New Orleans’ food brings us together

New Orleans continues to be my favorite city in the world, but I can see where many, if not most, don’t see it that way.
The culture, flavor, style, attitude, exuberance, music, diversity, and unabashedness that I love so much, others may find discomforting. There are billions of different opinions in the world and there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, if everyone could just accept that and not think of every difference of opinion as an abomination, the world would be a better place.

Joel McNeece

The one thing I believe the overwhelming majority can agree on when it comes to the Crescent City, is it’s difficult for anyone to challenge the quality and quantity of their restaurant scene. If you love to eat, you have to love New Orleans to some degree.

My wife Lisa and I were fortunate last week to get to return to my beloved city for a couple nights of fun with newspaper friends.
The primary point of the visit was our first night experience at the chef’s table at Commander’s Palace.

Lisa and I have enjoyed the remarkable experience a few other times, but it was a first for Mississippi Press Association Executive Director Layne Bruce and Alabama Press Association Executive Director Felicia Mason.
Bruce native Bill Cook was the first person I knew to have experienced the chef’s table. Since hearing about it from him, Lisa and I have jumped at each opportunity that’s come along.

It’s a u-shaped booth in the middle of the kitchen where you get to watch all the action while also getting your personal chef to cook you exactly what he wants, many of the dishes still in the experimental phase and not a part of the Palace menu.
We struck gold this night and Commander’s Executive Chef and James Beard Award Winner Tory McPhail came over and introduced himself and said he would be cooking for us. He didn’t disappoint. It was another memorable night, which seems to be par for the course in Nola.

I’m as guilty as anyone on my visits of falling into a rut and going back to the same restaurants that I love so much and not spreading it around.
Irene’s is one of those favorites and we had to go back because they had moved from their St. Phillip Street location to Bienville. I had walked through that arched Cypress wood door on St. Phillip and sat in that narrow waiting area, back to the piano player, so many times and loved every second of it. We had to see if the new digs could recapture the same great feeling.

For the most part, it did. It’s bigger, with a lot more elbow room than the old place.
We still waited for our table sitting next to the piano player as she played a number of classics. The only downside was no turtle soup. We learned that’s only a Thursday night thing now and they often sell out.
Other eating stops included brunch at Stanley’s on the northwest corner of Jackson Square – another staple for us – and brunch at the Red Dog Diner a few miles south of the Quarter on Magazine Street.
It was a new one for us and earned high marks for its wood and dog-themed motif and delicious menu, including candied pecan waffle and crusted crab and eggs Sardou.

I should throw in two more stops of ours on the trip – Fine and Dandy and Cantina Laredo – both in the new development at The District at Eastover in Jackson.
Fine and Dandy is a gourmet burger restaurant that we enjoyed very much for lunch on our drive down.

Cantina Laredo describes itself as modern Mexican. We didn’t enjoy it quite as much when we stopped on the drive home, but that’s just our opinion. I’m certain others would love it and there’s nothing wrong with that.
This year is already lining up to be a great one for me as I have another New Orleans visit coming up in a few months when our press association holds our annual convention there.
If the stars align just perfectly, there’s a chance I could even squeeze one more visit in around Jazz Fest.
Laissez les bon temps rouler.