Although Louisiana is lucky enough to avoid snow-filled winters, chilly weather manages to sneak in from time to time. The best way to warm up on a cold day is to take part in one of the Big Easy’s favorite pastimes: eating. Among the city’s most quintessential foods is gumbo. Although gumbo is a simple mixture of savory soup stock, vegetables and either seafood or meat, no two are alike. Locals have their favorite ways to cook it, but most agree that the first essential step to making a delicious gumbo is a good “roux.” The word roux (pronounced ROO) is the French term for the classic sauce stock that creates the base of all gumbos.
For one of the most enjoyable fine-dining experiences in New Orleans, head to Antoine’s, located in the French Quarter and the oldest family-run restaurant in the country. Be sure to try the creole gumbo, a traditional and wonderfully satisfying gumbo with blue crab, oysters and gulf shrimp. Adventurous diners should try the alligator bisque, a true crowd pleaser.
Elsewhere, the cocktail bar Kingfish is a good pick for those looking for a modern yet low-key French Quarter dining spot. The bar gets its moniker from the nickname of populist Louisiana Governor and U.S. Senator Huey P. Long, known affectionately as The Kingfish. Brick walls and simple wood furniture help transport patrons back to the 1930s to the time of Long’s reign. Executive chef and Louisiana native Nathan Richard highlights the best meats the region has to offer in his innovative dinner menus, whose dishes pair well alongside crafted cocktails. Good selections include the Louisiana Sportsman’s Gumbo made with Crowley popcorn rice, and the sweet potato bisque prepared with crispy Acadian ham and onion puree.
Hearty and aromatic Asian soups, meantime, can be found at the perennially popular Mid-Town Chinese restaurant Five Happiness, which offers a comfortable atmosphere with traditional Chinese art decorating the walls, plus large, open rooms perfect for big groups. A family-sized portion of this dining den’s combination seafood soup is a great way to warm up on a chilly day in New Orleans. Other popular staples include egg drop-, wonton-, and sweet-and-sour soups.
True foodies who enjoy a “slow, food-style menu” should stop by Bayona in the French Quarter. This cozy, converted cottage offers indoor and outdoor seating for guests. Bold flavors from around the world help inspire owner-chef Susan Spicer’s seasonally changing menu, while locally sourced ingredients are employed to make memorable and beautifully presented dishes. For instance, the roasted garlic soup, served during lunch, is a buzzworthy highlight.
Considering Louisiana is world famous for its shrimp, oysters and crab, out-of-town diners looking to savor some of the area’s freshest seafood should head to Grand Isle Restaurant, located a short walk from the New Orleans Convention Center, to warm up with a cup of smoked-fish chowder. Those who want to try a roux to be reckoned with should order the chicken and house-made andouille gumbo. FYI: Andouille (pronounced an-DOO-ee), is a savory smoked-pork sausage brought to Louisiana by French immigrants and Acadian (or Cajun) exiles from Nova Scotia.
On a cold and gloomy winter day, Broussard’s is just the restaurant to lift your spirits. The bright, open dining rooms filled with ornate chandeliers give patrons a truly classic, fine-dining experience. Broussard’s offers a mix of Creole and classic French cuisine, with a rotating menu that reflects fresh, seasonally available ingredients. Not to miss is the shellfish bisque, a perfect way to start your meal, which offers a delightful combination of sweet and savory. Another classic New Orleans dish is bananas Foster.
Originating from the famed Brennan’s Restaurant located a few blocks away from the Mississippi River, Brennan’s offers traditional New Orleans faire in the most traditional way possible. A good example is turtle soup, for which the restaurant is justifiably famous, which arrives at the table lightly seasoned yet bold in Louisiana-born flavors. In winter months the turtle soup is especially satisfying and warming since a hefty splash of sherry is added as a final touch.
Whether you are looking for a casual, low-key dining experience or some of the finest dining in the country, New Orleans has something to offer for everyone. Although things may slow down in the Big Easy in the winter months, you can always be assured that there will be wonderful, warm soups to enjoy at restaurants around the city.
By Kristine Lupoff