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Monday
May062013

Scenes and Bites from the 43rd Annual Jazz and Heritage Festival in New Orleans

The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival is massive. During its ten-day run, over 100 bands play on one of the dozen stages setup inside the track at the Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots on Gentilly Boulevard. For eight hours straight, from 11am to 7pm, it's nonstop music, food, booze, dancing, parades, charades, and all around muddy tom foolery. Yesterday was the end of this year's festival. We were there a week earlier and got caught in a bit of rain, but it was nothing the sprawling Blues Tent couldn't misdirect.

There were two main stretches where you could get food, but more than 70 vendors were setup around the fairgrounds. On the flight down, a native New Orleans man, who traveled with a trumpet and nothing else, sat next to us and hinted at the crawfish options we'd find inside the muddy grounds. "Oh yea, you can get crawfish anyway you dream," he said. "If you dream of crawfish." One such way was Crawfish Monica, a sort of Cajun twist on pasta alla vodka with lumps of sweet, spiced crawfish mixed into a creamy, tomato-based sauce. It was damn good, but it wasn't our favorite thing we had. That's reserved for the Cochon de Lait po' boy from Love at First Bite. Click ahead for that and everything else we ate at Jazz Fest on April 28th, 2013. 

Crawfish Monica from Kajun Kettle Foods, Inc. ($7)

We stopped by the newish Perestroika at Pravda for cocktails (same folks that run Cure and Bellocq) and mentioned we were headed to Jazz Fest the next day. Our server told us not to miss out on the cochon de lait po' boy from Love at First Bite, which is an extension of Walker's Southern Style BBQ. Their website describes LAFB as "an on-site catering company specializing in traveling to local festivals and those across the country, to provide authentic New Orleans-style cuisine."

The sandwich is made with roasted suckling pig, cabbage, and creole mustard. The baguette is soft, but dense enough to keep all the tender, juicy pork in place. The vinegary mustard is spicy and acidic; the perfect counterpart to the rich, decadent pork. The cabbage absorbs any juice that tries to escape and, as it mixes with the mustard, makes a delicious slaw and gives the whole deal a nice crunch.

Clockwise from top left: Crawfish étouffée ($7) from Smitty's Seafood Kitchen, red beans and rice with sausage ($7) from Blackberry Cobbler, Cajun crawfish rice ($6) and boiled crawfish ($6), both from Smitty's as well. Here's how we tackled those crawfish:

Pick a crawfish. With two hands, pinch and twist where the body joins the tail to separate the two. The bit of meat in the tail takes a bit of work, but if you pinch the tail just right it comes out easily. That leaves the head, aka where the spicy crab boil liquid has worked its way and created a deeply satisfying flavor pocket. In one loud, shameless motion, put the head to your lips, tilt your head back, squeeze, and suck out all the goodness.

When you're done, head to Cafe du Monde for dessert and coffee.

Fairs, festivals, and carnivals aren't complete without some form of fried dough. Beignets are a sort of cross between funnel cake and doughnuts, but they're made from a choux paste, which doesn't have a leavening agent, but expands as moisture developes inside the dough as it cooks. They're chewy, airy and tender, with a heavy dusting of powdered sugar making them extra sweet and a good pair for iced coffee.

The combination of rain and hangovers kept us away from Cafe du Monde's iconic storefront on Decatur Street, so we were glad to get or fill at the festival before retiring to the jam packed Blues Tent to watch B.B. King.

If you happen to make it to the 44th annual Jazz Fest, wear rain boots. It gets muddy down there.

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