Round the Dinner Table:
Where Y'at Writers' Favorite Dishes
As important to life as air and water, food is one of the many claims to fame that New Orleans has under its belt. Whether it be a traditional New Orleans dish or even some simple home-cooked meal, everybody here has a favorite food that is essential to their diet or party menu. For this issue, we've asked our Where Y'at writers about some of their all-time favorite chow. From red beans and rice to fried chicken, our writers have got great taste!
Being part of a large extended family, I've experienced many different homemade dishes every Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, etc. Traditionally, we've always had roast beef and gravy, baked macaroni and cheese, chicken and sausage gumbo, cocoons, and cherry cheesecake on our party menus. Our most recent dish, and one of my absolute favorites, is my dad's cornbread dressing. My mom would usually go to Rouses to pick up about two or three boxes of cornbread mix, while my dad would be toasting sliced bread and cutting it into small cubes. I'd help my parents chop up onions, parsley, and red, yellow, and orange bell peppers. We'd mix that all together with some eggs and chicken broth, pop it in our oven, and I'd hang around the kitchen just to smell the dressing cook. We don't even really use it as stuffing. Just take it out of the oven, spoon a big portion onto your plate, and you've got delicious, down-home Southern cooking at its finest. -Burke Bischoff
I love crawfish. Like, obsessively, weirdly so. And I don't just mean in a bisque or an etouffée. I'm talking, keep-them-as-pets, deck-the-halls-with-crawfish-décor, dress-in-crawfish-leggings, seriously-considering-a-crawfish-tattoo love crawfish. So yes, boiling them and peeling off their exoskeletons to eat their tiny innards gives me guilt issues, thinking of my beloved pet Crawfish Monica in her little aquarium. But that said, I'm not above eating Monica's cousins if someone else does the dirty work for me-as long as I don't have to witness the slaughter. If they're cooked and peeled already, I get very excited at the sight and smell of anything crawfish-from crawfish bread to beignets, pasta to pie, with grits or au gratin. And if I see crawfish nachos on a menu, I'm in crawfish heaven. There is no crawfish dish I won't happily devour, because crawfish are cute and entertaining in the pond or tank, but downright tasty on the plate. Monica,
forgive me. -Kathy Bradshaw
Red Beans and Rice
There are few certainties in life: death, taxes, and, if growing up in New Orleans, red beans and rice on Mondays. At the start of each week, my mother would make a pot of her creamy red beans and rice with turkey sausage and a side of cornbread for dinner. Oftentimes, members of my family would eat double servings of red beans, as this was the de facto Monday lunch dish, both at my high school and at the cafeteria near my father's shop. Even after she and my dad left Louisiana following Hurricane Katrina, my mother would still prepare this whenever I came to visit. Though it is no longer a weekly tradition, I have been known to make red beans and rice on occasion. I am particularly fond of this healthy recipe from the Food Network: foodnetwork.com/recipes/robert-irvine/red-beans-and-rice-recipe.
Growing up, my favorite dish was only served on special occasions. Fortunately, these occasions were Thanksgiving and Christmas, so I knew exactly when I would be able to enjoy my mother's oyster dressing. Handed down from her mother before her, this recipe involved two-thirds of the Creole trinity (onions and celery) with green onions (or shallots, as they were colloquially and rather erroneously called) stepping into bell pepper's role. The rest of the makings were simple: bread crumbs, parsley, and, of course, fresh Louisiana oysters from the Gulf of Mexico. The result was a delightfully savory dish that screamed New Orleans and just so happened to be tailored to the tastes of an eight-year-old boy who requested second and third helpings of the delectable "stuffing." More than three decades later, the oyster dressing remains a holiday mainstay in the Boudreaux household. -Jeff Boudreaux
Homemade Italian Dinner
My most mind-blowing dinner was one Big Red (aka Mom) made when I was a kid. I'd have to do the shopping for it. These were the days when we had small mom-and-pop stores selling what we now find in sections of the supermarkets. I would be sent out with $1.50 in quarters. First stop: the butcher, where I would get a quarter's worth of soup bones. Then on to the green grocer for $0.25 of soup greens (carrot, onion, turnip, celery, parsley). Next, to the Italian deli for a quarter's worth of parmesan cheese, a pound of large-shell macaroni, a can of tomatoes, and a loaf of crusty Italian bread. Typical LaMancusa kitchen magic: This would feed five kids and two adults.
The ritual would be when we all took turns grating the cheese into the fragrant, steamy soup. We would each sing this brief Italian song and grate like crazy, for when the song was over, we had to pass the cheese to the next person. It's a ditty concerning a girl, a fireman, and her mother, who is gonna tell her father. Amazingly, all five of us kids, now grown and retired, remember the song and the soup. -Phil LaMancusa
Meals at Mary's Restaurant
Mary's Restaurant in Theodore, Alabama, was my favorite place to dine as a kid and through later years. Mary's is no longer in operation, but it remains alive and well in my memory. I believe one of our strongest memories is our "food memory," and certainly for me, it's one of my favorite escapes back in time. I might be a vegan today, but I shall never forsake the pleasures that Mary's gave to me. The memories of her fried chicken and shrimp creole are still vivid-I can truly taste the creole sauce and the crispy-skinned, battered, and deep-fried chicken. I'm not even sure if, as a kid, I liked shrimp creole, but my adult palate, combined with this memory, makes for serious food yearnings.
Equal to Mary's food was the café's ambience-at least to me. The walls were adorned with glossy color prints of Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and Jesus. There was this big, red, coffin-sized Coca-Cola ice box, filled with soda bottles. Vases of plastic flowers prettified each Formica-topped table. The jukebox had plenty of Sinatra, R&B, and country tunes. And the unsuspecting chickens strutted the parking lot. You just had to love it all. -Debbie Lindsey
"There are few certainties in life: death, taxes, and, if growing up in New Orleans, red beans and rice on Mondays."
"The best gumbo is the family gumbo."
Foodies come to New Orleans in search of many famous dishes, and the most famous of them all is gumbo. As they roam the streets in search of the best the city has to offer, a local's response will usually be, "At my mama's house." It's a fact that all New Orleanians have one person in their family who they think makes the best gumbo. For some, it's a mother, grandmother, aunt, or uncle, but in my family, it's my dad. For me, his gumbo is one of the best comfort foods. It's hardy, warm, and delicious. It's the main staple during the holidays, and there's never a doubt as to who's going to make the gumbo each year. -Kimmie Tubré
Red Beans and Rice: An Inevitable Journey
As a kid, I remember seeing red beans and rice on the dining room table and cringing. It was a dish that I hated and wanted no part of. To eat it, I had to part it into four sections and trick myself into eating it by making it into a game or competition. Other times, I had to add condiments to it, such
Today is a different story. Red beans and rice is probably one of my favorite dishes. It's one of those things that can be eaten with just about anything. Some eat it with pork chops, sausage, fried chicken, or even catfish. I can eat it any way because it's just that delicious when cooked right. And the right way will always include Camellia beans-duh! -Kimmie Tubré