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From Street Fare to Gourmet

00:00 September 24, 2013
By: 2Fik
There's a trend on the horizon—ok, so maybe it's been there for a while now, but the masses are just now truly embracing it. It is the concept of street fare; sought after food items from impromptu visits to a craft fair, noisy avenue or even rural curbside. I'm talking chicken skewers, hot dogs, ethnic items, like gyros, papusas, and the world-wide embraced taco, but done well, and right.
These simple items taught us a great deal about childhood. It’s the contentment of a warm, hand-held edible after being sun soaked and tired from play, or the smell of roasted weenies over an open campfire. It’s the fact that hot dog chili is one of the worst stains to remove from any type of fabric. The reality that these food nuggets have evolved is a blessed sight and taste to some and preposterous to others. But let's all admit, if anything, they can be the best cure for a hangover now that we are no longer children. There's just something comforting about a frankfurter between a nicely toasted, fluffy bread carrier, or tortillas loaded to the gills with a protein of your choice and sauced to your liking, that makes any hunger pang subside. Local comic and producer of the House of Blues comedy shows Leon Blanda said it best, “Just put the DUI checkpoints at the end of every Taco Bell drive thru. Why not catch ALL the drunks?” But in all seriousness, in a town of foodies and cutting edge culinaria, we tend to gravitate to a more substantial and gut worthy form of sustenance, drunk or sober. The intestines of New Orleanian’s are the elitist bowels of America. And we have every reason to be snobs.
Dat Dog is a prime example in the 'fast food' turned gourmet forum. What started on Freret Street with a cult following has branched out to the eye pleasing Magazine digs, and soon there will also be a French Quarter location. Having a post in three well-traveled parts of the city, for locals and tourists alike, is what makes this business a boomer. Something as simple as a hot dog can be life changing with the proper ingredients. Expanding on an American classic with creative combinations sends these guys to the front line. And the atmosphere?  Well, if you haven't been, where have you been? It is a game changer. Skip Murray, Dat Dog's founder, is always searching for new, innovative ways to deliver product. Sourcing ideas from all over the world, he assures that frankfurters of beef, pork, duck sausage and many other local tinges, like crawfish and gator, will continue to share the menu with the likes of German, Polish, and British centers. Fish is also available for the meat weary. Sidecars of fries, done to perfection, are the sensible pairing. One offering is even named after a local culinary favorite and fan of the venture, Poppy Tooker.
Dreamy Weenies takes the dog to a truly local level, claiming the market on hot dogs gone NOLA. Quality Halal, Kosher and even vegan hot dogs are available just across from Armstrong Park in the Vieux Carré. Their Rampart storefront menu boasts the seven inch quarter pound dog done in a logical and dietary conscious manner for those that have restrictive diets or lifestyles. Separate pots and cooking utensils are used to make cross contamination a non-issue. The Satchmo dog is the perfect Monday go-to as it comes topped with loads of red beans and rice. Plays on metro area neighborhoods, like the Genchili comes doused in chili and Creole mix. Or try a daily nuisance like 'the Pothole', which hits you with a hefty dressing of potato salad, house chili and shredded cheddar, putting a tasty spin on the things that make NOLA home.
Diva Dawg is situated where the Lower Garden District comes alive at the intersection of St. Mary and Magazine Street. The burgeoning hot dog scene was graced with another weiner, I mean winner, and one worthy of the ‘Diva’ title when owner Ericka Lassair opened up shop in September of 2012. Lassair's culinary experience at Commander’s Palace and a 2nd place finish on Food Network’s “Next Food Network Star” gives her the klout and motivation to keep slingin' bangers from the kitchen. Menu items are simple—a naked dog of your choice topped with whatever you hanker. Combinations like the Red Bean Chili Dog topped with Fried Chicken and Andouille ketchup is a mouthful of amazing, while other options may induce creativity in the form of Sweet Fire Oyster Chili Dog with Creole Cream Cheese. Local variations include the Zapp’s Chili Dog and the notably messy and delicious Étouffée dog. Sweet potato tots and cheese fries make a logical sidecar choice while the Crab Meat Grilled Cheesy is a sandwich all thrill seekers should taste.
The same duo that brought you Killer Poboys has a new venture in the French Quarter. Dis Taco is a morsel of goodness born out of a merged idea between Chefs Cam Boudreaux and April Bellows. April's first independent venture, Taco Bella, started in late 2009, operating out of the Erin Rose back kitchen. Their new school po-boy business, which currently operates out of the same space, rallied daily inspirations, be it from ingredient sourcing or the actual construction of sandwiches, and helped bring ingenuity into play. Metamorphosis is relative when ideas meet at the juncture of experience and motivation; stimulus in the form of food that travels spawned the notion to revisit tacos as a potential gig. Cam explains, “We live in a nation of immigrants where people are always on the move. The great handheld meals are the ones that Americans gravitate toward. And there's no better snack than the taco.” Hearing him explain the Dosa Batter Tortilla, I picture a circular canvas where a creative combination of ingredients fill the center and is then folded over—the total composition a masterpiece.
Fillers such as handmade Mexican chorizo and coriander citrus spiced Gulf fish topped with hibiscus slaw make the central grounds a play place for character. The menu will be an ongoing development, but always including local, all natural ingredients and Gulf sourced seafood. Dis Taco currently run out of the Molly's on Decatur kitchen, stationed in the back portion of the building; the area patrons have only ever really known as the passageway to the restrooms. The space was acquired because, according to Cam, “The powers that be at Molly's were impressed with Killer Poboys. A little backstory on the properties is that Jim Monaghan bequeathed Erin Rose to its current owners and the Monaghan's still run Molly's, so therein lies the connection. And we're very grateful.”
Tacos and burritos have been romancing New Orleans for years. When you ask someone if they'd like to grab some 'ritas and a great burrito, most likely you'll hear locals recommend Juan's Flying Burrito. Posted up in Mid City on Carrollton Avenue and in the Lower Garden District on Magazine Street, Juan's has been present since pre-Katrina. Opening in 1997 with the goal to serve a Creole Taqueria scope of Mexicana fare, the inspiration for the establishment was pulled from the Mission style burrito joints based in San Francisco. Feeding a desire to craft a homemade and unique experience, the interior decors of both restaurants flaunt an artsy, comfortable atmosphere, while the food takes the taste buds to another level. The Gutterpunk Burrito is everything you'd expect out of a rolled-up handful of goodness. Add potatoes and it is revolutionary. The Mardi Gras Indians Tacos feed the hungry vegetarians with gobs of cheese, and veggies, (namely corn, peppers, and shredded red cabbage), all the while matching its famous local namesake with color and spice.
The Mexican Street Corn on the Cob with poblano aioli and Cotija cheese at Chef Susan Spicer's Mondo in Lakeview is a gourmet version of a famous street fare favorite. Their lunch service includes equally appetizing broiled fish tacos, dressed beautifully with cilantro lime crema, apple jicama slaw, and filling avocado. One thing Chef Spicer is known for is colorful food that is as full of flavor as it is eye appeal. Sous Chef Nancy Berg, who traveled to Mondo with Spicer from Bayona, talks passionately about the menus. They differ slightly between lunch and dinner, and entirely for brunch service. She begins by stating that the pizzas will always be a part of mealtime at the restaurant. Their brick oven fires off gorgeous hand stretched dough that is crisped to impeccable form, front and center of the dining room. The burning wood adds a hint of smoky appeal to toppings like mushroom, leek and pancetta, and butternut squash, radicchio, goat cheese, and prosciutto. A hand held work of art; they are all the more interesting when you can feel, smell, AND taste them.

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