It's one of those things, you either love them or you hate them. Personally, I am in the camp that believes that, like bacon, mushrooms can make almost anything better. Just think about it for a minute. Burgers are better with sautéed or grilled mushrooms, pizza is better with mushrooms, omelets are better with mushrooms … salads, sandwiches, steak, soup … all made better with mushrooms.
Vegans love mushrooms because they're high in protein. Carnivores love mushrooms because they make meat that much meatier. Mushrooms can absorb the delectable flavor of whatever they're cooked with or add their own earthy, woodsy goodness to the mix. There are also tons of different kinds of mushrooms, all with unique flavors and textures, from the fat and meaty portobello to a delicate, flowery chanterelle.
If you're new to the whole shroom experience (ahem … not magic mushrooms, mind you), you might want to start off with something simple, like the mushroom grilled cheese sandwich at Spotted Cat Food & Spirits. Chef Robert Clement combines cheddar cheese and sautéed button mushrooms with caramelized onions, and voilà! This crispy, cheesy, earthy goodness is comforting, vegetarian, and comes with a bowl of tomato soup for only $11!
Now, if mushrooms naturally exist anywhere, it's (in my oh-so-humble opinion) on a pizza. One of my favorite examples of this is at Wood Pizza Bistro & Taphouse in the Warehouse District. Grab a local brew on draft, maybe a Chafunkta Kingfish Ale, and relax outside on their huge patio and order their specialty mushroom pizza. Although they use simple, sliced button mushrooms, the chef at Wood marinates them in garlic, olive oil, and thyme before literally loading them onto a pie with garlic cream sauce and asiago cheese. They also drop an egg in the center that cooks just enough to harden the white and leave the yolk to ooze onto each delicious slice of mushroomy goodness. All of the pizzas at Wood are around 13 inches in diameter, approximately the size of a medium pie, and at only $16, this is a slice of fungi heaven you won't want to miss.
I couldn't possibly talk about pizza and mushrooms without mentioning Mellow Mushroom, the Atlanta-based franchise with three locations in Louisiana, including one right on Oak Street in the Riverbend. With a name like “Mellow Mushroom,” one would hope their fungi game is on, and it's pretty well represented in their Holy Shiitake Pie. Though a medium will set you back almost $20, this particular pizza offers shiitake, button, and portobello mushrooms with caramelized onions and mozzarella and MontAmore cheese, and it's finished with garlic aioli and a spritz of black truffle oil. Did I mention that truffles are fungi too?
If you've bravely foraged this far into the magic of mushrooms (again, not magic mushrooms), then you might want to raise your challenge level at Kin. Located in a tiny, bright yellow space on Washington Avenue in Gert Town, this cozy spot takes traditional Japanese ramen and infuses it with unique flavors and ingredients, making it rather non-traditional indeed. Chef Nate Nguyen knocked my socks off recently with a “pork tonkatsu” ramen with tons of pork belly, house-made noodles, crispy Brussels sprouts, soft-boiled egg, slightly sweet bok choy, and a small bunch of enoki mushrooms. These brilliant little beauties are bright white with long stems and tiny caps, and offer a crunchy texture that really complements the ramen. At only $14 for a huge, scrumptious bowl, this is a great deal no matter how you ladle it.
Likely one of the most inexpensive escapades into the world of mushrooms can be found at Verti Marte, located in the French Quarter. Open 24 hours, Verti Marte is a tiny market and deli on the corner of Royal and Governor Nicholls, and a longtime favorite of neighborhood denizens and visitors alike. A long time ago, my friend introduced me to their Mushroom Madness, now called a Mushroom Mountain, which is a sandwich on French bread (or a bun if you prefer) that's loaded with a ton of grilled button mushrooms and a choice of Swiss or provolone cheese. This mushroom monster is less than $6 and well-worth your parking price.