I'll never forget our first trip to Jazz Fest. I was sitting by a local woman in the Jazz Tent waiting for a show. She turned to me and asked what we had eaten that day. I said, "Oh, we ate before we got here." Her eyes got wide and she preceded to school us on the role of food at Jazz Fest. Notably, that there are people who just go to the Jazz Fest to eat and sometimes to not listen to the music. The food is that good.
Here's the thing, New Orleans is a foodie's dream town! You want to partake of all that it has to offer. I don't want to waste calories and stomach space on greasy bread when I can have roasted oysters later. I have had all the things the locals say is the best. Some I like and some I think you can skip. There is a theme to the food here. It's not your typical carnival food. It's like food your mom would make if your mom was from Louisiana. Very comforting. Very rich.
Here is my Eat This, Skip That list for New Orleans Jazz Fest.
1) Crawfish Bread - SKIP
This is just a very bland grilled cheese. There is so much cheese that it overwhelms the crawfish and you can't really taste it. This is an item that is on every "what to eat" list that you will see but I think there are better options like.....
2) Crawfish Strudel - EAT
This has layers of light, flaky pastry. The crawfish filling is spicy and you can actually taste the crawfish.
3) Seafood Merliton Casserole & Fried Crab Cake - EAT
This is probably the ugliest food I've ever tried to photograph. Don't let appearances fool you. This is the one plate we have gotten every year. They also have a pecan catfish that is really good but they were only offering a two item combo plate this year. The casserole is like eating seafood mashed potatoes. I'm not really sure what is in it but it is very flavorful and comforting. The crab cake is great on its own but the sauce is a spicy compliment.
4) Crawfish Sack, Crawfish Beignets EAT. Oyster Patty SKIP
You don't have to get everything on offer and every stand. You can pick and choose. At this one, the best is the crawfish sack and the crawfish beignets. Totally worth it. The oyster patty, however (that's the tall puff pastry thing) was just claggy gravy with one little oyster in it. That was probably the worst thing we ate on the whole trip. The crawfish sack is a little difficult to eat but still worth it.
5) Boudin Balls - SKIP
I don't have a picture of the Boudin Balls which look like hush puppies. One was offered to us by a table neighbor. I can say you can definitely skip those. The better choice would be the crawfish beignets from above.
6) Seafood Gratin, Spinach Artichoke Casserole, Sweet Potato Pone - EAT (maybe)
That beige glob is the seafood gratin, in case you a wondering. It was very good as was the spinach artichoke casserole. I have no idea what a pone is but it was really sweet and dense and Mr. Ville loved it. I could have done without it. That was as close we got to a dessert. Mr. Ville has more of a sweet tooth than I do, so that may be the reason he liked it better. The spinach artichoke casserole isn't too rich and will make you feel good about yourself for eating some vegetables. It's all about balance, right?
7) Fried Chicken - SKIP
I have a confession to make. Sometimes I get food based on who else has gotten that food. I saw three very put-together women holding plates of fried chicken and since I want to be put-together, I wanted the fried chicken. It wasn't that great and I don't remember the rice being all that remarkable. It may also be that I don't like wrestling with a bone while at outdoor events where you have to carry all your worldly possessions and balance drinks. Soap and water and napkins are at a premium. I also wouldn't eat a mountain of crawfish like many do because I don't want to smell like crawfish all day. But that's just me. I like things to be a little neater like........
8) Spicy Meat Pie - EAT
This is probably the favorite thing I tried. It's the perfect festival food. A portable hand pie of flaky, buttery pastry filled with just the right amount of spicy meat filling. The perfect way to kill your hunger and soak up the alcohol. I could have had one of these every day and been quite happy.
9) Crawfish Monica - EAT
Mac and Cheese is the most comfortable comfort foods. Because you are in Louisiana, they put crawfish in it. You'll notice they pretty much have crawfish everything and that's not a bad thing. This is rich and creamy and the crawfish is spicy and you can actually taste it over the cheese, unlike the crawfish bread.
As far as drinks, there are daiquiri machines, bloody marys, beers, wine and champagne. There are non-alcoholic offerings as well. It's pretty much cash-only except for one wine and champagne stand in the center of the grounds.
This brings me to the thing that bothers me the most about Jazz Fest - The lack of sustainability. Those plastic champagne glasses are cute and I can appreciate the carafes of wine BUT I should be able to bring back my carafe for a discount. I should be able to use it all weekend. They have water stations where you can fill a reusable bottle but it wasn't the regular practice.
I only saw one area where they had bins to recycle water bottles. There were countless styrofoam plates and plastic forks and knives and just regular trash cans.
I would like to see more of an effort next year to decrease the amount of trash and increase the use of sustainable serving products. One can hope.
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