12 April 2013

New Orleans: Second Breakfast is the Most Important Meal of the Day

Sunrise over the rooftops: the view from our room
New Orleans is a not a city for dieters.  Nor is it a destination for picky eaters.  There is great food--seriously great food--in abundance, but it's usually the type of food that requires the hoisting of oneself from the table afterwards.

Because my friends's friend stayed in town an extra night just to meet up with us, the least we could do was meet up with her for first breakfast on Saturday morning. She didn't want to go to Cafe Du Monde (quel horreur!), so we walked to her hotel in the Central Business District instead.  We had no idea until we walked in that it was one of John Besh's restaurants: Luke.  Naturally we made much of the "I am your father" and other Star Wars jokes. We even saw the man himself walk through a couple of times--I wouldn't have figured that he would be on premises.

Knowing that I had to pace myself for our second breakfast at Commander's Palace, I ordered a short stack of pancakes with pecan honey butter, which were quite good. The coffee was French press and also quite good, and we all enjoyed ourselves very much.

Before long, it was time to say goodbye to Kathleen and hie ourselves back to Canal Street to catch the streetcar (please do not call it a trolley) to the Garden District. Because we were not born yesterday, we knew right where to catch it--at Carondelet, before it turns and heads back on St. Charles.  We all three easily grabbed seats, but by the time we made our first stop on St. Charles, the car filled up and the people remaining in the queue had to keep on waiting.  Suckers!  The ride took about 20 minutes and Commander's is about two blocks from the street car stop on St. Charles.

AW on the streetcar
Commander's Palace is quite the institution in New Orleans.  They serve up a three-course brunch in high style, and there's a wandering jazz trio that moves from dining room to dining room, taking requests.  It's great fun.

From the moment we arrived, it was a fabulous experience.  Warm welcomes all around as soon as our feet crossed the threshold. We were lucky enough to get seated in the Garden Room, which is fun because you get to walk through the kitchens to get there, because there's a live tree growing in the room up through the ceiling, and because it's glassed in and overlooking the courtyard, which was lovely that time of year.
The second breakfast of champions: double fisting with milk punch and a Crescent City Cooler
Clearly the best first course for second breakfast is a cocktail.  I've said it before, but it bears repeating:  I LOVE being in a city where it's not at all ridiculous to spend more money on booze than on food at breakfast. Or even second breakfast.

Carla with her cocktail
AW with her Strawberry Flip
It was very difficult deciding what to order (take a look at their sample online menu and see for yourself), but I ended up starting with the Oyster & Absinthe Dome, which is a creamy concoction with bacon, artichokes, and tarragon-infused cream, topped by a flaky pastry shell.

Oyster & Absinthe Dome
It is not, however, the most accommodating place to eat if you are vegetarian, as my friend AW is. They offered only one vegetarian option for the entree on the brunch menu: Red Velvet pancakes.  But since those would also be followed by a dessert course, AW wasn't so interested in essentially eating dessert twice.  The only minor mar in the whole process was when she asked our server if the crab & vegetable frittata could be made without the crab. Instead of saying "yes, of course we can do that," he said he had to phone the chef and ask permission.  It surprised me quite a bit that a restaurant of that calibre and that kind of national standing would not empower its serving staff to make such accommodations.  And frankly it surprised me that there wasn't a non-dessert-like vegetarian option for the entree on their menu. In a city that relies heavily on tourism and where the number of vegetarians is on the rise pretty much all over, it is almost inconceivable.

My [mumble] Benedict 
The kitchen finally responded with an All Clear to the veggie frittata request, so we recommenced with our enjoyment of the day. I cannot remember the name of what I ordered, but it was a Creole take on Eggs Benedict, with crayfish, "debris," and a spicy sauce. As I recall, and with the photographic evidence above, I think it was served on a bread that more closely resembled a biscuit than an English muffin.  It was excellent, but I only managed to eat about half of it. And no, I did not bite the tail and suck the head.  Thanks for asking.

You can see a little bit of the tree through the glass behind them.
In fact, by that time, were all questioning our collective delusion in thinking that a first breakfast was a good idea, but we had to power through the dessert course. Which, frankly, is worth waiting for, not to mention worth a little gastrointestinal distress. But dessert is my raison d'être, or at least one of them, and these were a couple of  pieces des resistances.

It was strawberry season in Louisiana during our visit, and I had forgotten just how plump, sweet, and lush those berries are.  Plus, we wanted to be mindful of our heavy meal, so we ordered two servings of strawberry shortcake for dessert to accompany the bread pudding soufflé.  Honestly, have you ever heard a phrase more enticing than bread pudding soufflé?

Bread Pudding Soufflé with milk punch
When it's delivered to the table, the server breaks the top and pours into it many heaping spoonfuls of hard sauce.  It was pretty divine, I have to say. The only thing that could possibly improve it would be the introduction of a second round of cocktails. AW and Carla ordered milk punches while I ordered a shot of rum: XO Ron Zacapa, neat, with a side of ice and some lime.

I'm not sure which surprised us more: the size of the bill or our difficulty standing up after the meal. We were, of course, expecting a large bill, and despite the fact that one of our drinks cost $25, we didn't come close to spending more money on alcohol than on food.  Well, that gives me something to aim for next time.  I won't say what the total was, but we decided that it was the perfect amount, because the  tip came to $42, which is the perfect and most important number, as any Douglas Adams fan knows.  Clearly the hand of fate had intervened over second breakfast, or maybe that was just my third cocktail talking.

Inside the small gallery that houses Garden District Book Shop
On our way back to the streetcar stop, we paused at Garden District Book Shop, as I cannot pass up a bookstore.  And despite the fact that I get a substantial employee discount at my own store, I cannot not buy a book when I walk into another bookstore.  Thus I walked out with a nice little hardcover edition of a Eudora Welty book.

Once we walked back up to St. Charles, we were a little dismayed to realize that all of the streetcars heading towards the Quarter were full--practically overflowing--and thus not stopping to pick up any more passengers. Guess we're the suckers now.  We waited about 30 minutes before calling a cab to get back to our hotel, where we changed clothes to head back out the Quarter for more exploration.  About which, more anon, as this post is long enough and we've only covered first and second breakfast...

Just a random street scene


  1. The girls are (were) back together! Glad y'all got to hang out. Sounds like it was a great time!

    1. It really was. We did lots of MSMS reminiscing, too. :-)


    Also that strawberry shortcake looks THE best.

    But good Lord, maybe this is my 27-year-old self talking, but the TIP was $42? Damn. But worth it. Because food.

    1. Yes, well, you only turn 40 once. But my own 27-year-old self is staring at me, aghast, from the past. Very different from a blast from the past.

      But yes, that whole experience was so worth it. Just not on anything approaching a regular basis, because who could?

  3. Great to see pictures of your three girls, since y'all have long been favorites of mine. Just have to ask, which drink cost $45.00? How big was it???

    1. No, the most expensive drink was $25 (not $45) and it was a 2-oz shot of a very fine rum.

  4. Oh, my! That Bread Pudding Souffle looks divine!

    I'm a little surprised by how inflexible they seemed to be with the vegetarian options. I can say this, there are not a whole lot of vegetarian friendly classic, homey Cajun dishes. I've been trying to figure out how to include our vegetarian friends when we do a Cajun dinner. I'm not finding a whole lot that's meant to be vegetarian as a whole (side dishes seem to be it). Attempting to convert the stuff I grew up with into a vegetarian friendly meal seems to be the only option, but I'm not at all sure how it'll turn out - vegetarian gumbo with vegetable broth, read beans with vegetarian sausage (at least there are cajun sausage seasonings that I could use there)... it's tough.

    1. Yes, divine is the right word to use.

      I didn't realize (or maybe I forgot?) that you grew up with Cajun food. You're right--it's so seafood heavy (and heavy in general) that it would be a challenge to adapt to vegetarian-friendly versions.


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