Words by Leah Stacy | Above photo by Pete Wayner
The closest I’ve ever come to visiting New Orleans was a late night dinner and dancing lesson in Baton Rouge. (It's a long story.) But like everyone else, I’ve heard a lot of buzz about the food and cocktail scene there.
Beignets are the most glorious (French) doughnuts, so obviously I hitched a ride on that train years ago. (You can even buy and make Café Du Monde’s famous mix, you’re welcome). But with Mardi Gras on the horizon tomorrow, it’s a great reason to explore our region’s few NOLA-inspired edibles – even if the New Orleans-based carnival is not as big a celebration this far north of the Mason-Dixon Line.
Quick history lesson via my Louisiana friend Jake Clapp: Cajun and Creole are two distinctly different ethnicities. The Cajun people are descendants of French Canadians who settled in South Central Louisiana and the Creole are descendants of European Spanish and French. The Creole settled in what became New Orleans. From these two groups emerged the Cajun and Creole cooking styles, which are often (incorrectly) lumped together. The biggest way to tell the difference is that true Creole food uses tomatoes as an ingredient (in jambalaya, gumbo), and Cajun does not.
True to our melting pot legacy, it turns out Rochester has a few ties to The Big Easy. So try the following tomorrow (or anytime, really) for a taste of New Orleans:
Crystal Hot Sauce at James Brown’s Place
This sauce has been a staple in Louisiana since 1923, but it’s difficult to find when you’re eating out around here. A fair amount of the James Brown’s Place menu is inspired by Southern fare, and the menu even mentions Brown’s mother was a NOLA native. Try Crystal Hot Sauce on the home fries.
It’s the official cocktail of Louisiana and was invented in a New Orleans apothecary. A truly native Sazerac, of course, has an absinthe rinse and Peychaud’s bitters (sorry, Fee Brothers, we’ll always stay faithful to you when Sazeracs aren’t involved). New Orleans has quite the cocktail history, in fact.
Here in Rochester, you can have a traditional Sazerac and all the absinthe your heart desires at Roux.
French Quarter Cafe
This used to be located in a charming house on Park Avenue, but moved to Spring Street (near Broad and Plymouth) recently. The new building evokes a sense of NOLA grandeur, with gilded curtains and high ceilings, but there’s still a whole page of the menu devoted to etoufee and the beignets are served hot and generously dusted with powdered sugar. (Just try to spend more than $50 on dinner for two people here, I dare you. The prices are beyond reasonable.)
The Beale New Orleans Grille & Bar
In case the name didn’t explain everything, The Beale’s tagline is “Where Every Day is Mardi Gras,” and it might be the only spot to host an annual Fat Tuesday party. So if you aren’t feeling Netflix and Chill tomorrow, head over to South Avenue and pretend you’re in Nawlins. There’s even cornmeal breaded Catfish on the menu.
It’s a cake with a plastic baby hidden inside, I mean - what's not to love? King Cake is another hard-to-find (around here) NOLA favorite. Savoia’s Pastry Shoppe made a batch this year, but call ahead before you stop by - just in case they ran out. And of course, whoever finds the baby in their piece of cake must buy the next cake or throw the next party (brilliant way to keep parties going).
And then, of course, there’s the muffuletta/muffaletta sandwich, which no one seems to consistently spell. Good Luck had a to-die-for version on their menu last year, but if you missed that you can still find it at Stoneyard Brewing Company in Brockport, McAlister’s Deli in Henrietta, Bistro 11 in Victor, and Cravings on Main downtown. (Or make your own if you’re feeling brave.)