Savory Nawlins Alligator Cheesecake and the Pursuit of Phò Tàu Bay

So the minutes are counting down. I’m scrambling to squeeze in a couple final hurrah’s in Louisiana before we head out the state Wednesday. I’m pleased to report I got in one item I thought there’d be no way for me to get: Alligator cheesecake.

Enter my beautiful, brilliant wife. She suggested we drive the hour and a half to Gretna for lunch the next day at Phò Tàu Bay. It’d be our last chance to pull it off and complete some unfinished business, as we’d tried unsuccessfully to eat there twice before.

I was stoked. Not only would I get a sexy date with my wife and the best Vietnamese food in Louisiana, but also I could–just maybe–pull off sneaking in the piece of savory cheesecake I’d previously thought impossible.

Though I’ve always loved cheesecake, now that I know there exists more than just dessert cheesecakes, I really love cheesecake. New Orleans is home to variations of shrimp, crawfish, and alligator cheesecakes. These savory cheesecakes are typically lighter than their dessert brethren, being made from Ricotta or Curd cheese rather than Philadelphia cream cheese.  I imagined experiencing a piece of such cakes would give me a good starting point for my own culinary foray into the realm of the savory cheesecake.

This whole endeavor was risky business. My wife doesn’t like seafood. I had a delicate mission. Get the cheesecake without ruining the date or her good favor. I accomplished the former but barely salvaged the latter.

We got down there and, against all odds, our Vietnamese restaurant proved out of our reach once again. It had closed an hour before for a private party. Though we were tempted to try to bribe a member of the party, we moved on to another Vietnamese restaurant in the area. The grilled pork spring-rolls were phenomenal but the chicken in the pho was suspect.

It was fun. The day had been beautiful. We enjoyed the time to talk and smile at each other on the drive. So we got back in the car as the sun was beginning to move lower in the sky, making everything more golden, especially my wife’s beautiful eyes and wavy hair. On our way through New Orleans, I called Jacaque-Imo’s to order a piece of the alligator cheesecake to-go.

We drove along the street cars, under the live oak covered streets, and past the unique old New Orleans architectural homes. Strike one, was piggybacking a quest for anything seafood onto our date. Strike two, was parking the car in a slightly no parking zone. Strike three, was stinking the car up of alligator cheesecake.

My only salvation was that the bartender generously gave me three cornbread muffins with my order. The muffin satisfied her where the pho and our original restaurant had failed. So my savory cheesecake was just that. The cheesecake had a nice light texture  with a rich smoked Gouda and light goat cheese flavor. The alligator added the slight seafoody taste I can’t help but seek in most every meal. It added chewy bites to the cake. Though imagine the alligator could have been more tender, I appreciated the slightly extra time it took to chew. Bits of Andouille added the expected creole flair as did the creamy remoulade-like sauce under the cake. Topped with a couple sprigs of baby mixed lettuce and grated parmesan, it did me right. I enjoyed every last little bite of it and even enjoyed the smell of car the next day.

I was relieved to have gotten my first piece of savory cheese cake, a pretty good cornbread muffin for the misses, and a golden drive back through the cypress trees in early summer. Here’s to inspiration, realized dreams, and a few of the finer things in life.

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The Best Muffaletta in New Orleans

So I’d have thought a city brimming with people who eat, sleep, and breathe food would have every last little corner scoured ten times over, leaving nothing new, much-less magnificent, to be discovered.

Well, let me do my little part put THE BEST muffaletta in New Orleans on the map. I’m saying it right here and now: Majoria’s Commerce Restaurant in the Central Business District has THE BEST muffaletta in NOLA. If I get a smudge of the credit for their amazingness, so be it. Such crosses I am prepared to carry.

Commerce is THE place for Muffalettas. For that matter, it is THE place for any standard New Orleans fare, minus the pomp and circumstance. Great red beans, great po’boys, wonderful salads, gumbo, breakfasts, everything. Plus, your guaranteed to be surrounded by locals. Come ready for the camaraderie of the working class and ready to pay cash.

In New Orleans, you have to find a good muffaletta sandwich. A New Orleans muffaletta is generally a gigantic sandwich that can feed three or four people sold by the quarter, half, or whole. It’s made outta thinly sliced genoa salami, ham, mortadella and provolone cheese, and the make-it-or-break-it olive mix. The ironic thing about New Orleans is that most muffalettas are terribly underwhemlming, if not downright bad, and most places known for their muffalettas, don’t make a good muffaletta. Luckily, there is Commerce. Despite their great everything, go for the muffaletta. You won’t regret it.

At Commerce, it’s a single person 5″ sandwich served warm and delicious. The sweet potato fries are awesome and can vary from thinly cut with a delicatessen flaky flour breading to the pictured, straight-cut fry with a solid center. Anyway they come, they’ll be good. Everything will be good.

So, make your way out to the corner of Camp and Gravier for hands-down THE BEST muffaletta in NOLA.

Technical note: muffulettas seem to be normally spelt with a “u” but it varies and in Louisiana they seem to be said with an “a” so that’s what I went with.
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Easter in the French Quarter

So we intended to make it out to the Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival and tour the Abita Brewery last Saturday before making it down to New Orleans for the French Quarter Festival. Well, we were still so tired from running all over Cajun country that we ended up taking Saturday easy in Baton Rouge and made it down to New Orleans on Easter and stayed through Monday.

We grabbed a bite on Jackson Square at a little europeanesque cafe, reminiscent of one in Paris or along Avenida Santa Fe or Corrientes in Buenos Aires, I’d been hoping to enjoy for the aumbiance since I’d first seen it a few years ago. We had the Korean BBQ, Oyster, and Club Stanley Po’Boy sampler. The first two fell short of our hopes but the Stanley more than made up for it. We will be back and go straight for the Stanley.

It just happened to be Easter, but it was amazing. People were out and happy. I got the dates wrong and we were a weekend early for the French Quarter Festival. But it turned out well. We saw a side of the French Quarter we’d never seen before. So many musicians were out performing in the streets it was amazing.

Previously my wife had usually dreaded going to New Orleans. Hesitant to to visit and eager to leave. I’d be captivated by the architecture, food and people. So our visits had been more for me than her. She, however, has a weakness for music and this time she saw the music and the music and the music and all the other music lovers and she was entranced.

I enjoyed most a little pick-up cajun group out of Lafayette, Louisiana. I was surprised to learn one was from France, one from Puerto Rico, and the other somewhere else I didn’t catch. I’d have never known they weren’t from the cajun triangle. They were good. My wife really enjoyed the trumpet player in the jazz band. Easter on Royal was such a treat. One we’ll be crossing our fingers to replicate soon.

Catch-up on Last Saturday’s Wild* Discus Chase

So working backwards, we have the eight new 2.5″ juvenile discus and my older 5″ discus settled in after a week in their new home. The tank is definitely startling to anyone not familiar to discus. It seems the fish equivalent of prison. Concrete and a steel toilet.

Though it seems harsh, they are thriving. Discus evolved in the clean water of the tributaries to the Amazon River and cannot tolerate organics disolved in the water. Therefore in captivity they need their water to be replaced daily or near daily, especially while they are growing from juveniles. If they had gravel, it would collect their waste and uneaten food and quickly deteriorate the pristine water. Forced to choose, discus would go for pristine water over tank aesthetics, fins down.

Once they are full grown at 6″+ or the size of a saucer, substrate and plants can be added. Serious enthusiasts, however, stick with the traditional bare bottom tank. The thinking is that the art of the maximally flourishing fish beats the art of the planted aquarium with less flourishing fish. We’re talking minute degrees of distinction, but to the aficionado it is everything.

Last saturday, I left the Capital Area, braved the possible madness of the Saints’ game day furry and headed for New Orleans. The clouds were gorgeous above the causeway along Lake Pontchartrain with the city off in the distance.

I had to make a quick stop in Kenner at my favorite little coffee shop for lunch. Basking in the favor of the gods I enjoyed a huge bowl of shrimp creole and a cafe au lait. The shrimp creole: awesome. Creole spice stretches my notion of what food can be. Like I’m losing my innocence. Being opened up to a whole new world of beauty and sensation. The cafe au lait is a rich, deep coffee with chicory and steamed milk.

I’d never had the dessert before. The name was too alluring to pass up. Turns out, wasn’t for me. An almost solid too sweet custard center with an a flaky crisco feeling crust. Fun anyway. Looked up directions, got my fish, locked my keys in the car, paid the the vocally pissed-off tow-truck guy to miss the game and let me back in my car, drove the fish two hours, and acclimated them to their new paradise. Went to bed energized, excited, and more than satisfied. Now for the two years for them to reach maturity.

*Truth in advertising, it was actually a domestic discus chase.