It is spring, the perfect weather to get on the bike and ride to the Crescent City Farmers Market or stay at home and work on the garden. With Chef locavore’s precedence on the rise, some of my friends are now sporting chicken farms in their backyards and dirt under their fingernails. Too bad my small balcony doesn’t allow me much space to grow but a few herbs, let alone to harvest that balcony-rooster-colony I need to inform my neighbors of dawn, the way their cocker spaniel does of every midnight. Luckily, some of our great restaurants and chefs have a passion for relying on locally sourced foods to create their delicious seasonal menus.
Cochon Butcher just opened, offering great sandwiches filled with Cochon’s signature house-cured meats: the pastrami on rye with kraut will cause serious addiction. Open until 10 p.m., they offer everything from duck confit to whole hogs for those with late night urges to cook and feast, as well as sandwich platters (perfect for spring picnics), jars of pickled veggies and black T-shirts with “Butcher” printed across the chest like a rock band logo. Wine bottles rest atop bumper-stickered fuse boxes, quirking-up the austere dining space and “Swine Bar”, an unpretentious place to imbibe.
The short-but-sweet wine list currently features Spanish whites and Italian reds, as well as beer. A good combo: the Pinot Nero and a Cuban, featuring cochon du lait – fancy-talk for when a whole pig is roasted for about a day, deboned and the meat thinly shaved off. The pigs hail from a farm in Mississippi. I hail from the Tampa Bay area, no stranger to the ubiquitous Cuban. Butcher’s differs from those crunchy, heavily layered, grease drippers of my youth with better results; the quality of the cochon du lait outshines its Cuban-label, making this more than just another ham sandwich I used to find at every gas station (frightening, I know). This sandwich was worth its hefty $12, made better by the Boulangerie bread, which has the tenacity of a buttered biscuit. The homemade potato chips are a perfect sidekick, without any overt greasiness. For dessert, the bacon pralines are divine, but portion control is a must, as I was harkened back to the puerile days I used to sneak sticks of butter from the fridge, cover them in brown sugar and eat them like popsicles while chasing scared animals around the yard.
Chef Emanuel Loubier of Dante’s Kitchen cooks up some fine seasonal meals. His local farm vegetable entrée, served with a croquette of goat cheese and caramelized onion, is ever-changing and reason to use the steak knife to carve your undying love for this restaurant into the table instead. There is no lack of innovation or flavors here, with such delights as a salad of spice-roasted pears or a side of sweet potatoes candied with root beer. The New Orleans Style BBQ Shrimp gets my vote for best appetizer in town – they come in an Abita Turbo Dog Beer broth, with little bits of garlic and fresh rosemary which you’ll want around for the entire meal: douse your spoon bread in this sauce and prepare to cry when you finally have to break-up, though the crème brulee is always a good rebound.
Chef Anne Churchill is an adventurer, traveling to exotic locales – such as a surf-trip to Costa Rica last year – and bringing back scores of menu ideas infused with the flavors of her journeys, recreated with local ingredients. The owner of Karma Kitchen, Churchill’s main focus is “creating tasty food that does as little damage to the environment as possible.” How it must have hurt when I took that bite out of heaven: Churchill’s peaches and cream cake I devoured last summer was the ultimate decadence. She is on the board of directors for the New Orleans Food and Farm Network, who help to bring fresh and safe local foods to everyone in our city by creating projects to do so, like the opening of Holly Grove Market and Farm. She offers personal chef services, cooking lessons, demonstrations and catering for your next soirée. Meanies need not apply, as she only makes good food for good people.