10-Stop Tour of New Orleans' Best Breakfast Dishes
Oh, the joys of building a breakfast that knows no limits. Now that’s an exciting prospect in New Orleans—a legendary food city where overindulgence is considered a borderline virtue.
In tackling this particular culinary thought experiment, we've got to abandon strict, traditional definitions of "breakfast" in our pursuit of an all-star lineup that transcends human limits of all kinds—and as we'll see, a wee bit of time-bending as well. And though the Crescent City offers more than its share of edible delights, we're admittedly a little bit light on a home-grown breakfast scene, so putting together this insane multi-course first-meal requires a bit of poetic license when it comes to the genre and strict definition of "breakfast foods."
Cafe Atchafalaya, Bloody Mary Bar
This proves to be a perfect start for most folks, because early-morning indulgence implies a certain continuity from the night before. We'll start with a build-your-own bloody mary at this Uptown stalwart—where the question of "smooth or chunky" takes on a whole new meaning. Okra, pickled watermelon rind, bacon, or more traditional garnishes are all at your fingertips—along with your choice of a green or red base and a variety of liquors. Drink your vegetables to kick off the day.
Camellia Grill, Pie on the Griddle
Sure, this is one of New Orleans classic diner-style joints, but save the eggs for later. Let's kick off with a very specific dessert course: a slice of pie warmed on the flat-top griddle. The secret here is the savory richness that seeps into the crust from the grill top. A little beef, a little bacon, a little salt. Plays well with ice cream.
Willa Jean, Gulf Shrimp Etoufee (and Grits, Apparently)
Now to the Central Business District for our first savory course: tender, luscious shrimp smothered in a rich gravy (a south Louisiana classic) on a bed of hearty grits (a more deep Southern thing) with a thoroughly modern "egg on it." Oh, and cheddar biscuits that will make you swoon in cheesy, crusty bliss.
Killer Poboys (The Big One), Omelet Poboy
New Orleans' contribution to “big sammich" culture, served with a "what can fix this beastly hangover?" twist. If you're particularly charming and/or feeling lucky, see if they'll top it with some house-made chorizo to go with the cheddar. Not saying it will work, but it might.
Brennan's, Caribbean Milk Punch
So at this point we're in the Quarter, and it seems like it would be the perfect time for a drink—in this case Lu Brow's uber-rich take on the milk punch. A double-barrel blast of rum and whiskey, heavy cream and heaven in a glass. If you've got an appetite, order up a platter of chef Slade Rushing's braised pork grillades and grits.
District Donuts.Sliders.Brew, Doughnut du Jour
There's really no telling what combinations are going to appear at this Garden District fried-dough laboratory: cereal and milk, brown butter pistachio, whiskey ginger, cookie butter, banana puddin'. Just rest assured they'll be delicious, lavish, and bigger than a toddler's noggin. Also: glazed if that's your gig.
Lilly's Cafe, Pho Brisket
Time for a breather and a little bit of a beefy palate cleanser. Also in the Garden District, Lilly's does a solid version of this Vietnamese morning treat—rich, spicy beef broth that can be tarted up with mint, jalapeno, and mung bean sprouts. It’s cleansing, rich, and a good break from overwhelming richness.
The Buttermilk Drop, Breakfast Fried Rice
Imagine if jambalaya, fried rice, and a diner breakfast had a salty, savory love child. Leftover rice (any Louisiana cook's perpetual reality) sees new life with chunks of sausage, bacon, and a ribbon of pan-tossed scrambled egg. Like Austin's breakfast tacos, this dish leaves one asking "Why hasn't this dish taken over the world yet?"
Why waste one's time with pancakes or waffles? This tiny Uptown breakfast joint plies a solid trade in crepes (solid) and quizzical creatures called aebelskivers. Technically a kind of Danish "pancake puff," these buttery little globes o' dough just beg to be dipped in jam, lemon curd, or caramel. Somehow, they manage to be rich as sin and lighter than air.
Galatoire's Restaurant, Eggplant Sticks & Café Brûlot
And for the last stop of our imaginary journey, we'll hit one of the old line Creole classics for a capper. By now even the most intrepid eater is weary and bursting at the seams, but you'll have to dress up a bit (jackets for men is a good guideline) and find a miraculous window table at Galatoire's (reminder: this is fantasy). These crispy sticks of eggplant dusted with powdered sugar are the beignet's vegetal, deep-fried cousin, made a little bit better with an improvised sauce of said sugar and Tabasco.
Café brûlot (usually an after-dinner specialty) is a flammable tableside act of performance art that's the perfect ending to our particular high-caloric folly. Sugar, spices, and citrus are combined in a silver bowl of brandy, then set afire for a few minutes of mixing, slow cooking, and blue flame acrobatics. Your server will lift ladles full of smoldering blue light a couple of feet over the bowl, creating a miniature borealis before intentionally running a line of flame on the linen-clad tablecloth—a gag from before personal injury attorneys became all the rage. They'll wait until the flames subside, then extinguish the lazy inferno with a pot of stout chicory coffee.
Then you toast your nearly impossible indulgence and find a nice, comfortable place to sleep it off. Because in a few hours, it'll be time for lunch.
Pableaux Johnson is a photographer and writer in New Orleans. He travels around the country making people happy with The Red Beans Road Show.