The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival is teeming with flavors – some from Cajun country, some from the deep trove of New Orleans Creole soul, and some from the many diverse communities of people who call this place home.
This year, more than 50 vendors provide the provisions. Some are restaurants, others are caterers and a few are nonprofits.
To cut into it, you can follow your whim, or your nose, and simply pick whatever looks good with confidence. Jazz Fest maintains very high standards for its food vendors. This is not the glorified stadium food you get at some other big events.
But veteran Jazz Fest revelers will tell you it helps to have a plan.
That’s why I’m offering this all-star line up of Jazz Fest flavors that are classic (and a few I reckon will attain classic status soon). It gives a flavor of what this event is all about.
Remember quite a few vendors are on hiatus in this especially challenging year (hence no cracklin’, sweet potato turnovers or Creole stuffed bread this time – they’d be on my short list otherwise).
And I’ll be offering other cuts into the line-up by different categories (big meals, lighter dishes, etc.) as the festival continues.
These are arranged by area. Food Area 1 is near the center of the festival grounds, in front of the Economy Hall Tent. Food Area 2 is closer to the Festival Stage (previously called the Acura Stage). Congo Square food area is by the Congo Square stage. And the Heritage Square food area is between the Blues Tent and the Jazz Tent.
Hot sausage po-boy Vaucresson (Food Area 1): Continuity is a theme for Jazz Fest food and Vaucresson’s is the multi-generation emblem of that. The Vaucresson family has been part of Jazz Fest from the beginning so of course it’s back now. This sausage is chaurice, a Creole heritage food, an important ingredient for many gumbos around town. You get one all to yourself in this classic po-boy.
Crawfish bread (Food Area I): With crawfish and cheese baked into crusty bread, this is a little like a calzone, but distinctively of Louisiana. It’s one of the most portable dishes at Jazz Fest too, wrapped in foil so you can toss it into your bag for a trek back to the stage.
Pecan catfish meuniere with seafood mirliton casserole (Food Area 1): This is the kind of meal you might be lucky enough to get if someone from south Louisiana invited you over for supper. The casserole, spicy and full of seafood, is holiday home cooking and the whole plate works together as a feast.
Cochon de lait po-boy (Food Area 1): There are only a handful of vendors serving a single dish at their booth. The runaway popularity of this po-boy dictates that kind of focus. This is barbecued pork, Louisiana style, and the contrast between the textures of the meat and the crunchy creamy slaw are irresistible.
Crawfish sack, oyster patties, crawfish beignets (Food Area 1): One of the head-turning combo platters of Jazz Fest, this combo looks like you’ve filled a plate from a Louisiana buffet. The sacks are like fried dumplings filled with crawfish, the oyster patties are vol-au-vent pastry shells filled with a creamy oyster sauce, the crawfish beignets are puffy fried dollops of batter filled with more crawfish.
Yakamein (Food Area 1): A hangover is not required to enjoy this second line parade classic, also known as “old sober.” But Miss Linda Green’s broth, smacking with green onions, sluiced with noodles, bits of beef and egg and the (optional) shot of hot sauce, is undeniably restorative. If that sounds like just what you need somewhere along your Jazz Fest experience, no one will judge.
Mango freeze (Food Area 1, and other locations): The iconic sweet treat of Jazz Fest, it’s a sorbet with robust mango flavor but only mellow sweetness. It’s refreshing, and it also doubles as a fundraiser for community radio station WWOZ 90.7 FM in New Orleans. Pro tip: this pairs beautifully with the sparking wine sold from nearby beverage tents; pour some over the mango freeze or add a spoonful to your bubbly.
Crawfish bisque (Heritage Square): Here’s an all-star Louisiana heritage dish, one rarely seen outside family kitchens. This one comes down through traditions maintained by the Baquet family at Li’l Dizzy’s Café in Treme. It shows all the labor of love and effort the dish requires, stuffed crawfish heads and all.
Poulet fricassee with jama jama (Congo Square): The French Quarter restaurant Bennachin has long demonstrated the African roots of many Louisiana flavors, and at Jazz Fest it’s made this pairing of grilled chicken (served on skewers) and sauteed, mildly seasoned spinach into a festival classic in its own right. It’s also a welcome lighter option.
Pheasant, quail, andouille gumbo (Food Area 2): Gumbo is everywhere in New Orleans, and yet many locals eagerly anticipate Jazz Fest each year for another taste of this one from Prejean’s Restaurant in Lafayette. It’s the epitome of a country style Cajun gumbo, teeming with fowl and smoky sausage in a deeply flavored roux.
Crawfish Monica (Food Area 2): A bowl of seafood pasta with cream sauce might not seem like a natural fit for free-wheeling festival food under the hot spring sun, but this dish is synonymous with Jazz Fest after its long tenure here. For many devotees, it’s the dishes that welcomes them back to Jazz Fest.
Crawfish strudel (Food Area 2): Crawfish tails with trinity and green onions in a lightly creamy, flavorful sauce — it sounds like a Louisiana stew to slurp up with a spoon. Instead, this Jazz Fest creation from Cottage Catering is encased in delicate sheets of phyllo dough, making it an easily portable snack with a rich flavor.
Soft shell crab po-boy (Food Area 2): In other cultures they might look askance at such a gnarly, leggy thing wedged into a loaf. But we know that a whole fried soft shell crab is one of the gifts of southeast Louisiana’s robust seafood heritage. Casually chowing down on these while strolling between Jazz Fest stages is one of the joys of living.
Crabmeat stuffed beignet (Food Area 2): Rich, indulgent and quite possibly the single best bite of food at Jazz Fest, these are beignets merged with crabcakes. The sweet, fresh taste of crab melts into a beignet with its own croissant-like texture and crisp outer shell. You’ll devour this in just a few bites. It’s not a meal, it’s an experience.
Crawfish, spinach & zucchini bisque (Food Area 2): Some dishes and Jazz Fest are inseparable from the vendors who serve them here each year, and this is one, a signature of the family-run Tunisian restaurant Jamila’s. It’s a warm soup though the blend of greens makes it feel more refreshing and restorative then hearty, and the crawfish give you that little taste of Louisiana.
Yakiniku po-boy (Food Area 2): This Japanese style po-boy is like a marriage of a banh mi and a cheesesteak. The bits and strands of meat give a delicious jus, cucumber and carrots add crunch and an (optional) overlay of chunky garlic chile sauce brings the heat. The Vietnamese-style French loaf holds it all together and completes this multicultural mash up.
Cajun chicken & tasso with Creole rice (Food Area 2): Tasso, the dense, deeply smoky Cajun ham, is usually a background player, lending its flavor to the base of dish. In this case, it gets the spotlight in a hearty, satisfying, good bang-for-the-buck dish that brings a taste of the Acadiana countryside to Jazz Fest.
Rosemint iced tea (Food Area 1 and 2, Heritage Square): This is iced tea, plain and simple. It is also unquestionably one of the defining flavors of Jazz Fest. Refreshing, voluminous in portion, with just a light herbal flavor, it pairs well with just about anything from the food booths (and, rumor has it, it’s handy as the basis for endless customization by those who prefer to fest it up with spiked tea).
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