Where Y'Eat: Eating by the Numbers at Jazz Fest

Apr 26, 2012

What happens when your top Jazz Fest picks are on the plate instead of on stage? One hungry fest fan finds out.

For the music lover approaching Jazz Fest, keeping up with just who is playing when and where can be a high-stakes proposition. In fact, I know some particularly organized music heads who produce spreadsheets, the better to chart out their plan in advance, and then spend the day shuttling between stages on their own personal timetable of departure from one and arrival at another. They always seem under the gun, though, fretting that while they’re enjoying one act here they could be missing out on another, potentially life-changing performance over there.

For the food fanatic at Jazz Fest, things are a little different but no less intense. These are the people who, when asked what they saw at the fest that day, start going on about crawfish Monica, catfish Amandine, alligator pie and mango freeze before getting around to Tom Petty or Bonnie Raitt.

For this type of festival goer – and let’s just admit it, there are a lot of us out there – it pays to get organized too, even if we don’t go quite so far as crafting a spreadsheet for our day of eating. Things are a bit easier for us than for the music obsessed, if only because the line-up we’re after tends to stay much the same from year to year. For instance, one of my headliners each year is the cochon de lait po-boy covered in slaw from the Love at First Bite booth, a choice that’s as predictable and traditional for me as closing out the whole fest with the Neville Brothers set for others. I know going into the festival grounds that the deep, dark pheasant, quail and andouille gumbo from the Prejean’s booth will be part of the opening set, and there is no surprise when a fried pastry crawfish sack and a few crawfish beignets get together on my plate. That’s not some spontaneous jam session, but rather a duo I know will come along at every fest.

In fact, sometimes it seems like eating around Jazz Fest is more of a reunion than a revelation, at least once you’ve worked your way through the roster and can pick your perennial favorites. A perfect example is the crawfish sausage po-boy from the Vaucresson family. The Vaucressons are the longest-tenured Jazz Fest food vendors, having been there from the very first fest way back in 1970, and this particular po-boy, with its pork sausage link studded with crawfish and slathered with Creole mustard, is practically a rite of spring.

Still, even if eating around Jazz Fest is old hat to you, some strategizing is in order. For instance, if you arrive at Jazz Fest hungry for something more like breakfast than lunch, there’s an interesting option from Marie’s Sugar Dumplings. This long-time pastry vendor by the Congo Square stage prepares a sweet potato turnover, with a crust as moist and rich as a brownie, a mellow, spiced filling and a sweet, melted glaze over the top. Paired with some café au lait from the Café du Monde booth nearby the day can get properly underway.

It’ll be a busy day too. As the music obsessed race between Jazz Fest stages and watch the clock, we the tireless Jazz Fest food fanatics have to manage our appetites, keep our hands clean and always be prepared for the possibility of an entrée encore.

New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival
April 27-May 6, 2012