Everyone knows you should go to Jazz Fest ready to eat. But no one says you have to show up starving. And on the way back out, I’ve found it’s smart to have a little room left in the tank too, to be ready for those opportune eats on the streets.
As much as I crave the food inside Jazz Fest, some of the most memorable quick bites I find this time of year usually come from the periphery outside the Fair Grounds too.
Some of this is the home cooking of enterprising neighbors, cashing in on the crowds that crash their blocks. Naturally, this is an unpredictable lineup, but I usually manage to find barbecue off a grill slapped on white bread, pralines wrapped in plastic sandwich bags and lemonade in paper cups (sometimes spiked). It’s the sort of grassroots New Orleans food and drink that lines parade routes. It's not exactly sanctioned of course, but among all the unsanctioned things that flourish in New Orleans anyway, I’m counting street food after Jazz Fest as a plus.
And then there's the food from neighborhood cafes and bars making the best of a festival rhythm that simultaneously brings tides of people past their doors and cuts off much of their normal business. Many of them convert to street food mode, host pop-ups or otherwise improvise.
I’m not suggesting anyone who’s going to Jazz Fest skip the food inside. Personally I plan my day around Jazz Fest dishes the way others schedule the bands they'll see. But what makes this more than just another music event is the way it carries on outside the festival grounds.
In fact, I've started to look at the entire Jazz Fest neighborhood as it's own stage, an after party set that’s strung between pocket parks and verdant blocks and the cloistered colorful bends of an irregular city grid. When the sun starts sinking, it always makes me want to linger here in the afterglow. Properly supplied with a cold drink and a something tasty to eat along the way, this is always a headliner experience for me.