Growing up, I encountered sweet potatoes only once a year, during Thanksgiving. My mother would make her mother’s recipe for Candied Yams, which was a bit different than the traditional, marshmallow-topped casserole but a staple in our annual fall feast nonetheless. Peeled and sliced into large wedges, my mom would slowly sauté the sweet potatoes in butter and brown sugar until they softened and browned, creating chewy, caramelized edges and bits (that everyone fought over) with sweet, soft, buttery centers.
In my first year here in the Crescent City, I was privileged enough to meet Miss Mary, the matriarch of a large Creole family whose incredible cooking would draw folks from all over the neighborhood just to get a whiff. One day, my friend (who lived next to Miss Mary in a double shotgun) and I were sitting on the porch, trying, unsuccessfully, not to drool from the aromas wafting from next door, when Miss Mary came out and offered us some sweet potato pie. Naturally, we jumped at the opportunity and it was an experience that I will likely never forget. The crust was delicate and flaky and the pie was crisp on top where a layer of sugar had been melted, forming a sweet, crunchy shell very much like a crème brûlée.
After that singular occasion, I began noticing sweet potato dishes all over the city, a trend that has increased rather recently due to the vegetable’s popularity among anti-carb aficionados and Paleo Diet enthusiasts. At almost any restaurant in town, you are bound to find a sweet potato dish, and not only on the dessert menu. French fries seem to be the most prevalent form of sweet potato in restaurants all over the city, but one of the most distinctive would have to be Boudreaux Fries at Bruno’s Tavern. Located on Maple Street in the Riverbend, Bruno’s has been a regular hangout since 1934. Although you’re welcome to order a burger and beer alongside, the Boudreaux Fries—topped with roast beef debris, crumbled bleu cheese, sugar and spice pecans and golden raisins—are bound to fill you up. It doesn’t sound like it would work, does it? Oh, but it does...
Speaking of sides, High Hat Cafe on Freret Street offers an interesting Sweet Potato Salad you can consume with your crispy fried catfish, among other items. The salad is similar to a regular potato salad, only the cubes of orange sweet potato are boiled just enough to be tender but not mushy, still holding their form after mixing with mayonnaise, chopped hard-boiled eggs, green onions and other seasonings.
For a more unusual use of sweet potatoes, head to the innovative restaurant Root in the Warehouse District. Chef Phillip Lopez’s creativity knows no bounds, as one can plainly see in his “Sweet Tea” Country Fried Chicken Wings with miso butterscotch country biscuits and sweet potato sorghum butter. Does it get any cooler than that? Another interesting rendition of this Southern staple is found at the vegan eatery Seed on Prytania Street in the Lower Garden District. Among many other intriguing dishes, Seed offers a Sweet Potato & Mushroom Cake that is essentially a dehydrated veggie pâté seasoned with sage and rosemary and served with tomato, onion, avocado and house-made onion flax bread.
Finally, although you’re bound to find a sweet potato pie this season at a variety of different restaurants around town, there’s something quite unique for dessert at Three Muses on Frenchmen Street. Stop in one evening at this musical mecca in the Marigny, and kick back and listen to music by Luke Winslow-King or Glen David Andrews while sipping on a cocktail created by bartender extraordinaire Kimberly Patton-Bragg. Even better, enjoy dinner or a few small plates from Chef Daniel Esses’s menu, such as the Deviled Yard Eggs with duck cracklins or, more appropriately, his Sweet Potato Flan with amaretti cookies and fresh whipped cream.