Dionysian Indulgences from the Green Goddess
By Kim Ranjbar
"There's not a recipe in the world that we couldn't find a way to stick a little liquor in it." -Chef J. Rickey in Liquor by Poppy Z. Brite
New Orleans and liquor are practically synonymous. From the invention of the first cocktail by apothecary Antoine Amédée Peychaud to the annual, alcohol-steeped revelry known as Mardi Gras, both tourists and locals alike indulge themselves here, although some are able to handle a little more than others. Business lunches at Commander's Palace are soaked in 25� martinis, Saturday night dinners out-on-the-town are often preceded (and succeeded) by cocktails and Bourbon Street is littered with with stoops selling Hand Grenades and Hurricanes to the already-inebriated passer-by.
But what about liquor in your food?
One of New Orleans' famed authors published a book entitled Liquor on that very concept. Poppy Z. Brite brought to life chefs Rickey and G-man, lifetime friends toughened by their upbringing in the Ninth Ward who happen upon an idea that changes their lives forever. With a healthy dose of skepticism and a lot of luck, these two line cooks are able to capitalize on the concept of a restaurant where everything on the menu is cooked with liquor.
Though Brite's novel was likely poking fun at the successes (and failures) of highly-conceptualized cuisine, I still find it amazing that no one, at least not in New Orleans, has exploited the idea. Finding a restaurant that serves food infused with liquor in the literary world seemed easy enough, but when tasked with the challenge of finding that same concept in "real-life," I was somewhat stumped. Sure there are plenty of places that cook with sherry, cognac or wine, but that didn't quite meet my expectations. It wasn't until I happened across the menu at The Green Goddess that I finally found what I was looking for...and all this time it was right under my nose. After all, one of the chefs just happens to be Brite's husband, Chef Chris DeBarr.
Tucked away on Exchange Alley in the French Quarter, The Green Goddess is an unobtrusive, modest little spot with an open kitchen where diners await one of the few (four) inside tables for food that speaks for itself, not to mention an elaborate cocktail and drink menu. The restaurant's unusual dishes have already drawn experienced diners from all over the city (if not the country) who are anxious to try chefs Chris DeBarr and Paul Artigues inventive and eclectic cuisine. Knowing this, it should have been the first place I looked!
For a lunchtime apéritif, you can order Little Mummy's Absinthe Shrimp & Avocado Salad. Plump Louisiana shrimp are poached in absinthe, mixed into a fennel coleslaw and stuffed into a large half of ripe avocado resting on a pile of arugula. Absinthe, a famed local cocktail possessing its own fascinating history in New Orleans, offers a slight licorice flavor to the perfectly cooked shrimp which is also enhanced by the fennel.
For another whiff of the Green Fairy, you can heat up a chilly night and start dinner with a bowl Absinthe-Roasted Oyster & Fennel Chowder. A dreamy, creamy chowder of potato and celery root topped with Louisiana oysters roasted in absinthe and fennel pollen and finished with Chilean olive oil.
Instead of a shot, throw down one of their "Blue Plate Specials" for lunch, the Mofongo de Camarones. Honey-lime sauteed, head-on shrimp rest on a grilled plantain cake and topped with guacamole, pico de gallo, crisp bacon bits and a thick, tequila crema.
Though not a liquor, you can get a taste of stout beer for dinner with Father Pat's Grilled Cheese. Cahill's Irish Porter cheddar made with Guinness and smeared with pear butter grilled between two slices of wholegrain, three-seed bread.
Admittedly, you can always imbibe the traditional way and just order one of the many incredible cocktails created at The Green Goddess like one of my favorites, Solidarity Sunshine - dubbed a "grown-ups lemonade." Always using top shelf ingredients, this simple drink is a refreshing mix of Sobieski Vodka and Sparkling Meyer Lemon Juice with just a bit of bruised basil. Or, you could try something a bit more complicated like the Loup-Garou, a sweetly spicy concoction made from Mae de Ouro cacha�a, Krogstad Aquavit, Taylor's Falernum and allspice dram.
However you decide to enjoy it, liquor will always remain a main ingredient of life in New Orleans, but I think Chef Rickey said it best:
"New Orleans loves booze. We love drinking it, we love the idea of drinking it, we love being encouraged to drink it. You think all those drive-thru daiquiri stands in Metairie are just serving tourists? Tourists don't go to the suburbs. Locals are drinking most of those daiquiris and they could get ‘em anywhere, but they love getting ‘em at the drive-thru because it makes them feel like they're doing something naughty." -Liquor by Poppy Z. Brite, Pg. 11
Follow Kim on Twitter @sucktheheads.