Out of the Blues

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Lift your mood and inspire the palate: Discover a world of exciting new foods and restaurants I’ve had a terrible case of the food blahs. When that happens, and it’s not often, I hit as many unusual markets (Asian, Latin, international) and new restaurants as I can, to re-invigorate. Here’s how I cured my most recent culinary blues.

out0of-the-bluesBROAD STREET BOOM

Jetting up and down Broad Street is a daily chore for me, traveling from my son’s high school to home. Generally speaking, I pay scant attention to the Tulane and Broad intersection, as it tends to be a wee sad, seedy and uninteresting. Recently, however, a bright ketchup-and-mustard-colored sign caught my attention. A new Café Reconcile–like project for “at-risk youths” has a cafe rightly called Liberty’s Kitchen Cafe & Coffee House. Inside, there is a low-key Starbucks installation, local folk art on the walls, young people hard at work, a full menu of breakfast and lunch items and a case on the counter loaded with tasty pastries, including fat, triangle-shaped scones and the version speckled with cheddar, ham and scallion. I’ve been back several times for the tender, smoky-salty-herby things that taste like a buttery ham-and-cheese sandwich, all in one. At lunch, red beans and rice with andouille sausage special is super comforting, tasty, musky, messy and served with a giant fluffy biscuit for mopping up extra “bean juice.” Or maybe a sandwich calls out. For me, it’s the Asiago roast beef, all textural (chewy, gooey) and meaty, creamy and brash with hand-carved roast beef, Asiago cheese and horseradish cream. The side of cowboy caviar (a cool black-eyed-pea salad) rocked my world, as did the kids in the kitchen, who take extreme pride in their work and on Thursdays, create and prepare a daily hot plate. Kudos to the gang at Liberty’s Kitchen for fine and delicious work!

Just down the street, a rather snazzy restaurant has opened. Gild’s Steakhouse (300 S. Broad Street), a swank spot in a nicely renovated double, prettily appointed and bearing a menu that will appeal to the area’s lawyers, judges and politicos. I can easily see this place becoming the Ruth’s Chris replacement. On the menu are steaks, seafood, Italian dishes and a few lunchy salads, sandwiches and specials. A full bar rounds out the place, and take note, it’s still early, so give the place a chance to “get the pots dirty,” so to speak.

Across the side street from Gild’s is my happiest find to date—but someone else actually found it. My pal Alex was listening to me moan about not being able to find Cotija cheese for a recipe I wanted to replicate, when he said, “Have you been to Ideal?” No, no, I hadn’t. Now it’s become a second home. Ideal Discount Market (250 S. Broad) is a gorgeous beige-colored, stucco behemoth with flashy, colored signs that I’d somehow passed many times and never noticed. Inside is a sparkling clean grocery store, jam-packed with Latin foodstuffs, ripe produce, a giant case filled with various styles of chicharones, a hot lunch line, a massive cheese case—I could go on. Want a delicious, cane sugar–spiked Mexican Coke, Pepsi or Fanta? They’re here, icy cold in tall glass bottles. Looking for Cotija cheese to crumble, or excellently melty Oaxaca cheese? It’s in the case, along with all sorts of frozen root veggies, fruits, meat pies and more. A lunch plate of cross-cut beef ribs, rice, potato salad and fresh, handmade corn tortillas (they also make pupusas) was easy on the wallet and delicious. I love, love, love this place. Thanks, Alex!

TOO-COOL-FOR-SCHOOL SNACKS

I have transferred my odd obsession with crazy-flavored snack foods to my son. He too now craves the latest M&M’s (coconut), Green Tea Kit Kats, wacky candy from World Market and the chips our British pals bring to us in lamb and mint, roasted chicken, and even “Cajun squirrel” flavors. We just discovered Poore Brothers Mole Potato Chips at World market. The bags reads “intensely different,” and the chips taste all potato, chocolate and chile. Yep, they’re different all right and not exactly our favorite. We also love hitting the Asian markets for unusual snacks and odd flavors of Pocky Sticks (wheat cookie sticks dipped in tasty chocolates or other flavored coatings), and our latest craving is Chocorooms, “a splendid chocolaty combination and crispy cracker,” which look like mushrooms.

WHAT’S NEW

Scooters Chicken is a new, Louisiana business with a familiar feel. Fried chicken and chicken strips in original or “Xtreme,” with sides of mac ’n’ cheese, red beans and rice, “Yumbalaya,” to name a few, along with a really decadent Apple Delight Biscuit for dessert. The creation of local guy Brandon J. Hidalgo, a fast-food-industry veteran, Scooters (with three stores and two more coming soon!) is drawing notice from fried chicken–loving media personalities who extol the virtues of the chicken, the sides and the honey-buttered cheese biscuits. Cholesterol concerns? Scooters offers seasoned, rotisserie chicken—tender, juicy and a dynamite value at $10 for a whole bird, one large side and four biscuits. As the latest addition to the fast-food canon, Scooters is pretty damn good, if a bit rough on one’s figure. The late and beloved Al Copeland Sr. would be applauding this guy—and trying to buy him out. The food’s that good.

A blast from the past, Flamin’ Burger has returned with a store on Williams Boulevard in Kenner. The burgers (and hot dogs) are no longer “flamed” as they once were; they’re fried on a griddle. Toppings are free (I especially like the fiery roasted jalapeños), the buns are a proprietary recipe, eggy and soft; fries are hand-cut crispy shoestring that come piled together in small and large cups. A chili-cheese version is on the menu but fair warning, about the use of liquid cheese: a serious mistake if you ask me. The spicy ketchup-barbecue sauce is a delicious house signature as are “hand-scooped milkshakes.”  Quirky, Flamin’ Burgers’ über-clean space and insistence on your cleanliness comes complete with a visible-from-the-dining-room hand-washing station. Like others, as I waited for my number to be called, I got in line to wash up. It’s hands only in the automated machine. I know, because I asked if I could wash my feet too.