Photo by T.TSeng/Flickr
The fried chicken at Willie Mae’s Scotch House
Evan Bloom of Wise Sons in San Francisco eats and drinks his way through NOLA.
Everyone who lives in the Bay Area (especially former New Yorkers) knows that this beautiful part of California—one that’s famous for the birth of the farm-to-table movement—has disappointing bagels. Well, that is, until Wise Sons Bagel & Bakery came along, the fourth location of San Francisco’s beloved Jewish-deli inspired restaurant group. Cofounders Evan Bloom and Leo Beckerman and their team have been putting out top-notch bagels, which are somewhere between the chewy Montreal style and the classic New York standard. In short? They are a godsend, especially when you’ve had a bit too much to drink the night before.
A few weeks ago, after consuming an everything topped with some schmear and smoked salmon, we sat down with Bloom to hear about his five-day trip to New Orleans for his bachelor party—with 14 of his hungriest friends. “It was . . . a lot. We went on an eating-and-drinking tour. Mostly eating,” he says. He and his crew tried to hit spots that were new to the scene, as well as a few old Big Easy standbys. Here are his highlights.
“We stayed at the Ace Hotel New Orleans, which just opened a couple months ago. The staff had the most incredible Southern hospitality. The rooms were amazing, and our stay was actually reasonably priced. The Stumptown at the hotel had something I’d never seen before: Nitro Espresso shots on tap, served cold. They had a happy hour where espresso shots were a buck, from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., and they had a whole list of nitro drinks that they were mixing with shrub, sodas, and different syrups. I was pretty taken by that.
“We ate at Cochon the first night, a restaurant which is now pretty much a classic. Everything is a take on old-school New Orleans food. We had baked oysters with chili and garlic butter. Then we had a dressing—which is like a stuffing—but it was made of eggplant instead of meat. It was out-of-control good. The food was heavy but really awesome and surprising. Believe the hype.
“We had to go to Shaya, which serves something we don’t have in San Francisco: amazing Israeli food. They have a wood-burning oven where they’re constantly putting out hot pita. Seriously: Your plate is never empty. When there’s something that’s free at a restaurant like that, it doesn’t get replenished often. But there was always fresh, hot pita on the table, the whole meal. I ate so much of it. And, of course, there were amazing dips. There was a dip with date molasses and foie gras, which was, like, insane. I’m not even a foie gras fan!
“Uber has changed the game in New Orleans. We got in a car and drove 20 minutes to the other side of town to this restaurant in a strip mall. The driver was like, ‘Where the hell are you going?’ It was a place called Mopho. There’s a huge Vietnamese population in New Orleans, so the restaurant focuses on Vietnamese with a New Orleans twist (though the chef himself is not Vietnamese). They do a whole-roasted animal every Saturday night. When we were there, it was lamb done in a very NOLA style, but served with Vietnamese fixings. It was really surprising and refreshing to have such good food that wasn’t the usual Creole gumbo.”
“There’s this place called Willie Mae’s Scotch House and they have famous fried chicken. They’ve won a James Beard award and they’re on everyone’s list for best fried chicken in the country. I was like, ‘Yeah right—I’m sure the chicken’s good but can it be that good?’ Well, the fried chicken cleared every single bar you can imagine. They do a wet batter and they have this secret brine, which I believe includes Coca-Cola or Dr. Pepper. It’s super crunchy, not too greasy, and brined perfectly. The sides are on point, too: We had mac ’n’ cheese and butter beans—in fact, we ordered the entire menu including the kid’s peanut butter and jelly, which they cut into a heart shape. I’m pretty sure they made the jelly from scratch, too.
“We went to a place close by Willie Mae’s called Dooky Chase—it’s another spot that’s worth the trip to the Treme. It’s a lunch buffet for $20, which was so good. We had peach cobbler at the end of the meal, which was so old-school and so incredible. It sealed the deal. Sometimes, with these kinds of places, you have expectations that they won’t be good, or that you’ll be getting recipes from the 1950s where everything was coming out of a can. But here, you’re not: You’re getting food made to order.
“There's a place near the Garden District called Pascal’s Manale. It’s 100 years old, and they invented a dish called barbecue shrimp. It’s not actually barbecue; it’s just full shrimp, heads on, in this gravy made with butter and Worcestershire sauce. They’re famous for it and there’s a reason. While we were waiting for our table, the bartenders were super cool—they made us sazeracs and explained the entire story of the drink to us. You’ve never had a real sazerac until you’ve had one in New Orleans. It’s different—there’s no pretense to it. Here, it always comes up and in a martini glass. In New Orleans, you get it on the rocks, and sometimes in plastic cups. It’s down and dirty—and everyone’s drinking one.
“Some of these old local NOLA bars seem like they’re a bit grungy, and they’re intimidating: You know you look like you’re from out of town, and you think everyone in there will be an asshole to you. As soon as we walked into one of these places, called Le Bon Temps Roule, we realized that is not true at all. We asked the bartender for some local beer and he gave us a taste of all six they had. Everyone treated us like a regular right away. Walk in on a Thursday or Friday afternoon and there’s somebody playing honky-tonk piano. You grab some Styrofoam plates with free oysters, and you get your $4 beer, and you hang out. People who go to NOLA should get out of the touristy area—you won’t feel like an alien.
“My favorite live music experience was at a bar called the Maple Leaf. It’s definitely out of the way—maybe a 15-minute cab ride from the Ace Hotel. Every Tuesday, they have an incredibly tight rebirth brass band play. There were 70 or 80 people there—it’s bare bones, just a bar and a stage. It was $20 to get in, which is not a cheap cover. But out of all the shows we saw, that was the best. The coolest thing was, across the street from the bar, there were two older women who’d set up plastic folding tables and a bunch of steam trays full of delicious food. They were competing with each other in a friendly way, waiting for the drunk people to come out of the bar for some food. We got a plate from each woman: mac ’n’ cheese, jambalaya, smothered pork chop, garlic shrimp, crab pasta salad. We filled our Styrofoam plates and ate everything sitting on a trash can. Then we went back into the bar for more music. That’s an amazing experience you can’t get anywhere else.”
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