Plenty of seasoned Jazz Fest fans show up knowing precisely what they'll eat. The food vendors and their dishes do not change much from year to year. Heck, some of us have devised our own strategies to carve up the bounty (you've seen our "food cubes," right?).
What’s on your itinerary for Jazz Fest? Ask some New Orleanians that question and you might hear the name crawfish Monica before Alanis Morissette.
But there are usually a few changes to the lineup to check out, and this year brings a mix of new, revamped or returning dishes, and a guest restaurant that is no stranger to the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival either.
Here's a look at how they shake out:
Oyster Rockefeller bisque, Food Area 2
This dish lives up to its name, tasting essentially like an oysters Rockefeller that you slurp from a spoon instead scoop from a shell.
The whole oysters are plump and still tender, and they bob in a thick, herbaceous bisque streaked with a distinctive anise flavor and dusted with a nutty, salty sprinkle of parmesan.
This is actually a returning dish, which TJ Gourmet served a few years back when this long-running vendor went by the name Food for Thought. At $10, the price seemed a little steep, though the oysters were plentiful and the dish was filling. I tried it between rain bands on the soggy starting day of Jazz Fest, when it tasted just right. The appeal might be lessened on a hot muggy day, but there's only one way to know for sure — a second taste on a fresh Jazz Fest day!
Mini shrimp and andouille pies and mini broccoli and cheese pies, Food Area 2
Mrs. Wheat’s Foods is best known for its regular, palm-sized meat pies, with their horseshoe shape and spicy beef filling. They’re the kind of thing you might find at your better Louisiana truck stop. These two new mini pies are more like cocktail party food, three-bite, football-shaped snacks to gobble on the go.
The shrimp and andouille filling is like a thick stew, with the namesake ingredients blended together under the thin crust. The broccoli and cheese pies replace the full-sized version Mrs. Wheat previously sold out here, with their cheesy casserole-like fillings now rendered small.
They're served in cups, four to an order, for $6. It's good kid food for sure, especially when more than one kid will share them. A mix and match option (two of each?) would be helpful, but I could see this slowing down the operation on a busy day.
Redfish Baquet, Heritage Square
Li’l Dizzy’s Café is the epitome of the New Orleans neighborhood joint, and this dish is a good representation of downhome New Orleans Creole cooking. It is based on a Li'l Dizzy's standard, the trout Baquet, which has been served at Jazz Fest (and the Baquet family's Treme restaurant) for years. For the 50th anniversary of Jazz Fest, proprietor Wayne Baquet decided to up the ante with redfish. This is a big step up, with a meatier fillet, full flavor and moist texture.
The recipe is the same, and it sounds simple: the fish is cooked with butter and seasoning and parsley until it has a golden edge, and it's finished with crabmeat. In practice, it shows what the Creole palate can do to a seemingly straightforward dish. The fish and crab and butter meld together for a plate ($10) that would be at home at an upscale restaurant and feels like a blessing as festival food here at the Fair Grounds.
Get the combo ($14) with the Creole gumbo, loaded with many meats, crab and shrimp, and you are good to go.
Yucca fries with chimichurri, Food Area 1
I should probably just acknowledge up front that I am a chimichurri fiend. A tangy, tart swirl of parsley, garlic, olive oil, garlic, herbs and more garlic, it is like the Latin version of pesto, for which I also have a weakness.
I will try chimichurri on almost anything, and now that a Jazz Fest vendor is whipping some up, I foresee some future pairing possibilities. The chimichurri that the still new-ish vendor Congreso Cubano brings is thick and garlicky and wonderful, and it is the reason to order the yucca fries ($6).
These crisp, golden sticks of the starchy tuber are fairly bland on their own, but work well as a delivery system for the chimichurri, giving a balanced platform and a bit of crunch. For a full meal, get the combo plate ($11) with the ropa vieja, a luscious (and also garlicky) mass of tender beef over rice.
Chicken curry, vegetable stew, cheese bread, Cultural Exchange Pavilion
The special food booth at the Cultural Exchange Pavilion changes year to year, and this time around the vendor is Carmo, the standout Warehouse District restaurant known for a menu that ranges across the globe. With the Guatemala groove of Doctor Nativo rocking away in the nearby pavilion on Friday afternoon, its dishes added to a truly international feel around this corner of Jazz Fest. Carmo serves three dishes:
Colombo de poulet, an island-style curry from Martinique ($8), is deeply flavorful and aromatic though not spicy. It sparkles with bright flavors of sweet peppers and green onion as the curry seeps into the fluffy basmati rice beneath. It’s substantial but doesn’t feel too heavy.
Bunny chow is based on a traditional South African curry. No bunnies were harmed in the making of this vegetarian dish ($7), which is based on chickpeas and potatoes and has an earthy, smoky flavor in the curry and a salsa-like hash of tomato, red onion and green onion over a bed of sour cream to swirl in. Bunny chow is typically served like a bread bowl filled with curry; this version is poured around a roll instead.
Pão de queijo is a Brazilian cheese bread ($6) that Carmo also served during its 2014 Jazz Fest visit. They have a dense tapioca texture of cassava flour, like a grilled cheese with a stretch and chew to it. Plain on their own, they're a good candidate to dunk in either the curry or stew.
The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival is teeming with flavors — some from classic Louisiana tradition, some from more recent immigrant co…