Herbsaint alumns Caitlin Carney and Chef Marcus Jacobs, the Mid-City eatery is a casual spot specializing in Southeast Asian, coal-roasted inspirations such as grilled Gulf shrimp tossed in lemongrass sambal butter, and melon and papaya som tam. But you’ll also find spicy boiled Mississippi peanuts tossed with cane syrup and fish sauce, and hot, buttered cornbread, a fat slice ringing in at 3.95 per slice. (Sadly, Marjie’s is closing this month – December 2023)

Another unusual spot for cornbread is Willa Jean. Sure, the South Market District restaurant offers all kinds of baked goods, but somehow it’s surprising to see a quick-bread-style loaf of cornbread. It’s not so surprising that this particular dish rings in at a whopping $12, but it does come with whipped sweet cream butter and Youngsville, Louisiana’s own Poirer’s cane syrup, and it’s a dish meant to be shared between 2-3 people.

French Quarter “Southern bistro” Sylvain, a restaurant by the folks at LeBlanc + Smith, seems a little too highbrow for cornbread, but when you look at the rest of their menu, it actually fits in perfectly. How could Zapp’s potato chip-crusted drum or short rib succotash not be well complimented by their cast iron cornbread. Crispy and buttery on the outside, crumbly and sweet on the inside, Sylvain’s cornbread is served with a spicy, Three Brothers Farm cane syrup butter. The skillet cornbread will set you back $12, but again, it’s a dish meant to be shared.

Finally, if you’re feeling frustrated by the high cost of cornbread, you can always enjoy a dinner at the famed Jacques-Imo’s on Oak Street where buttery cornbread muffins are their regular bread service, or you could always make it at home.

*Article originally published in the November 2023 issue of Where Y’at Magazine

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