One meal. ONE MEAL. That’s all I really had time for when I went to Birmingham, Alabama this past weekend for Food Blog South. I got in late Friday night, spoke Saturday morning, had time for lunch (my ONE MEAL) then had the keynote, book-signing and after party to attend that night before flying back to L.A. the next morning.
I polled folks on Twitter and received many terrific suggestions; unfortunately, most of them were closed for lunch. Hot and Hot Fish Club: closed for lunch. Chez Fonfon: closed for lunch (at least on Saturdays). One suggestion, though, wasn’t only open for lunch, it seemed to be walking distance (more on that in a second) from my hotel. I settled upon Frank Stitt’s celebrated restaurant, Bottega.
The day that I flew to Austin, I was coming from Los Angeles in the most convoluted way possible. I started on Sunset Blvd., where I was staying, then drove up to Topanga Canyon, where I left my car with Craig’s aunt and uncle, then took a car service to the Long Beach airport which was about an hour and a half away. By the time the plane touched down in Austin, I was so hungry and tired I could barely move. But I made my way to a cab which took me to the Doubletree Hotel (my first hotel there) which was nowhere near anything that I heard was worth eating. So then I took a cab to South Congress, specifically to Torchy’s Tacos which many of you recommended on Twitter. It sounded perfect.
Some restaurants have a mythology surrounding them. Franklin BBQ, in Austin, Texas, is one such restaurant.
“You have to get there early,” people will say. “They line up starting at 9 o’clock and don’t open their doors until 11.” “It’s because Aaron Franklin carves all the meat by hand and takes his time doing it.” “They’ll ask how much meat you want before you go in so they can figure out when to start turning people away.” “It’s a one hour wait.” “It’s a two hour wait.” “It’s the best BBQ you’ll ever have in your life.” “You’ll want to kill yourself after you eat it because there’ll be nothing left to live for.”
I was glued to the TV, yesterday, watching hurricane Sandy updates from my Austin hotel room (note to CNN producers: that was cruel how you kept that guy submerged in water during 100 MPH winds) while harassing Craig and Lolita (my cat) over the phone to make sure they were ok. They were, though via Twitter I knew many others weren’t. My instinct was to stay put, to suffer in solidarity, by way of Facebook updates and Instagram photos. At some point, though, I got hungry and wandered out of my hotel.
We ate many meals in New Orleans, but the following four meals were the most memorable for me. In all four cases, these weren’t meals you could enjoy anywhere else in the country. The food, the people, and, most importantly, the environments added up to create four totally unique experiences; experiences that I recommend you have on your next trip there.
One of the best parts of traveling to a new city is discovering a food item that you didn’t know existed before. Like when I traveled to Barcelona and discovered pa amb tomàquet. Same thing in New Orleans, only it wasn’t bread smeared with tomato that I discovered; in New Orleans, I discovered the snowball.
Restaurants that are institutions don’t have to be good. Before it closed, Tavern on the Green in New York was like that. You didn’t go for the food–no, you definitely didn’t go for the food–you went for the chandeliers, for the topiary, for the chintzy souvenirs you could buy in the gift shop.
When you arrive in New Orleans, the first place that you’ll probably go is Cafe du Monde. There are a few reasons for this: (1) it’s open 24 hours; (2) it’s a New Orleans mecca, for locals and tourists alike; and (3) the beignets that they serve there are so dang good, they’ll haunt your dreams.