New Orleans is an embarrassment of riches in its food and music culture, as thousands of Super Bowl correspondents are currently reporting to the folks back home. One blessing from living in food and music central is the level of expertise to be found sitting right next to you on any given night. Since two of my BFF's are experts, or BFE's, it's a good week share the latest news from their palates and eardrums. I asked Colleen Rush and Marc Stone for a bucket list of food and music respectively, and here are their choices:
Colleen Rush, author of Low & Slow BBQ, Master the Art of BBQ in 5 Easy Lessons and The Mere Mortal's Guide to Fine Dining, and contributor to publications from Gourmet Live to Coastal Living has 5 favorites as current as they are varied. Anyone who advises you to shut up and eat the lamb neck has only your best interests at heart:
Modern, playful, ethnic-but-still-NOLA menu that isn't just smoke and mirrors - chef Phillip Lopez is at the top of the new generation of New Orleans chefs. Love the aloo gobi, and the house-made charcuterie list (morcilla, in particular) is one of the best in the city.
Restaurant R'evolution at the Royal Sonesta Hotel
The most ambitious restaurant opening New Orleans has seen in years, from Louisiana chef John Folse and Chicago chef Rick Tramonto, R'evolution covers Cajun/Creole history, geography and gastronomy from a modern perspective. A few things stand out: Wine director Molly Wismeier's list, Tramonto's in-house aged steaks from Allen Brothers (on display in the restaurant's Market Room), and the restaurant itself -- a beautiful space to unburden your wallet.
Killer Po-Boys in the back of the Erin Rose bar
There's a Po-Boy 2.0 thing happening in New Orleans, and Killer Po-Boys is one of the ringleaders. You'd never guess this dive bar a few feet away from Bourbon is home to some of the most inventive, tasty po-boys in the city right now. Don't think twice. Order one of everything.
Two of my favorite places in New Orleans - Chef Chris DeBarr's Green Goddess and Ed Diaz's Bar Tonique - got married and had this baby. Not as dive-y charming as her parents, but Serendipity delivers the same far-out culinary meanderings and spot-on cocktails, and one of the city's most interesting and affordable wine lists.
What the physical restaurant lacks in personality (and sound-proofing) it more than makes up for in meat domination. Solid charcuterie list, followed by meat, and more meat (porchetta, confit chicken thighs, double-cut pork chop). No concessions are made for vegans or food nit-pickers. Shut up and eat the lamb neck.
Marc Stone, a full time blues and roots guitarist and bandleader in his own right, has worked with many New Orleans greats and shares their music on the soundtrack of New Orleans, WWOZ-FM 90.7. Just back from a European tour, Marc's as much a popular local disc jockey as he is a music historian. Here are his 5 don't-miss performers of New Orleans music:
The greatest blues singer I have ever worked with, the Real Blues incarnate. Younger brother of the late, great Freddie King and uncredited co-creator of Freddie's classic "Hideaway". He moved to Chicago from Texas in 1955 and played with all of the innovators of Chicago blues - Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Elmore James, Little Walter and of course extensively with Freddie until Freddie's untimely death in 1976. He is heard on many of Freddie's classic live recordings and sings and plays bass with all of the soul and brilliant phrasing of his older brother, just in a deeper register. He was also band leader for New Orleans Blues Queen Marva Wright for over 20 years. One of the last of the originators of electric Blues, an absolute must see.
Walter "Wolfman" Washington
Indescribably brilliant and unique guitarist, vocalist and bandleader. His approach is drenched in blues, soul and and jazz. His musical style is completely his own, eschewing any of the cliches of New Orleans music like second line beats, but as pure New Orleans as anything you've ever heard, and funkier than a mosquito's tweeter. A true spiritual messenger of music.
Henry Butler - solo piano
Henry no longer lives in New Orleans, but any chance to see this man in front of a good piano where his expansive genius is free to roam is a mind blowing and intensely soulful experience.
Mardi Gras Indian practice or Super Sunday/St. Joseph's Day/Mardi Gras Day
To witness the amazing, "only-in-New Orleans" cultural phenomenon either in the dark neighborhood bars where the African American social groups known as Indian Gangs gather to rehearse their chants, songs and moves, or on the few special days when all of the Mardi Gras Indian gangs take to the street in their full regalia of gorgeous and intricate feather and bead suits, is a must for anyone who wants to experience all of the mystery and soul of New Orleans culture.
A second line parade with any or all of the great Brass Bands
The true heart and soul of New Orleans, out in the street. One of the most amazing communal experiences of music and dance you will ever witness.
I would add Dr. John to music and SoBou to food, as lagniappe.