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We savor things a little differently in New Orleans. The city itself has been in a constant existential crisis from its inception. Tattered by hurricanes, floods, and land loss due to climate change, we realize how precarious and precious life is. Our famous joie de vivre is rooted in this – we know it can all be gone tomorrow. So we might linger over a meal a little longer, or have one more drink, or stay for the second set even when we have an early day at work. In crawfish terms, we suck the heads and pinch the tails and make sure we get all the meat out of life. But despite the fact that you can get a delectable meal in everywhere from a gas station or corner store in our city, some bites are more memorable than others.

The Hot Sausage Po’Boy at Vaucresson’s

Vance Vaucresson’s family has been in the sausage making business for over a hundred years. The signature chaurice, or hot sausage, spiked red with paprika and cayenne peppers, is a spicy reminder of the Black Creole heritage of New Orleans’s 7th ward. For years following Hurricane Katrina, the only place to find Vaucresson’s sausage was at a stand on the festival circuit or at Dooky Chase’s restaurant, but now they are back with a a restaurant at the old location on North Roman St. and St. Bernard Avenue, serving up the acclaimed sausage and a host of other Creole specialties. But it is the hot sausage po’boy that keeps us coming back. A simple sandwich, dressed with lettuce, tomatoes and mayonnaise and served on Leidenheimer bread, it is the Platonic ideal of a po’boy. The juicy, spicy sausage is allowed to shine, while the light, crispy bread absorbs the juices, creating its own, secondary condiment. It is always the first thing we wolf down at French Quarter Fest or Jazz Fest, and after a couple years without either festival due to the pandemic, the return of Vaucresson’s felt like a family reunion.

The Praline Stuffed Beignet at Loretta’s Authentic Pralines

Speaking of family, we lost one of our masters earlier this year, Chef Loretta Harrison of Loretta’s Authentic Pralines. From her store on North Rampart and Frenchmen, Harrison produced some of the best sweet and savory creations imaginable, including her signature praline stuffed beignets and her crabmeat stuffed beignets. Fortunately, Harrison’s legacy is being carried on by her family, both at the store on North Rampart and at their location in the French Market. And while everything at Loretta’s is sublime, it is the praline stuffed beignets that consistently wow both visitors and locals alike. The beignet itself has the delicacy of a laminated dough, similar to a croissant, with a crispy exterior and an airy, yielding interior that gives way to a burst of melted praline candy. The entire package is covered in powdered sugar, and while it might sound cloying, the balance is perfect. Other beignets aspire to be Loretta’s, but no one comes close.

Fried Chicken at Li’l Dizzy’s Café

There is fried chicken and there is fried chicken, and then there is Li’l Dizzy’s Café’s fried chicken, which is about as good as it gets. The restaurant, founded by legendary New Orleans restaurateur Wayne Bacquet, and now run by his son, Wayne, Jr., and his wife, Arkesha, is a love letter to the Tremé neighborhood and its Creole cuisine. And while the Creole gumbo and bread pudding are renowned for good reason, it is the fried chicken that brings us back again and again. Fried chicken is often done wrong, and the sins against it are many. Bready, greasy, soggy crusts and overcooked interiors turned out by countless fast food chains have turned many against it. But Li’l Dizzy’s fried chicken is a revelation, or in more New Orleans terms, an epiphany (The Feast of the Epiphany, or 12th Night, is the start of Carnival season). The breading is light, allowing the skin to get crispy as well. This snappy bite is the tin roof to the tender, juicy meat that lies beneath. It is perfectly cooked and seasoned yardbird, with a pleasant saltiness and lingering heat that can only be improved upon with a splash of Crystal hot sauce. And everyone from TV newscasters, cops, rappers, politicians, professional athletes, construction workers, et al. fill the dining room daily to get a piece of it. Because it tastes like home. It’s Janet Baquet’s recipes (wife to Wayne, Sr.) that power Li’l Dizzy’s. The same recipes that can be found in the Baquet Family Cookbook that they sell in the restaurant. But more than a cookbook, it tells the specific history of a Creole family in the Tremé through food. And yes, the fried chicken recipe is in there.

New Orleans is a city that leaves you wanting more. A city where we wake up and think about lunch and dinner before we even have breakfast. We are a communal city, and we delight not only in sharing a meal, but arguing about where the best one can be found. But one thing we can assure you of – you will never go hungry here.

James CullenJames Cullen

Published on December 15, 2022

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