Dining trends and new concepts can be exciting, but for some New Orleans expats the food priorities are all from the past. The holiday season is their time to reconvene with familiar flavors, and that time is limited. Don't get in their way.
For those interested in the latest from the realm of food and restaurants, these have been exciting times around New Orleans. There have been so many new eateries, new flavors and hot trends turning up, it’s been hard just to keep track of them, never mind try them all.
But for another sort of avid eater out there, none of this new stuff matters. And yet, this is the time when many of them still have their hands full in pursuit of their own particular food passions.
This other type of eater is the nostalgic New Orleanian, especially those who grew up here but have since left. They may be chasing their dreams in New York or L.A. or in Texas — their new homes where they’re building their futures. But their past is the key to their cravings, and when they come back to New Orleans they chase that past with a purpose.
With Christmas around the corner there is a bumper crop of them around town right now. Just look around. They don’t have guidebooks, they might have cameras, and they definitely have a zeal about them as they reconvene over their tables and plates. You see them at the oyster bar, at the burger joint, at the po-boy shop, at the neighborhood restaurant. And when they squeeze in a visit during warmer weather, you certainly see them in line at the sno-ball stand.
These are the foods they were weaned on, and the spots that got them through high school, college and assorted other greatest years of their lives. Maybe it’s tempting to tease them a bit. Life marches on, after all — even New Orleans life. That seafood platter you had back in 1983 is not the end-all and be-all of local cuisine. That new chef everyone’s talking about, that semi-secret pop-up restaurant that makes such good whatever it is they make, that new place where the food is sourced so responsibility that the animals actually thank you for eating them — that’s closer to the popular conversation of New Orleans food today.
But still, I feel I can relate to the nostalgic eater. After all, I grew up in Rhode Island, and whenever I return home I indulge in a steady diet of memories and cravings — a tour of grinders, chowder, a very specific cruller from a certain donut shop, and a strange, borderline-scary hot dog that is never seen outside of the nation’s smallest state.
Such is the lot of the nostalgic eater. Young chefs may be doing amazing new things, and exotic, ethnically authentic foodways may be getting more attention. They don’t care. They have a list and only a certain number of meals they can manage before they leave town again. They want a shrimp po-boy with ketchup all over it, a Bud’s Broiler No. 3, a bowl of Dooky Chase Creole gumbo, a bushel of Rocky & Carlo’s macaroni and cheese and an Angelo Brocato’s cannoli, and you had better not get in their way. This is their time.
It’s also the time when all of us count our blessings, and if you ever think you might take New Orleans food for granted, just get lunch with a visiting expat and I’m sure you’ll feel your gratitude renewed with each bite.