Across the country, cravings for spiced lattes and autumn-inspired comfort foods are getting stronger. But in sultry New Orleans, people are still reaching for icy treats and seafood dishes, prepared with fresh seafood from regional waters.
Both will be available at the fifth annual Downriver Festival, which is based on a “Shrimp and Sno-balls” theme.
The free event happens on Saturday at The New Orleans Jazz Museum, at the Old U.S. Mint. Through seminars, live music, and food from local restaurants, the festival will highlight the economic, environmental and cultural impact of the Mississippi River.
“It made sense to have a festival built around the idea of the river. It’s such a major influence on why the city is where it is,” said Greg Lambousy, the director of The New Orleans Jazz Museum.
The Downriver Festival pairs food and drinks that are an integral part of the city’s history and culture. Recent festivals have focused on “coffee and bananas” and “sugar and rum.”
The festival’s planning committee felt that shrimp would be a good fit for this year’s theme because it’s one of the primary catches in the region, Lambousy said.
“It's going to be hot, so we threw in sno-balls,” he added.
The collective menu for savory foods contains “everything from home-cooking to high cuisine,” and shrimp is the star ingredient.
The options include blackened shrimp tacos from Oceana Grill; creamy shrimp pasta from LaDelyo's Creole Catering; and fried green tomatoes with shrimp remoulade from Café Dauphine.
Voleo's Seafood Restaurant, which is based in Lafitte, will serve Creole shrimp and eggplant rice; fried soft-shell crab and fried shrimp po-boys; and a smothered rabbit po-boy, topped with crispy fried shrimp.
“Shrimp is the backbone of Louisiana, at least in the southern part, towards the Gulf,” said David Volion, the owner of Voleo’s Seafood Restaurant. “You've got a lot of people that (catch shrimp) for a living.”
Plum Street Snowballs will join other well-known sno-ball stands and will sell a few of its top flavors, such as nectar cream, chocolate, strawberry, bubble gum and spearmint.
“The sno-ball is something that was homegrown here in New Orleans. They’ve tried to copy it all over the U.S. … but they don’t have it,” said Donna Black, who co-owns Plum Street Snowballs with her husband.
With summer winding down, she described the Downriver Festival as “the last hurrah” for sno-ball fans.
In addition to sno-balls, the festival will offer beverages and cocktails. The Mexican Consulate will host a tequila tasting, featuring a variety of spirits from around Mexico.
“Those could be used to make an adult sno-ball,” said Lambousy.
Cooking demonstrations take place in the French Market and include presentations by Pêche’s chef de cuisine, Brian Burns, and participating food vendor Gulf Tacos.
The festival kicks off at 10:30 a.m. with a rousing second-line led by the Kinfolk Brass Band. It starts in Jackson Square and ends at the New Orleans Jazz Museum, where the Soul Brass Band and Dancing Man 504 will pick up the fun with a performance.
The live music lineup also features Bruce “Sunpie” Barnes & the Louisiana Sunspots, Javier Olondo & AsheSon, Fredy Omar con su Banda, the Arrowhead Jazz Band, Bluezy Pink Magnolias and Bookoo Rueda dance group.
The series of lectures include: “Shrimp: From Net to Table to Economic Powerhouse” and “Water and the Next Generation: Educating Our Children About Coastal Restoration and All Things Related.”
Filmmaker Kevin McCaffrey will lead a discussion about the Asian influences on Louisiana’s shrimping industry. George Ingmire, a media producer for WWOZ, will join the owners of Plum Street Snowballs and Sal’s Sno-ball Stand to talk about the sweet, seasonal treat.
Misting fans and large shade tents will be placed throughout the festival grounds, but Lambousy said guests are welcome to explore the exhibitions inside of The Jazz Museum, while also enjoying a little respite from the summer heat.
What: Fifth annual Downriver Festival
When: Saturday, Sept. 9, from 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Where: The New Orleans Jazz Museum at the Old U.S. Mint