Sep 6, 2016

A gathering of great eats at the NOLA FoodFest

To many people who live in and around New Orleans, there are only three seasons -- summer season, hurricane season and -- my favorite -- festival season.  The height of what most might consider festival season begins with Mardi Gras, continues through French Quarter Festival and culminates with the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival (more commonly known as Jazz Fest).  

To be fair, the New Orleans festival calendar is pretty full year-round.  But a relative newcomer wedged between the springtime heavyweights is gaining traction.  It’s called FoodFest, and it celebrates not only the great tastes of Louisiana but some of the best and best-known local eateries throughout the country.  And, as fate would have it, FoodFest was taking place the very same weekend Punky and I came to town on our honeymoon road trip.

FoodFest began in 2009 as the New Orleans Roadfood Festival with inspiration from my favorite city and one of my favorite foodie websites.  In fact, Roadfood was one of my many inspirations for this blog.  So, to say I was happy to finally attend is an understatement.

To accommodate FoodFest, New Orleans allows the festival to set up at Spanish Plaza, one of the most recognized landmarks in downtown New Orleans.  It’s just a naturally ideal gathering point and central to many of the city’s best tourist attractions.  We arrived there just as the Saturday lunch crowd was gathering.  An abundance of food flavors were already mingling in the air.  The only hard choices would be what to try and how much to eat without feeling miserable later.

For instance, do I try Woody’s Fish Tacos or sample some authentic Texas barbecue brisket from the Salt Lick?  

The line was initially shorter at Woody’s, so I ordered a blackened fish taco and admired the tortillas and the bucket of slaw that would eventually become part of the finished product.  

Trust me, the finished product tasted significantly better than this looks.  I should know by now that I can’t eat and take pictures at the same time.  Suffice to say, this was one of the best fish tacos I’ve had anywhere.

With Salt Lick so close, and the smell and sight of their sizzling pork ribs as encouragement, I didn’t have to go far for my second course.

But since I had already talked up Salt Lick’s brisket from past experience, I had to “settle” for the beef.

Punky approved.  It may have helped that she had found a great resting spot in front of the fountain to people watch.  

It doesn't get more New Orleans than a boiling cauldron of gumbo.
That’s mostly what we did for the next hour or so … watch the people and watch the culinary artists at their craft ...

... and enjoy the live music and the river view behind the stage.

Unfortunately, some of the stands weren’t operational so early in the day.  Punky has a thing for a good grilled cheese, so she was disappointed that we did not get to try The Big Cheezy …

And I still haven’t had a proper meat pie since I last visited Natchitoches almost 20 years ago.  Lasyone’s remains on my must-try list.

However, I was thrilled to finally have the opportunity to taste Gus’s Fried Chicken from Memphis.  Ironic that with all the trips I’ve made to Memphis, it took a trip to New Orleans to sample Gus’s.  And it did not disappoint.  Its reputation is well earned, and it was among the best fried chicken I’ve ever had.

That’s the beauty of FoodFest -- if you’ve missed out on some of the great road foods in the country, FoodFest brings many of them to you, all in one convenient place.  It’s a great concept for foodies who love food made the old fashioned way instead of mass-produced blandness that is so common in chain restaurants.  Plus, FoodFest is free to attend.  Well, the food isn’t free, but the samples are nicely sized and affordable.  

Not that you need another reason to go to New Orleans, but if you happen to be in town next year when FoodFest is happening, it’s worth your time to check it out.  

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