Let’s be honest, summertime in New Orleans leaves a lot to be desired. Sweltering heat and humidity keep tourists away and drive locals indoors where they can crank up the air conditioning and sip iced drinks. Summer also means constant downpours that flood the city, electrifying (and sometimes terrifying) thunderstorms, and don’t even get me started on the ever-present threat of devastating hurricanes.
Sure, there are a few events during the hot months that warrant attendance and appreciation, events like Essence Festival, Tales of the Cocktail, San Fermin en Nueva Orleans and Satchmo SummerFest, but unless it takes place indoors, most people (wise people) avoid submitting themselves to the cruelty of the torrid, tropical sun. Many carefree individuals who don’t heed locals’ sage advice find themselves suffering from heat stroke, painful sunburns, severe dehydration and worse.
So, what is there to look forward to? For starters, there’s nothing like slurping down an icy, sweet sno-ball on a sticky day in the city and, believe it or not, dancing in a warm downpour and splashing in the resulting puddles can evoke all kinds of childhood memories, leaving you feeling giddy, exuberant and young. You’ll definitely never truly appreciate the power of air conditioning until you’ve wandered through the French Quarter in the unbearable heat only to step inside one of the shops and feel an arctic blast in the face that causes you to heave a huge sigh of relief. But, one of my most favorite things about summer would have to be the abundance of crab.
Although Louisiana Blue Crab is available year-round, the peak harvest season is from late spring to early fall and this is the prime time to see our local chefs take full advantage of this delectable seafood bounty. From jumbo lump to soft shelled, boiled or fried, there’s no preparation or presentation we don’t enjoy.
There are several classic ways to prepare jumbo lump crab meat in the Crescent City, but likely none more traditional than Crab meat Ravigote. Born and raised in Lafayette, Chef Ben Thibodeaux at Dickie Brennan’s Tableau is well-versed in the cuisine of New Orleans (and the entire state of Louisiana for that matter) and he brings that knowledge to the table at this recently opened French Quarter restaurant located inside La Petite Theatre. The restaurant features time-honored dishes like Shrimp Remoulade, Turtle Soup and BBQ Shrimp & Grits, but the Crabmeat Ravigote is something yet again. Jumbo lump crab meat is chilled in a aioli-based mix of finely chopped red peppers, dry mustard, lemon juice and green onions and served on a chiffonade of iceberg lettuce and topped with fried capers. It’s difficult not to gobble it all down in a few forkfuls, but the idea is to share.
Over in the Warehouse District, there’s a new addition to the Link Restaurant Group called Peche Seafood Grill, though many have already heard about it considering it just won the 2014 James Beard award for Best New Restaurant, not to mention Best Chef: South for its chef, Ryan Prewitt. Like any great, local seafood restaurant, Peche’s menu changes seasonally and it’s hope against hope that they bring back one of my favorite items on the menu (actually, I don’t think there’s anything on the menu I dislike), Crab Fritters, or croquettes if you want to sound uppity. These delicate, little beauties are essentially balls of creamy crab meat held together by a thin, crispy crust that burst most pleasurably in your mouth and are often accompanied by moans of ecstasy…well, at least I moaned…
Make your way Uptown to the corner of Magazine and General Pershing and pop into one of our many bastions of fine dining, La Petite Grocery. Gorgeously renovated from a century-old corner grocery, this restaurant is a stunning option for a long lunch sitting beneath soaring ceiling covered in pressed tin and enjoying well-made cocktails while gabbing about where to go for dinner, that is, if you don’t just stay put. Chef Justin Devillier offers a changing menu featuring such specialties as Steak Tartare, Gulf Shrimp & Grits and Cardamom-Mascarpone Cheesecake, but for my money, I’m all about the beignets. Crispy, golden teardrop-shaped balls of fluffy dough are filled with Louisiana Blue Crab and served with malt vinegar aioli. Just writing about it makes me want to climb inside my dangerously hot car, grasp my almost-untouchable steering wheel and drive over to La Petite Grocery to get my fill.
Finally, over in the Carrollton neighborhood you won’t want to pass up the inventive dishes to be had at Oak, a popular, elegant and hip wine bar on Oak Street. Pop in to the cool, marble-surfaced bar for a glass of chardonnay and listen to local music while munching on the bar’s Mediterranean interpretation of Louisiana Crab Salad with fava beans, fresh mint, lemon juice and grilled artichokes piled atop crispy, chick pea fritters and drizzled with a red pepper tzatziki sauce. I don’t know about you, but I have learned to love New Orleans’ summers… bring on the heat!
*Article originally published in the July 2014 issue of Where Y’at Magazine