The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival presented by Shell, better known as just Jazz Fest, is entering its 49th year and has no signs of slowing down. This year, you can catch legends such as Stevie Wonder, Dr. John, and Widespread Panic. These artists are juxtaposed with contemporary favorites like Snoop Dogg, Pitbull, and Nas with the Soul Rebels. While the music at the festival is spectacular and essentially audible cocoa butter, it is also the food that draws in hundreds of thousands of visitors over the seven days of the fest. Some people swear by the crawfish strudel, while others cannot pass up the opportunity to bite into the sweet and indulgent white chocolate bread pudding. I’m here to help you decide what you should eat and which shows to eat it at.
Cochon de Lait Po-Boy
Love at First Bite; New Orleans
This sandwich is on my list of best po-boys in New Orleans. The sweet and smoky pork melts in your mouth. Combine that with the vinegar from the coleslaw on fresh, airy French bread, and you’ll be left satisfied and in a state of absolute delicious awe. When they are not at their brick and mortar restaurant east of the Lakefront Airport, these pork gurus can be found at various festivals and always at Jazz Fest. This sandwich is the perfect fuel for some casual rock and jamming. Grab this bad boy before seeing Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds. Something tells me pork isn’t going to be the only thing smoking at this concert.
Crawfish Sack, Oyster Patties, Crawfish Beignets
Patton’s Caterers; Chalmette
There are few dishes, if any, more synonymous with Jazz Fest grub than the holy trinity of crawfish beignets, oyster patties, and a crawfish sack from Patton’s Caterers. Let’s start with the crawfish beignets. I would describe them more accurately as crawfish hushpuppies that are given the benefit of the creamy spillover from the oyster patty. The oyster patty is really more like a creamy stew inside a puff pastry dough. It definitely doesn’t suck. But my absolute favorite here is the crawfish sack. Creamy and delicious crawfish mix is stuffed inside a crispy wonton paper. The dish is warm and quite messy, so I wouldn’t suggest taking it to a show where you will be dancing pretty hard. Take it slow and enjoy your food while listening to the harmonic delicacies of Usher with The Roots. This combination will have you screaming “Yeah!”
WWOZ Community Radio; New Orleans
This is straightforward. It is ice, mango, joy, and silky smooth happiness. Despite being relatively simple, a mango freeze is absolutely divine when you are baking in the late spring sun for hours on end. Eat it with a spoon, straw, or just dump it all over yourself. It’s all fair game. This is perfect for local bands Dumpstaphunk or The Revivalists. Get your fruity funk on.
Spicy Natchitoches Meat Pie, Crawfish Pie, *Broccoli & Cheese Pie
Mrs. Wheat’s Foods; New Orleans
This is one of my absolute favorite foods in Louisiana. The city of Natchitoches made this empanada-like dish famous. The dish is packed with flavor and spices. On the inside, you can find a variety of fillings like minced meat or crawfish with rice and onions. In fact, it was a crawfish pie from Cochon in 2011 that made me decide to come to Tulane University. While this dish is fried and served quite hot, it is the perfect finger food to bring to any show that you plan on rocking out to. My suggestions are Widespread Panic; Earth, Wind & Fire; or The Meters. Whether rocking or funking with the music, you can’t go wrong with this food/music combo.
Tagine of Lamb (Lamb Stew with Basmati Rice); Merguez (Grilled Lamb Sausage); Crawfish, Spinach, & Zucchini Bisque; *Tunisian Salad
Jamila’s Café; New Orleans
Connect with Northern Africa and the Mediterranean while enjoying this fresh trio of dishes, difficult to find anywhere else in the city. Jamila’s Café serves the Uptown community, but once a year, they come to Jazz Fest and serve people from all around the world. The crawfish, spinach, and zucchini bisque gives you the freshness of vegetables, the decadence of the creamy bisque, and the local flavor of the in-season crawfish. Find any music with deep percussion and close your eyes as you eat the melt-in-your-mouth stewed lamb over spiced Basmati rice. Assalamu alaikum!
Crawfish Strudel, White Chocolate Bread Pudding
Cottage Catering; River Ridge
A crowd favorite, this delectable combination brings people from near and far. Last year, I was waiting in line while speaking to a woman who told me she comes all the way from Tennessee every year just for the white chocolate bread pudding. The “strudel” is a flaky, hollowed-out log filled with a creamy crawfish sauce. The white chocolate bread pudding is scooped and served hot with a spiced rum sauce. This classic combo deserves to be eaten while enjoying a classic: Stevie Wonder. I understand you may have your superstitions about what to eat and where, but after you try this, you’ll be thinking, “Isn’t she lovely?”
Crawfish Monica ®
Big River Foods; New Orleans
This dish is so good it is copyrighted. Seriously. This dish is so good, it is legally protected for 70 years after the passing of its creator. Everyone who goes to Jazz Fest gets this. Really, ask anyone. My friend is lactose intolerant and still gets it. The creamy, cheesy sauce gets trapped between the spirals of the pasta. The kick from the crawfish awakens the dish to create an unforgettable eating experience. This classic New Orleans dish deserves to be paired with music that is also local and equally unforgettable. Slurp down these spirals while enjoying the brass and beats of Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Rebirth Brass Band, or Galactic. Equal parts groovy and tasty.
*Jama-Jama (Sautéed Spinach), *Fried Plantains, Poulet Fricassee (Chicken on a Stick)
Bennachin Restaurant; New Orleans
The Caribbean and Western African section of Jazz Fest is always one of my favorites for music, art, and of course, food. This year, there will also be an additional section called “Cuban Culture at Jazz Fest.” The festival will be hosting the largest celebration of Cuban culture in the U.S. since the 1950s, highlighting New Orleans’s long, historical connection with Cuba. You could, of course, get the traditional Cuban sandwich. You could also go for some tostones (fried green plantains) and a coffee ice pop. If your heart is not swaying directly in the direction of Cuban cuisine, go for the jama-jama, fried plantains, and chicken on a stick. This is among the most distinctive vendors of all the stands at the festival, so you should see some music to match that feeling. Go see Grammy Award-winning group Septeto Santiaguero or jazz legend Chucho Valdés.
*Beignets, Café Au Lait (Hot, Iced, Frozen), Milk, Chocolate Milk
Café du Monde; New Orleans
For the culinary and musical finale, you gotta hit up the Café du Monde stand for their world-famous beignets and café au lait. It will likely be very hot out, but luckily, the coffee comes hot, iced, or frozen. The fluffy fried pockets are topped with powdered sugar. When you bite into them, you can’t help but smile. The flavors flow together so nicely with the smooth, rich coffee, and what better artists to reflect great flow and suaveness than Nas with The Soul Rebels. His impeccable flow and lyrical rhythm, paired with the fun and vibrant sounds of The Soul Rebels, is the perfect way to enjoy these treats. If I ruled the world, this would happen every day.
* Denotes Vegetarian