Randall Layman, a bartender at Vesta Dipping Grill, is just back from New Orleans, where he attended his first Tales of the Cocktail. We'll be printing his dispatches -- starting with this one -- all week.
When I first visit a city, I always find my mind focused on one thing: Food. Having spent half of my life working in restaurants, I know that restaurants make me feel at home even when I am very far away. Besides, eating your way through a city is a far more exciting way to learn about where you are than a sweaty bus tour surrounded by people wearing fanny packs and visors.
Finding local fare that doesn't exist in the Queen City is always a blast -- but the food scene in New Orleans is incredible.Grits, po' boys, crawfish, boudin -- the list of amazing regional food that is anything but ubiquitous here in the Rockies could go on for days. Even in the madness of the French Quarter, a great meal is only about a block away.
The Green Goddess was on almost all of the lists of must-eat restaurants that people gave me, and it doesn't disappoint. I order the Acadian Country Breakfast: grilled boudin patty on a sweet potato biscuit with pepper jelly and a side of grits. Every bite reminds me that I'm certainly not in the West anymore. Boudin is a sausage made of pork liver, hearts, rice and Cajun spices -- and it's the perfect way to start off my day.
After breakfast, we pop into voodoo shops and absinthe boutiques, and then my wife and I get in some pool time before heading to Cochon and Butcher for dinner. Located in the Warehouse district just outside of downtown, Cochon and Butcher -- which are next door to each other -- both feature rustic foods prepared in the Cajun tradition.
Butcher is the first stop, for a glass of wine and some charcuterie. Pork rillette, lonza, capicola and gaunciale are all reminiscent of the cured meats plate back home at Vesta.
Leaving the deli atmosphere of Butcher for the packed and lively Cochon, we're excited to get some Southern comfort food. We start with boudin balls, crawfish pie and fried alligator in chili garlic aioli (now I know where all the stuffed gator heads in the gift shops come from), then follow with smoked rabbit with dumplings for our entree and lemon buttermilk pie for dessert. Everything is better than I'd hoped.
One of my favorite parts of dinner is the tattoo that reads "Fried Chicken" on one of the manager's arms. Matty Selby would be proud. In fact, Cochon makes me think of some of the best meals I've had in Denver, featuring food from chefs who want to recapture the dishes their parents and grandparents made for them when they were young.
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After dinner, back in the Quarter, we step into Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop to pick up a drink for the stroll back to the hotel. I order a Pimm's Cup from the bartender who's working in the dark, behind the heavy bartop.
"You want that with vodka or gin?" he asks.
"Uhh, gin???" I reply.
The exchange is a quick reminder that ordering a cocktail in a dive bar isn't the best move. Next time, I'll have an Abita.