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A Louisiana native, John Besh has made a name for himself as a successful chef, but he's also been a steadfast champion of New Orleans. A fan of old-school New Orleans cooking, Besh is as passionate about the food from his favorite spots as he is about the chefs and restaurateurs behind his picks. The decorated chef will be in New York this weekend for the New York City Wine and Food Festival, where he'll be host of the Oyster Bash. (A fitting event, considering he calls the bivalves "almost a deity in New Orleans.") We asked Besh to give us a tour of his favorite spots in his hometown.
Beignets: Cafe Du Monde. As much as it's a cliché, it is what it is. It's cliché for the right reason. They make coffee, chicory, and beignets. That's the menu.
Cajun: Bon Ton is an awesome throwback to another generation's restaurant. It's all about the tradition. They won't share the recipe with the diner. They do great dishes the old way. It's what used to be on every corner of New Orleans that no longer exists. I go for a really good crab bisque, or a quintessential dish like crabmeat au gratin. They do things the old way, and I just love that.
Old School Classic Creole: Dooky Chase. Ms. Leah Chase is a New Orleans institution in her own right, and a pillar of the African American community in New Orleans. She's like the first lady of this city. She does Creole the old way. It's probably the first white tablecloth, African American place that brought people all together. From MLK Jr. to the early social activists, it was their gathering place. The food wouldn't be the same without her attitude and approach. She's tirelessly working herself in the kitchen. She's 92 years old and still working.
Best Fried Chicken: Willie Mae's Scotch House. It's right around the corner of from Dooky Chase. They're famous for their fried chicken. It started off as a Scotch house. The food was an amenity at first, but it's taken over in the past 50 years. They're still cooking the same family recipe, and they're not sharing it with anybody. It's a crisp crust but it's light, with intense flavors. I love the fact that there's a lot of consistency there—something you only get when people care. It's the same way every time. Willie Mae's soul is still very much a part of it.
Breakfast: Elizabeth's. It's in the bywater section of Nola. It's right on the riverfront in an old house. The food they cook there is what every breakfast should be like. They're probably one of the few places making calas. It's like a beignet made of rice that's already been cooked and formed into a batter. You fry it and douse it with powdered sugar. There's also bacon with crumbled pralines. It's like, 'Come on, really?' It's smoky and sweet and salty all in one bite.
Late night breakfast: Camellia Grill is a late night dive. You get everything from an omelet to the really greasy top grill burger at that time of night. It is the New Orleans diner. The servers are serving you, but they're cooking for you as well.
Po' Boys: If you go to New Orleans, you need a po' boy. We live for our sandwich shops. The Parkway is located on Bayou St. John. It's a residential area. I grew up going there, and I always get mine "dressed," slathered with mayo.
Snoballs: Hansen's is known for their creams and other great flavors. I'm a purist. A lot of people like the chocolate snoball doused with condensed milk. I'm a watermelon guy, especially in the middle of summer when it's hot as can be, and I want something refreshing.
Italian: Eleven 79 is that old style Sicilian style restaurant. They used to exist in greater numbers than before. New Orleans has a huge a Sicilian and Italian population. It married well with the local tradition of seafood. Huge portions, so you're always taking it home with you.
Raw bar: Our oysters are almost a deity in New Orleans. We love these things. Luke does the best job of sourcing oysters along the coast of Louisiana and a number of East and West coast varieties.