Sacred Traditions

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The Irish and Italians celebrate their heritage this month with food aplenty

March is one of my favorite culinary months. Although I am not Catholic, I enjoy St. Patrick’s Day and St. Joseph’s Day for the food-centricity of both occasions.

My beloved late mother-in-law, being a Brady, was of Irish heritage and grew up in the Irish Channel. Although not entirely traditional, no food was more important to her for St. Patrick’s Day than corned beef and cabbage. With a front-row place at the Uptown St. Patty’s Day parade, we were all tasked to catch masses of cabbage, potatoes, carrots (and there was even the random box of Lucky Charms Cereal much to the joy of my teen son) that would become the main course of a Sunday family feast.plate11

All over the Greater New Orleans area, corned beef and cabbage is a St. Patty’s Day restaurant tradition. But this year I’m calling in an order for freshly prepared corned beef from Stein’s Market and Deli where Chef Jay has concocted a delectable, low-on-the-saltiness, mouth-meltingly tender corned beef that has hints of spices, orange and, if I’m not mistaken, the mild hoppy-malty flavor of beer.

For St. Joseph’s Day on March 19, it’s all about the altars honoring St. Joseph for relieving famine in Sicily during the Middle Ages. While predominately an Italian heritage celebration, the feast day is also an important part of the Mardi Gras Indian and Creole tradition—parade, altars and all. Food-laden private and public altars dot the broad local landscape. Traditional dishes laid on the altars (and ultimately served to altar visitors) include cookies, cakes, breads, stuffed artichokes, meatless pasta dishes, vegetable casseroles, fava beans and more. Last year, I made it to nine altars with friends, donating and eating along the way. Check the newspaper listings for altars in St. Bernard Parish (the private altars are incredible) where we hit three or four. In town, I’ll be mourning the loss of the altar and delicious food from Our Lady of Good Counsel, but there will certainly be stops at the altars at St. Joseph’s Church on Tulane Avenue and St. Alphonsus. Angelo Brocato’s has in the past erected an altar in the shop, and of course their cookies (seed cookies, cuccidata, etc.) are tops. That said, I’m freakish for the Italian cookies at Guillory’s Grocery, made by a neighbor lady.

LUNCHTIME
Many area restaurants have added lunch service to their repertoire. Coming into the lunchtime fold is Cafe Giovanni, which beginning this month is offering a three-course meal from noon to 3 p.m. for the stunning price of $14.95. Chef Duke is also offering brunch, complete with live opera singers and Prosecco and mimosas, every Sunday throughout March.plate2

Huevos (featured last month for its breakfast) has started serving lunch. At press time, the menu was still in development, but chef Bart Bell’s brilliant sausages, boudin and other treasures will likely be on the board.

And you can now enjoy tapas anytime as chef Glen Hogh of Vega Tapas Café is now open for lunch Monday through Friday from 11:30 to 2 p.m. Enjoy many of his dinnertime tapas or check out one of his specialty salads or Mediterranean-inspired sandwiches.

THE OTHER MEAL: BRUNCH
Brunch has become a meal I adore. Recent visits to Patois (Laurel and Webster streets) have been stunning for fresh, local fruit-stuffed French toast, meaty grits and grillades, poached eggs atop pulled pork and house-made biscuits, stellar ice creams from pastry chef Mia Calamia and really tangy, satisfying Bloody Bulls, a Bloody Mary, amped up with veal stock (way less salty than beef bouillon)—garnished with house-pickled okra and other vegetables.

Dante’s Kitchen continues to rule Riverbend when it comes to brunch (the roasted duck hash cake and the grilled shrimp and grits rock!), especially since the duo of LeRoy and Aurora Bautista left the contemporary, petite and easygoing Refuel. Who will take the helm? When I know, so will you. Adding to the morning and mid-morning dining spots is Metairie’s City Diner, located in a former Denny’s on the I-10 Service Road at Causeway. Not much on ambience, the place is an up-ticked diner. The served-all-day breakfast is composed of the usual suspects, but the twist is their take on hash browns—a glitzed-up, large and crispy portion covered in a shrimp and andouille cream sauce. It’s crazy-good and over-the-top, but I’m partial to the more sedate Veggie Lovers with peppers, onions, mushrooms and tomatoes.

WHAT’S NEW?
The Sun Ray Grill folks have installed Aloha Sushi Bar into their Warehouse location. Separated by an open-latticed bamboo wall, sushi chef Michael has come up with some fun rolls (Save Our Coast, which is fried oysters, spinach and green onion), fresh fish sourced locally when possible and a fun, beachy vibe that includes a surfboard that serves as a huge, sharable sushi platter.

Between the Bread has opened on St. Charles Avenue across from Lafayette Square. Big sandwiches and salads make up the menu. Favorites from the sandwich board include the market chicken salad with dried cranberries, cream cheese and sour cream mixed with relish and egg and the open-faced smoked salmon that one friend described as “ridiculously huge but incredibly good.”plate3

Finally, Taco San Miguel’s Metairie location has just launched a whole new menu with more than 15 burritos along with taco, chile rellenos and enchilada platters, burgers, breakfast and soups. In the evening, there is a happy hour from 4 to 8 p.m., where the Paloma, a kicked-up margarita, will put you in the mood for Friday and Saturday night live DJ and dancing.

BUY THE BOOK
On March 12, the Crescent City Farmers Market will host a book signing, food and cocktail event at Tulane University Square from 7 to 9 p.m. for the newly released Crescent City Farmers Market Cookbook. Written by local food activist Poppy Tooker, the beautifully photographed book is a compilation of more than 125 seasonal recipes from local chefs, farmers and market-goers.

I recently got a sneak peek at Donald Link’s new cookbook, Real Cajun. Releasing in April, the book is an intimate view of Link’s family food traditions and gorgeous recipes for dishes like smothered pork roast over rice, biscuits, boudin and baked oysters. Holy yum! And Chris Granger’s delicious food photography adds to the hunger factor.