Friday, May 20, 2016

Cocktails & Dinner in the French Quarter

Tujague’s Cookbook Takes You There

“Tujague’s is truly a neighborhood restaurant, located in America’s oldest neighborhood—the French Quarter. . . . This is one of the things that makes New Orleans so special and is indicative of the important role restaurants play in our culture.”
                Poppy Tooker, Tujague’s Cookbook                        

By Doc Lawrence

NEW ORLEANS-My first visit to the French Quarter was way back when I was a very innocent 17 year-old aimlessly walking around before marching with a military drill team the next day in a parade. A nice lady from Germany took a lost soul under her wings and led me to a grand restaurant on Decatur Street, force-feeding me a whiskey punch cocktail and sharing stunning shrimp and oysters. Drawn back by the charm of the city many times, one memory sticks out: Tujague’s, a landmark American restaurant.

Like so much of the French Quarter, this institution escaped the wrecking ball and Katrina and we who don’t live there are rewarded because much of the culinary glory is preserved in print, particularly through the handiwork of author Poppy Tooker and her wonderfully written and skillfully produced Tujague’s Cookbook (Pelican Publishing, Gretna, La.)

There are many excellent restaurants in the Quarter, but few have such venerable ancestral lines. Founded by immigrant butchers, Tujague’s, according to Ms. Tooker, has stayed true to the spirit and continuity of this unique neighborhood, keeping a kinship to the fruits of the abundant waters and the cooking styles of the melting pot culture.

Authenticity is a hallowed ethic here and even with the new celebrity chefs and the influences of popular culture in America, the deeper roots of New Orleans kitchens pay homage to early cooks who used what was at hand and evolved everything into a distinct culinary heritage that never stales yet is always evolving.

If you’ve dined at Tujague’s or any of the older classic restaurants in the Quarter, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

Creole Cream Cheese Pie
Paul Prudhomme and John Folse through their cookbooks, celebrity appearances on television and countless cooking demonstrations did much to promote appreciation for the food served in South Louisiana restaurants and thus became our teachers.. The language and nomenclature once very daunting, was simplified, a masterful undertaking that brought the gift of this remarkable cuisine and bedrock recipes into home kitchens coast to coast. Gumbo and jambalaya suddenly found companions like courtbouillion, andouille sausage and the many ways to enjoy oysters.

Likewise, Poppy Tooker takes the mystery out of the exciting recipes from Tujague’s anthology with a huge array of recipes where authentic ingredients are today easily obtainable, presenting them in a way that inspires even the beginner to go get some groceries and start cooking up some Oysters Benedict with Tujague’s Buttermilk Biscuits. For lunch, let’s have Sautéed Shrimp and Okra with Smoked Sausage. Wines? The meals become elevated with a bottle of Gevrey Chambertin, one of Napolean’s favorites, and Cru Chablis, which Ernest Hemingway loved with oysters.

Cocktails were born in the French Quarter and as a bonus for readers, Ms. Tooker tells the story of the green fairy, Antoine Peychaud and the Sazerac. Home entertaining usually includes cocktails and wines, and as her book demonstrates, sophisticated beverages owe homage to New Orleans. The recipes include the frothy Grasshopper, a delicious cocktail that, like Whiskey Punch, originated at Tujague’s.

Tujague’s Cookbook has some muscle and a whole lot of depth. A beautiful production with a vast selection of ancient and contemporary photographs, it would be a terrific gift for Father’s Day, any birthday or for yourself if you long to get back to the basics of good cooking and meaningful entertaining.

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