New Orleans Jazz Fest is less than one week away. Although I have attended more than a dozen times I still get excited about the food at this festival. Let me first tell you, there are no hotdogs or hamburgers. At this festival there are over seventy food booths that reflect Louisiana’s culture. Carnivores, seafood lovers, and even vegetarians have options. Don’t worry if you have a sweet tooth. Jazz Fest has you covered. There is a little something for everyone.
Let’s get right to the heart of the subject! The one dish I automatically connect to Louisiana is gumbo. Possibly my favorite gumbo of all New Orleans is served at the fairgrounds by Prejeans Restaurant located in Lafayette, Louisiana. Their gumbo consists of pheasant, quail, and andouille sausage. The gumbo is perfectly spiced and the game birds make it a much richer flavor than if plain chicken is used.
A popular sandwich of New Orleans is the po’boy. Most people are familiar with the traditional roast beef or fried seafood po’boys. There are two po’boys at the festival that cannot be missed. First the Cochon de Lait po’boy from Walker’s Southern BBQ. A light French roll is filled with tender smoked pork shoulder layered on top of a creamy mustard based coleslaw. Next, the Cajun Duck po’boy from Crescent Catering. Slow roasted duck, cooked tender on a crunchy slaw with horseradish sauce with a couple dabs of hot sauce. TO DIE FOR!!!
During the spring crawfish are plentiful in New Orleans. Of course they are featured at the fairgrounds. Smitty’s Seafood Restaurant from Kenner, Louisiana serves up ample portions of “mudbugs”. The spice factor is perfect. Over 2000 pounds of crawfish are cooked each day. Don’t worry, if it’s your first time eating crawfish any local will be willing to show you how.
One of the fancier dishes comes from Patton’s Caterers of Chalmette, Louisiana. The Combo consisting of a crawfish sack, oyster patties and crawfish beignets is gourmet level food served on a paper plate. The crawfish sack is a little pouch of fried goodness, stuffed with a crawfish mixture. The oyster patty resembles two hollowed out buttermilk biscuits filled with a creamy oyster gravy stacked on top of each other. The crawfish beignet is fried and covered in lemon tartar sauce.
Perhaps the most refreshing treat is the Mango Freeze sold by local roots radio station WWOZ as a station fundraiser. I crave this sorbet style treat all year. The temperature during Jazz Fest can reach into the mid-eighties with high humidity. There is nothing tastier than this sweet, tart, icy cold, cup of goodness! Typically 375 gallons of Mango Freeze are sold a day. Produced at Quinten’s Ice Cream. The Mango Freeze will generate between $30-50,000 per year in support of the station.
I usually eat healthy all year round. I often say I do this so I can eat anything I’d like during Jazz Fest. One item I look forward to is cracklins! Cracklins are fried pork skin, fat, and meat. These are not pork rinds or pork skins bought at the grocery store. Cracklins take fried pork to another level. Fatty’s Cracklins make the treats in 40 gallon caldrons of bubbling oil. What type of oil? Lard! The crispy, salty, crunchy treats are seasoned to perfection and served warm. They are decadent and they most definitely are not good for you BUT they are addicting. Grab a bag of cracklins, a beer and head over to the blues tent. Heaven!
Okay, maybe after a few days at Jazz Fest you are feeling a bit guilty and think you should have a piece of fruit. In recent years Mr. Okra has brought his mobile fruit and vegetable stand to the fairgrounds. Mr. Okra is a New Orleans institution. He drove through the streets of New Orleans for decades selling fruit and vegetables from his brightly colored truck. He would bellow the list of produce available from a CB radio and loudspeaker mounted on his truck. Although he is not a singer or performer he was probably one of the most recognizable voices of New Orleans. Unfortunately Mr. Okra passed away in February. We can only hope that Jazz Fest brings back his truck.
I can spend all day writing about the food of New Orleans. When you are at Jazz Fest make sure you leave yourself some time to sample all the food. There are close to seventy food booths to choose from. There is a little something for everyone!
Now that we know which bands are playing this year’s Jazz Fest, and we know the festivals history, and what to eat, I think it’s time to listen to some of the music of the festival!