Cream of the crop, crème de la crème, cream of society … these are all idioms, phrases and sayings signifying the best of the best, after all, the best part of milk is indisputably the cream. There are so many delicious and delightful dishes made with cream, but I think crème brûlée is easily among the “crème de la crème” of all desserts.
Made up of only four ingredients – eggs, sugar, cream and vanilla – crème brûlée is a simple, yet stunning combination of custard and caramelized sugar that has wooed sweet-lovers disputably since the 17th century. Although there seems to be much debate about its origins, France, Spain and England all claim ownership of the first, crème brûlée is nevertheless one of the most popular (and coveted) dishes in New Orleans. It is entirely ostensible to say that at any restaurant in town, especially French or Creole, you’ll be more likely to find crème brûlée on the menu than our beloved Bananas Foster, but perhaps I am biased.
For example, Sainte Marie Brasserie offers dishes with a variety of international influences from Asian to Italian, like Cellophane Noodle Salad and Ricotta & Mushroom Agnolotti, but they still offer a crème brûlée. Chef Kristen Essig delights in fresh, locally-sourced ingredients and keeps it simple with a Vanilla Bean Crème Brûlée served with spongy, brown butter madelines. There’s a perfect crack to the burnt sugar crust, and the light, creamy custard is sure to make you swoon, but it’s also fun to try variations on this simple, yet elegant dish.
Chefs all over the city have experiment with alternate ways to create crème brûlée, like Rhonda Ruckman, pastry chef at Herbsaint Restaurant. Located on the corner of St. Charles Avenue and Girod Street, this bistro run by the Link Restaurant Group offers mostly French, Creole and Italian-inspired dishes with a modern slant like House made Spaghetti with guanciale and a fried, poached egg. Exploring different ingredients, Ruckman offers a Duck Egg Crème Brûlée with pecan lace cookies. I highly recommend devouring this eggy treat with a cappuccino made with French Truck Coffee…and, if you’re willing to share, a good friend.
At the edge of the French Quarter on Canal Street lies Palace Cafe, the first of four beloved eateries opened by local restaurateur, Dickie Brennan. Well-known for its contemporary Creole dishes and unique, historic dining room housed in what was formerly Werlein’s Music Building, Palace Cafe is a great place to enjoy such classics as Barbecued Shrimp, Turtle Soup and Catfish Pecan. Executive Chef Darin Nesbit includes ubiquitous New Orleans desserts like Pecan Pie, Bananas Foster and Bread Pudding, but he also has a White Chocolate Crème Brûlée that only adds to the creamy, sweet texture of the custard.
A few blocks away on Conti Street, you can get a little kick in your crème brûlée at Broussard’s. Recently renovated and reopened, this historic, French Quarter restaurant has been in business for almost a century. Executive Chef Guy Reinbolt offers a menu with French, Creole and German-inspired dishes like Pan Seared Foie Gras, Blackened Louisiana Lump Crab Cake and Smoked Duck & Wild Mushroom Strudel. But we’re talking liquor-spiked desserts and Broussard’s features an Austrian Stroh Rum Crème Brûlée with fresh berry salsa and a delicate almond tuile.
If you just can’t be cornered into only one luscious flavor, head over to Emeril Lagasse’s Nola Restaurant on St. Louis Street. Nola is one of three Emeril’s restaurants and by far the most casual. Josh Laskay is the Chef de Cuisine at Nola, a native New Orleanian with a love of global cuisine and experimentation. Nola is famous for Miss Hay’s Stuffed Chicken Wings, delicious morsels that are served annually at French Quarter Festival held in mid-April. For dessert though, Laskay offers a Crème Brûlée Trio; vanilla bean crème brûlée with fresh berries, coconut crème brûlée with a coconut truffle and, finally, a mocha crème brûlée with a chocolate-almond biscotti. This way, you can have your crème brûlée and eat it too.
*Article originally published in the December 2013 issue of Where Y’at Magazine
**Sainte Marie Brasserie is closed