Jazz Fest 2007 kicked off in New Orleans this past weekend, and I was there with map in hand trying to make sure I didn’t miss anything. Not so much the music, but the food. While most people toted performance schedules of the 11 stages, balancing which band played when, I had my food vendor printout. The dilemma—trying to determine whether I could eat two po'boys back to back or if I needed to break them up with a bowl of crawfish étouffée. Don’t get me wrong—I love the music, but it’s really just there so you have something to do between eating. Everyone knows that the real star of Jazz Fest is the food.
The most amazing thing about Jazz Fest, and what makes it unique from most music festivals these days, is that the food has yet to be co-opted by big business. Every stand is a different restaurant or caterer from Louisiana, and no two places serve the same dish. Each has its unique specialty, and with five food areas and more than 60 vendors, there's a lot to eat. You must have a game plan.
All the usual suspects are there for the taking, including jambalaya, boiled crawfish, and every kind of po'boy imaginable. There are even raw oysters in the Grandstands, and a Café du Monde stand serving beignets and café au lait. But the real treat is to try the food you can’t get at just any New Orleans restaurant. Lucky for us food lovers, Jazz Fest brings them all together in one place.
If you are going this weekend, here are five must-have dishes that belong uniquely to Jazz Fest.
Crawfish Bread | Panorama Foods, Marksville
All photographs by Zach Brooks
I don’t think anybody can imagine a trip to Jazz Fest without crawfish bread. More like a crawfish calzone, the “bread” part is doughy and plenty greasy with oil from the cheese stuffed inside. The little nuggets of crawfish give it that unique and slightly spicy Cajun flavor that reminds you where you are with every bite.
Cochon de Lait Po Boy | Love at First Bite, New Orleans
You’ve had a po'boy. You’ve had roast pulled pork. But have you had a roasted pulled pork po'boy? Smoky, salty, and delicious. Make sure to get it "dressed," which in New Orleans speak, means lettuce, tomato, and mayo.
Crawfish Sack, Oyster Patties, and Crawfish Beignets | Patton’s Caterers, Chalmette
Why choose when you can get the combo plate of all three? The crawfish sack is a little pouch of fried goodness, stuffed with a crawfish mush that tastes so good you wish the "sack" was of proper sack size. I want to call the oyster patty a stuffed pastry puff, but that sounds too fancy. This is more like two hollowed-out buttermilk biscuits filled with a creamy oyster gravy stacked on top of each other; then, more oyster gravy is poured over the top, in case you needed extra. And, what could possibly be wrong with crawfish beignets—fried-to-a-crisp fritters covered in a lemon tartar sauce. If you’re sharing the combo with someone else, an extra side of beignets may be necessary.
Soft-Shelled Crawfish Po'Boy | Wegner, Gretna
You didn’t read that wrong. It’s soft-shelled crawfish, not soft-shelled crab. I might get some detractors on this one because, truth be told, if fried soft-shelled crawfish tasted better than fried oysters, or soft-shelled crab, then it would be this dish on every menu in the state of Louisiana. Even so, it’s unique. And if the thought of whole fried crawfish is exciting to you, then it’s a must have—for that extra special crunch.
Crawfish Monica | Kajun Kettle Foods, New Orleans
It seems simple, even borderline boring, but there is something strangely captivating about this signature Jazz Fest dish that has become so popular the name has actually been trademarked. Corkscrew pasta, cream sauce, crawfish. Welcome to heaven.
It’s hot, and you’ve got to stay hydrated. But what is Jazz Fest without getting sauced? Here’s a perfect plan to achieve both. First, buy a cool and refreshing Rosemint Iced Tea sweetened with honey from Sunshine Concessions. Drink, but save the cup. Then, buy a "must have" Mango Freeze from WWOZ (the radio station sponsor of Jazz Fest), which is so fresh-tasting, you’ll swear it’s ten parts mango to one part ice. Put the Mango Freeze into the empty iced tea cup, add vodka or rum that you've smuggled in (picture not shown for obvious reasons), and shake! Voilà. Mango Freeze Daiquiri. Or you can do what most festival goers do: Pour the liquor right into the bowl and eat the whole thing with a spoon. We Jazz Fest folks may not be classy, but we sure know how to eat!
About the author: Zach Brooks is the editor and publisher of Midtown Lunch, where he often writes about street carts and lunch stalls.