The calendar tells us that fall starts on Sept. 23. But we know better. In New Orleans, fall starts when you switch off the A/C and keep it off for more than a day.
We had a little taste of that recently, and it stoked some perennial cool-weather food cravings for hearty meat dishes. Some around town irrepressibly spring to mind as autumn approaches, while some newer dishes I’ve sampled lately automatically have me rooting for sweater weather.
As classics go, it doesn’t get much better than the cochon de lait at Brigtsen’s (723 Dante St., 504-861-7610), which is the antidote to all those trendy cochon de lait dishes that prove little more than pulled pork by another name. Frank Brigtsen’s version, served in layered slices, is deeply flavored, imbued with garlic, very tender, soaked in pork bone gravy and crowned with curls of its own cracklin’.
The roast duck has long been a staple at Emeril Lagasse’s NOLA (524 St. Louis St., 504-522 6652), and it remains so now that chef de cuisine Brian Mottola leads the kitchen. Brined one day, poached the next and hickory smoked on the third, this bird is meltingly soft and streaming with the aromatic flavor of smoke and dark jus under its burnished mahogany skin.
At Rue 127 (127 N. Carrollton Ave., 504 483-1571), there’s chef Ray Gruezke’s double-cut pork chop, which leaves the grill with dark lines of sizzled fat at the edges, gets a hash of micro greens and fried onions and sinks just a bit into a bed of creamy Cajun coush coush.
Down the street, at Toups’ Meatery (845 N. Carrollton Ave., 504-252-4999) practically every entrée feels tailor-made for fall weather, though it’s the barbecue goat that’s been calling to me lately. Charred in the barbecue pit, then braised until falling apart, the goat gives whiffs of paprika and árbol chile but tastes intensely of itself, thanks to a deeply reduced goat stock chef Isaac Toups works back in.
I can still taste the boudin-stuffed pork chop that Aaron Burgau had on his opening menu at Patois (6078 Laurel St., 504-895-9441) back in 2007. That’s gone, but Burgau outdid himself with a newer dish that shares its spirit — the boudin-stuffed chicken, encased in fried chicken skin and set over a dark golden pool of chicken gravy.
These are just a few on my mind, and I’m looking for more. As the time approaches when we can throw open our windows, the door for new hearty food cravings is wide open, too.
Follow Ian McNulty on Twitter @IanMcNultyNOLA.