Food field trip

I felt it was time for a field trip, and there’s nothing farther afield than New Orleans, I say.

chocolate chess pie (top), creole cream cheese chess pie (left), warm peanut pie with jack daniels ice cream at high hat

My friend Judy Walker, food editor for the Times-Picayune, took me to Cochon, where I ate a fried soft-shell crab bigger than my fist, with a sweet-spicy sauce, and a plate of stellar house-cured meats. I also met chef-owner Stephen Stryjewski as he test-drove his new pig cooker (the chrome vents were still shiny) on a side street. He was preparing sample pork products for an upcoming charity event, Hogs for the Cause. Stryjewski was complaining that his smoke was “harsh.” I said he was using the wrong wood, and he ought to know that since he lived in North Carolina for a while.

Judy took me on a tour of a street which is undergoing a food renaissance near her neighborhood. Freret Street  was a thriving commercial strip in the 1970s and the restaurant where we were eating, High Hat Cafe, was a kosher bakery. But crime in the area increased, and after the bakery owner was shot and killed, businesses began to move out. The area continued to decline until Hurricane Katrina. Storm recovery projects began to revive the area, and now it’s become a destination for students from nearby Loyola and Tulane universities, plus traffic from a reopened hospital.

Among the places that have opened within the last three years: Company Burger and Dat Dog (both bake their own buns), Pure Cake, a Japanese restaurant, and a bar called Cure, which offers artisan cocktails and a small-plate menu.

We ordered salads at High Hat specifically so that we could consume chef Jeremy Wolgamott’s pies free of guilt – not that guilt is a concept much used in New Orleans. The offerings: Creole Cream Cheese Chess Pie, Warm Peanut Pie with Jack Daniels Ice Cream and Chocolate Chess Pie. The peanut pie was like a pecan pie, except with salty peanuts. It had that whole sweet-salty thing rocking. The Chocolate Chess Pie was a good version. But I was fascinated by the Creole Cream Cheese Chess Pie. There’s no hot pepper in Creole cream cheese – what seems to be “Creole” about it is that the French Creoles in old New Orleans made it. The cheese is made with skim milk and buttermilk, and gives a tang and thicker texture to chess pie that I found addictive.

Wolgamott makes his own Creole cream cheese, and gave me his recipe. I haven’t tested it yet, so I hesitate to put it out right now. I will be trying it out soon.

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