Friday, March 26, 2010

Artery-hardening goodness at Bruno’s Tavern

Not too long ago, I came across a blog called “This is why you’re fat.”  Basically, it was a bunch of user-submitted photos of dishes, either invented or discovered, that would most likely induce heart failure or, at the very least, make you gain 10 pounds after one bite.  For example, a recent post displays a picture of Cadbury Creme Eggs Benedict: sliced doughnuts topped with brownie mix, melted Cadbury Creme Eggs and frosting, garnished with red sprinkles and served with fried pound cake chunks.

Last night, as I ate at Bruno’s Tavern on Maple Street, I was reminded of that blog. This is my 30th cheat, and I am down 54 pounds.

Although Bruno’s has been a bar on the corner of Maple and Hillary since 1934, it was only four years ago, when they moved catacorner from their old location and re-opened, that they began serving food. Only a few short blocks from Tulane University, Bruno’s is definitely a hangout for college students, and the menu reflects that.  I mean, who wouldn’t want to binge on a large order of waffle fries or hot wings after a long night of drinking?  This “Uptown drinking place” also attracts a large number of sports fans with quite a few big screen TVs and a nice selection of beers by the bottle or on tap.

After finally getting the attention of one of the four waitresses standing idly at the bar, John and I selected a table outside on the patio. We scanned the menu, placed our order, and relaxed in the fading light of the setting sun.

Our appetizer, lovingly named Boudreaux Fries, was a large pile of sweet potato French fries topped with roast beef debris, Bleu cheese crumbles, sugared pecans and golden raisins.  As bizarre as that combination sounds, the flavors worked incredibly well together and we found ourselves surprised as we gobbled down this amazing concoction.

Now, as if my fatty adventure could get any better, my burger arrived in all its heart-stopping glory.  The One Eyed Jack is eight ounces of hand-formed, cooked to order burger heaven (and I’m almost positive the meat was marinated in a dark beer) topped with thick-slices of bacon, onion rings, Pepper Jack cheese and a perfectly fried, sunny-side up egg.  When I added my condiments—like I really needed mayo and ketchup—and carefully cut the burger in half, the egg yolk broke and oozed its creamy goodness all over the meat, as well as my hands.

John’s order was also quite good, but a bit healthier.  He chose the Black Jack Chicken Club that featured a blackened chicken breast topped with bacon, Pepper Jack cheese and fried onion rings served on a toasted bun.  Although his entrée was tasty, he said he regretted not ordering a burger after tasting mine.

We were quite full and unable to finish our orders, but we still wanted to try their dessert, a warm Hubig’s pie served with vanilla ice cream.  Unfortunately, they were all out of pies so we simply paid our check and left.  I still wanted something sweet before my cheat night was over, so we decided to get a sno-ball from Queen of the Ball on Oak Street.  This adorable sno-ball shop is hot pink with polka dots, and the owner is a sweet lady who makes you feel at home with her gentle demeanor and classic New Orleans hospitality.

At Queen of the Ball, there are so many incredible flavors to choose from - tiramisu, wedding cake, praline – it’s difficult to pick just one!  I finally ended up with a small Chocolate Cream sno-ball for only $1.50.  I’ve heard this particular shop is famous for its fresh fruit stuffed sno-balls, so I know I’ll be back often when the temperatures rise for late spring and summer.

Even though our dinner wasn’t quite as bad as some of the items you’ll find on “This is why you’re fat,” I am still recovering from it today.  My healthy eating regime must be working, because I can tell that my body doesn’t appreciate the heavy items from last night. It used to be that I wouldn’t notice anything out of the ordinary after a grease-laden meal like that. Either that, or I have finally proven to myself that I am not getting any younger.

Regardless, neither factor will prevent me from indulging again – on occasion! - like we did last night at Bruno’s.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Ignatius Eatery & Grocery: Celebrating New Orleans?

"...When my brain begins to reel from my literary labors, I make an occasional cheese dip."  -John Kennedy Toole (A Confederacy of Dunces)

Toole’s beloved character never invoked in me the desire to eat.  In fact, his crazy antics and foul lack of self-sanitization would actually induce quite the opposite.  Nonetheless, I can understand why a proprietor would choose to name their establishment after Ignatius considering his creator’s fame and association with New Orleans.  Although they didn’t offer any kind of cheese dip, John and I had the pleasure of dining at Ignatius Eatery (4200 Magazine Street) last night for my 29th cheat.  I have held steady to last week’s weigh-in and I am still only down 53 pounds. I seem to be at a standstill lately, but I just have to keep my chin up, continue pressing onward and I know I will eventually reach my goal.

We stepped into the small restaurant and easily found a table at around 6:30 p.m.  The tiny eatery was only half-full and we took a little time to enjoy the décor.  Ignatius has styled itself an eatery and grocery offering local food items like several flavors of Zapp’s Potato Chips, cans of Tony’s, and huge jars of Zataran’s Creole Mustard among others, the only glaring omission being Hubig Pies.  We ordered a couple of Abita’s, which were served to us in brown paper bags to catch the condensation and although the idea was cute, I kind of felt like an alcoholic who had to hide his habit. My personal paranoia’s aside, I still enjoyed the local theme of the décor.

After leisurely perusing the menu, John and I narrowed down our selections, none of which were a po-boy.  I realize Ignatius is mainly a sandwich shop, but since we were there for dinner, we thought it appropriate to try out their more formal entrees.  After a short wait, our server brought out some sliced French bread (also served in a brown paper bag) and a carafe of warm water with two small glasses.  I thought it was odd that there was no ice, but someone mentioned that the beverages were served “Camp Street Style.”  I am not sure what that means so feel free to comment and teach me a thing or two!  Does it just mean no ice?

While we munched on some bread, our server came out with our appetizers: a bowl of Plantation Chicken & Sausage Gumbo and some Grilled Alligator Sausage.  Aside from the temperature (lukewarm), I thought the gumbo was quite tasty.  I had never tried a gumbo made with a golden roux and found it pleasantly nutty and creamy.  The alligator sausage, cut into slices and grilled up till almost crispy, was served with vinaigrette coleslaw and a small dish of Creole mustard for dipping.  The sausage was delightful and I am sure I would come back to order the po-boy version of this appetizer.

For our entrees, John selected the Boudin Stuffed Meatloaf and I chose their Fish Magnolia.  Now, I have never been a fan of meatloaf, but John’s dish was delicious!  It was a house made meatloaf stuffed with Poche’s pork and jalapeno boudin served atop a creamy horseradish sauce.  My dish was tilapia pan sauteed in buerre-blanc and topped with crawfish tails, bell pepper, and tomatoes.  Unfortunately, I found the flavor of the dish to be frightfully bland.  Perhaps the chef was experiencing an “off-day” but the buerre-blanc (literally translated as “white butter”) was completely devoid of butter!  The sauce was the both the flavor and consistency of water.  I hope this isn’t the customary preparation for their most expensive entrée ringing in at $17.95.

At last it was time for dessert and since our server was gushing about the bread pudding, we ordered it.  It came out steaming hot and in a shape I’d never seen before, kind of like a large softball.  Although it tasted nice and had good texture, the sauce was again missing butter.  Perhaps the restaurant mysteriously ran out?  I just can’t comprehend any restaurant “Celebrating Everything NOLA” lacking sauces heavy with butter.  It just seems blasphemous.

I am willing to return and try their po-boys, since every restaurant has its strengths and weaknesses. Ignatius has already been praised as the best lunch place and it is quite possible their po-boys will simply blow me away.  Finally, in keeping with their theme, I think it would be hilarious if they served cheese dip, Lucky Dogs, bologna sandwiches and Hubig Pies on occasion in honor of their namesake.  I’m sure Ignatius would get quite a kick out of it…especially if it was comped.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Alfresco dining at The Rum House

One of the finest aspects of our tropical climate is the ability to enjoy the pleasures of sidewalk dining.  Over the past week, the weather has been getting warmer, my smiles have been getting broader, and all I want to do is open my arms wide and welcome the beauty and warmth of springtime.  Last night, John and I visited The Rum House on Magazine Street in the early evening just after work.  We decided to sit outside on the wide banquette to enjoy the warm, almost spring-like weather and watch the busy people and traffic roll by while we ate.  This is my 28th cheat, and I am down a total of 53 pounds.

For any odd number of reasons, I never noticed The Rum House before while traveling up and down Magazine Street.  Finally, after enthusiastic co-workers mentioned the restaurant time and again, I decided it was finally time I visited this most popular local dining destination.

I must admit, when we walked into the restaurant and I looked around at the décor, I was almost positive this establishment was a chain… but apparently I was wrong.  The owners were seeking to create a sort of Caribbean paradise smack in the middle of New Orleans where diners could luxuriate to the sounds of reggae music and imbibe fruity, colorful cocktails at their leisure.  They certainly succeeded.

Since it is a “Rum House,” I thought it only appropriate we try some of their signature, tropical cocktails from the beverage menu.  Giggling over the drink names, I selected a Coconut Chocolate Thunder, and John opted for a Jamaican Me Crazy.  My drink was a frozen blend of Kahlua, Cruzan Dark Rum, Crème de Cocoa, Cruzan Blackstop and Crème de Coconut topped heavily with whipped cream.  John’s Jamaican Me Crazy was a fruity combination of Appleton Gold Rum, Malibu Passion Fruit Rum, House Made Fruit Punch and Crème of Coconut. Both drinks were delicious, although nowhere near as strong as I expected.  I’m used to the heavy-handed pours of most bartenders in New Orleans.

So many of the appetizers looked tasty, like Conch & Sweet Potato Fritters, but we finally decided on the Mahi Mahi Fingers. The fish was deep fried in a Jamaican-style beer batter and served in a cute, paper tub lined with parchment paper to soak up the oil. Alongside of it was a small dish of honey-ginger dipping sauce. We couldn’t have been more pleased with our selection, and we quickly devoured the delicious fingers, loving the flavor of the beer batter combined with the spicy sweet sauce.

After much deliberation, John chose the Taco Trifecta for his entrée and I selected the Island Style “Cuban Steak.”  With John’s entrée, he was able to select three of their specialty tacos along with one side item.  He chose the Chili Glazed Shrimp, Cuban Pork and Flaked Fish tacos with a side of Black Beans with Chorizo Relish.  My favorite from his trio was the shrimp, which was also beer battered and deep-fried with a rum chili glaze.  It was decadent and delicious!

My entrée was a tender flank steak swimming in a ginger soy pineapple marinade, served with black beans and a big scoop of cornbread dressing.  The steak was well seasoned and sweet all the way through to the center.  I almost wished I had some sort of bread to soak up the sauce, but I was quite full after finishing my steak.

Although we inquired about dessert, our server seemed dismayed over the limited choices, and I figured if he couldn’t get excited about their sweets, neither could I!  John and I figured that our drinks served us well as a dessert item, so we simply paid our check and headed home.

It had been a delightful meal, sitting under the balcony, watching the people go by, and we enjoyed the stroll back to our car.  I simply can’t wait for the weather to get even steamier, when you’ll find us again sipping frosty cocktails and munching on appetizers at a table in front of The Rum House.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Finally visiting Elizabeth’s: “It’s about damn time!”

For several years now, both friends and coworkers have been regaling the divine feasts to be had at Elizabeth’s Restaurant in the Bywater.  I can’t tell you how many times it has been a planned destination, but some strange fate, event, catastrophe or other zaniness has prevented me from actually going.  Last night, for my 27th cheat, John and I finally made it to Elizabeth’s.  I have now lost a total of 52 pounds.

Although most folks highly recommended Elizabeth’s for brunch, I decided to try their dinner menu instead.  Let me just say, I will definitely be back to try brunch.  Elizabeth’s tag line is “Real food done real good,” and I can’t argue with reason.

Arriving just at dusk with the sun setting behind the levee, John and I strolled into the quaint neighborhood restaurant right when they opened for dinner.  Located on the corner of Gallier and Chartres Streets, Elizabeth’s is an unassuming, comfortable establishment frequented by locals who probably live just around the corner.  Although we were the first diners on the scene, many patrons filed in immediately after us, quickly filling the large dining room.

We started out with some drinks and ordered an appetizer from the “specials” menu that seemed almost as expansive as the regular menu.  Although we were a little overwhelmed by all the choices, we decided to try their Baked Oysters.  Now, I know this may be sacrilege for a food writer to utter these words, but I am not a huge fan of foie gras.  To me, it mostly tastes like pure fat.  But I held my tongue and when the oyster dish came out, I did my best to give it an unbiased taste and found myself pleasantly surprised.  The oysters were baked with a “Truffle Foie Gras Mayo,” and I must say I enjoyed it!  Perhaps foie gras isn’t so awful when combined with mayonnaise and truffle oil?  Regardless, it was delicious and cooked only enough to heat the dish through, no rubbery oysters here!

After easily demolishing the appetizer, our entrees came out from the kitchen.  I ordered the Panned Pork Loin with shrimp and crab cream sauce and John got the Panned Rabbit Hind Quarter with Black Peppercorn Brandy Sauce.  Both proved to be huge portions that we were unable to finish, but it wasn’t from a lack of effort!  The pork loin was tender and juicy and the batter had a nice, spicy crunch.  With every entrée, you get two sides and I elected to have bacon braised cabbage plus their sweet potato casserole, both of which were delicious and very filling.

John’s rabbit was equally tasty and juicy, and it also proved to be quite a bit of meat!  I had never tasted the “hind-quarter” before and I really enjoyed the “white meat” flavor and dense texture along with their incredible batter.  John selected the red beans & rice and mashed potatoes for his sides (of course!), and I found the beans to be delectable, spicy and most definitely homemade.

Our leftovers filled an entire to-go box, but I still needed to try dessert!  I chose the New Orleans Pecan Pie, and am pleased to say it has to be one of the best pecan pies I have ever eaten… and that’s including my own!  Topped with freshly whipped cream, John and I fought over the final bites left on the plate.  Stuffed to the gills, John and I waddled out of yet another wonderful New Orleans restaurant.  I was so glad I had the chance, at last, to visit Elizabeth’s after so many excellent recommendations and I was equally pleased that it lived up to its reputation.  Now I simply can’t wait to go there for brunch!