OK, time to get a little bit down about the food. The following will either make you hungry, or make you never want to eat again...
1. Mac & cheese. And I'm not talking about the store-bought stuff here. In one of my last posts, I talked about Ben finding the best fried chicken in New Orleans. Well, it was (see below), but it came with a side of mac & cheese that was truly inspiring, smooth and creamy, the pasta just chewy enough to differentiate it from the mornay-soaked jalapenos.
2. Fried chicken. We sat in a little dive restaurant, the overhead air-conditioning vents dripping on our shoulders, eating the most divine fried chicken ever, with our hands. Moist and flavorful on the inside, with crispy skin and a coating of batter that defied identification. All I know is, it was delicious and yes, the best fried chicken in New Orleans, perhaps in the whole South.
3. Fried green tomato Benedict. Topped with poached egg and super-rich "Creole" hollandaise. Believe me, it was hard to decide between that and the andouille hash, the boudin* Benedict with smothered collards, or the crawfish frittata, but I think we made the right choice. Had we waited a bit longer, it would've been lunchtime, and we could choose between gritcake and collards, rabbit cassoulet and collards (are you getting the pattern?), crab gratin, broiled Brussels sprouts with bacon vinaigrette, blackened alligator with pea cakes, or boudin-stuffed deep-fried hen. (Note to cooking friends: we are making all of these!)
4. BBQ. Miscellaneous places, all yummy, all a bit different, but:
a. Abe's at the Crossroads (Highways 61 and 49) in Clarksdale. Chopped up with cracklin', served with Abe's Comeback Sauce (because you keep comin' back for it).
b. The Pig in Memphis (side dishes OK but boring, pork ribs out of this world, with sweet or spicy sauce).
c. Pappy's Smokehouse, St Louis. You wait in line for up to two hours, hope they don't sell out before you get to the front, and enjoy a little piece of heaven, on the bone or off.
5. Deep-fried Oreos and cream. Exactly what it says it is. Paired with homemade strawberry ice cream, I don't believe there is a better dessert on the planet. Unless it's the whisky-pecan ice cream.
6. Vegetables. Don't laugh. All throughout the South, the closest to a real, honest, not-over-cooked vegetable was potatoes and corn (well, except collards and sometimes they seemed more of an afterthought). Last night, in Chicago, at a place called Topo Gigio -- a plate of pasta with freshly-cooked, perfectly al dente carrots, squash, spinach, peas, snap peas, broccoli, and cauliflower, topped with EVOO, garlic, and capers. Ahhhhh... never have I enjoyed vegetables more. Even the hockey game that broke out on the ice during the fight on TV didn't distract me. Ben had the squid-ink linguine with salmon, shrimp, and scallops, which he says was the best he's ever had. Scallops and shrimp from the ocean, salmon from Scotland.
And now, off to find some more vegetables (or maybe even fresh fruit?!?) in Chicago. If wine counts as grapes, does beer count as ... ?
* Boudin: French-style spicy blood sausage (yummier than it sounds, just trust me on this)