“NOLA: The Marvelous”
By Brooklyn Brewery House Chef Andrew Gerson
With the sounds of 90.7 WWOZ, the nation’s greatest station set on the dial, a perfect back drop to a week in New Orleans, I boogied my way around town soaking in the sun and NOLA’s laid back brassy balance of history, tradition and innovation in food, booze, music and festivities.
New Orleans on any given week is pretty spectacular, but combine Saint Patrick’s Day, Super Sunday with the Mardi Gras Indians, and the Brooklyn Brewery Mash tour and it’s like: listening to Rebirth at the Maple Leaf, eating crawfish etouffee, and shrimp and alligator cheesecake at Jacques-Imo’s, meeting Wendell Pierce, chatting with Poppy Tooker, sipping Brooklyn Dry Irish Stout, slurping Gulf Oysters, sipping NOLA Blonde Ale, more Smokey trumpets and saxes, crawfish Tempura and dancing, a ”Treme” episode on acid in funky-fast-forward. Mash NOLA was marvelous! And that was just a glimpse of day one… [read more below the slideshow]
The Avenue Pub, way down on St Charles St. front and center for the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, was the quintessential Mash Headquarters. Patty and her gracious crew of knowledgeable beer aficionados and bourbon and whiskey connoisseurs hosted a week’s worth of happy-hours filled with cask kegs of EIPA, tastings of Elijah Craig and Cuvée Elijah, flowing bottles of Brooklyn Silver Anniversary Lager and cheese pairings from St. James Cheese (think Brooklyn Dry Irish Stout/Gorgonzola Dolce, or Aged Gouda/ Brooklyn Local 2). The upstairs bar at Avenue also provided a beautiful balcony to catch a moment’s rest, bare foot, listening to reggae, basking in the sun, Brooklyn Summer Ale in hand.
For me the beauty of New Orleans is the love and soul behind the music, food and libations. Maurepas restaurant overseen by Executive Chef Michael Doyle, and an old buddy of mine, Sous Chef Grant Waters is a great embodiment of what New Orleans is to me. Our Local, 2 Ways dinner was a true treat as I got to cook with a great friend, and a team of other talented chefs. Maurepas is known around the Bywater and the rest of the city for its cocktail list and deep-rooted New Orleans cuisine, mixing Creole, Cajun and Southern inspirations into unpretentious family style food with a sprinkle of ingenuity and freshness. Like our take on a crawfish boil, mixed with menu staples like the fried oyster cabbage salad. Diners fought over their family style bowl of duck egg and herb gnocchi in a lamb neck ragu, but were relieved to have individual heaping portions of chocolate duck egg ice cream with shortbread cookies paired with Black Chocolate Stout. This decadent spread set in the heart of the Bywater, NOLA’s hippest neighborhood felt like a summer evening in Brooklyn, with more colorful houses, and a splash of that NOLA funk that only crawfish essence and brass bands can muster.
Brass bands where abounding as second liners followed feather and bead clad Big Chiefs, Spy Boys, Wild Men queens and an array of other plumage, all clad in full regalia at A.L. Davis Park for the Mardi Gras Indian Council’s annual Super Sunday celebration. The spirits of the ancestors mixed with the drums and brass of the bands, along with the stomping of feet and the songs of the Big Chiefs.
Gary Granata, of Slow Food NOLA lead us through the crowds as music mixed with the smoke and aromas from the best of NOLA’s street food vendors, some of which I had seen at the First Annual NOLA Vendy Awards, where I was lucky enough to be a judge along with Poppy Tooker (my new best friend), Sarah Rohan, President of the board of the Southern Food Ways Alliance, and Juan Carlos Gonzales, Executive Chef of Sobou.
Helena Tubis, Executive Director of the Vendy Awards pulled it off again, as over 500 happy guests sampled the best street food NOLA had to offer, washing it down with an array of Brooklyn beers to the sounds of a twangy string band. As the votes came in, Foodie Call was the unanimous winner, but after nine tastes I am convinced NOLA street vendors can hang with the best of them. The crowd, Brooklyn cans clasped firmly in hand, sang along to the rendition of “When The Saints Come Marching In” belted over the PA system by Vance of Vaucresson Sausage Co.
Our Saturday really picked up when Tres Barnard, Chef of We’ve Got Soul treated us to Southern soul inspired dishes tucked away at a chefs table in the cozy back-room of Marie’s Bar. The best duck confit I have ever had was served with a cherry glaze over stone ground grits, and Grand Marnier roasted carrots alongside Brooklyn Local 2. Dessert was leg-quiveringly good, local strawberry and bacon cobbler with Black Chocolate Stout caramel sauce. After our feast we sat on the stoop sipping our last drops of Stout, relishing in the warm evening breeze, hanging with our table mates and the crew of We’ve Got Soul, before ending another perfect night in NOLA with a little brass.
Sunday, after my brief “Indian adventure break” from prepping for our Slow Supper Swamp Dinner, I headed to the site to set up for our final meal in what appeared to an abandoned roofless building. Tucked in the central business district, blocks from the French Quarter, this was a perfect match for our first swamp-inspired Dinner Lab-Brooklyn Brewery collaboration meal. The ambiance of this evening was magical as course after course was paired with a large array of Brooklyn Big Bottles, featuring a Wild One Ghost Bottle. The meal was swamptastic, the pairings Paco Robert and I selected where spot on, and the space glistened under string lighting as guests chatted on into the evening long after the band had packed up their instruments.
After the whirlwind of my week in NOLA I have to say my fondest memory was my very first Crawfish “Buurrrlll,” an impromptu Prequel to our Dinner Lab-Brooklyn Brewery Mashup in Paco’s backyard. Between ham hocks, potatoes, corn, crawfish and Cajun seasoning, Brooklyn Summer Ale, Sorachi Ace and EIPA, I didn’t mind the elbows of everyone else at the table rocking to the music and fending off their prized piles of delight. An evening I will never forget in a week I look forward to remembering. It might be cold and snow covered back in Brooklyn, but at least I can stream 90.7 WNOZ FM for a little taste of that NOLA warmth.