Shopping Big Easy

for a super bowl of gumbo

Posted: February 04, 2010

Here is an excerpt from Craig LaBan's online chat:

Craig LaBan: I've gotta love a Super Bowl with a culinary theme - I'm planning to make some of my best NOLA dishes this weekend (jambalaya, maybe a gumbo) . . . but can't do that without the proper smoked meats. I'm online ordering from Jacob's Andouille this year, chef John Besh's favorite. In the past, I've had good success with Best Stop in Lafayette, and Cajun Grocer, an excellent online source for all Louisiana products. Most do next-day and 2-day shipping, so Thursday or Friday is still plenty o' time to get that gumbo pot cooking.

Reader: I got andouille and tasso for gumbo mail-ordered from Poché's in Beaux Bridge, La., a few months ago. Delicious, not too crazy expensive, and shipped overnight in an insulated box. Way cheaper than Cajun Grocer.

CLB: Poche's is pretty good, Jeff, but they use some liquid smoke in their andouille. Best Stop is superior in my book, as they and Jacob's use genuine wood smoke. As for Cajun Grocer, they mark up, as all online services would, but I found their service excellent, and their selection broad enough for a one-stop shop.

CLB: I had lunch at Aramark's health code-challenged cafeteria in the state capitol building, which my editors thought would be worth a critical visit, given the headlines about failed inspections. It was what you'd expect from a big cafeteria. Don't let anyone tell you being a restaurant critic is all glamour.

Reader: I share your frustrations with the food at the Capitol. Any suggestions for a tasty, but inexpensive lunch in Harrisburg?

CLB: Sorry, that cafeteria was the extent of my Harrisburg eating lately. I have asked our Capitol bureau for recommendations. . . . This from Amy Worden, of the Inquirer's state Capitol bureau: "My fav is Cafe Fresca on 2nd St. - homemade mini pizzas, great sandwiches including veggie melts and salads. Jackson House on 6th has world-class burgers and fries. Also, Sandwich Man on 2nd - a "guys place" gets kudos from Rendell and Mario Cattabiani who love the meaty subs with their hefty portions."

Reader: Your comment about your editors made me wonder . . . who selects the restaurants you review and how much say do the editors have in that process?

CLB: For the Sunday reviews, I've had 100 percent autonomy. But I write a lot of other stories, too (like the Harrisburg piece, not a rated review). I get assignments from editors to do stories that spin off the news. The Capitol Cafe was not my idea, but it turned out to be a fun and challenging assignment.

Reader: I'm organizing a birthday celebration for my mom and brother. We are looking for a Sunday brunch, specifically a BYOB.

CLB: I had a promising first nibble at Green Eggs in South Philly last weekend. Any ideas from the floor?

Reader: Try Cafe Apamate, 16th and South.

CLB: Great suggestion for a Spanish tapas theme-especially if you like fresh churros and hot chocolate.

Reader: Kanella would work.

CLB: Yes, actually Kanella does a splendid brunch. So does Koo Zee Doo. These have distinct themes (Cypriot-Greek for Kanella; Portuguese for KZD), but they are two of my most favorite recent BYOBs.

Reader: Sabrina's is BYOB.

CLB: Yeah, but try getting a large party in there for brunch! Lines are too darn long to make a group wait.

Reader: Does Supper do brunch? I've been there for dinner a while back and liked it.

CLB: Yes, Supper does, and a very nice one at that.

Reader: MeMe for brunch . . . foie gras pancakes are excellent.

CLB: Yet another good brunch suggestion. They have a small wine list, but they do allow BYOB- I'm not sure about the corkage fee.

Reader: What do you think about David Ansill taking over Ladder 15? Sounds odd.

CLB: I have to admit, this is an odd pairing. But don't forget, before launching his empire of more ambitious places (Pif and Ansill), David cheffed at some unlikely places-Lucy's Hat Shop, the Continental. That Ladder 15 never had good food did not hurt business-there's always a happy-hour mob. Ansill's arrival might give foodies another reason to take a look.

Reader: Some pretty reliable poster posted on Chowhound that John's Roast Pork sandwich is not at its best . . . any word on John's recovery?

CLB: I've eaten at John's periodically over the past year, and it's always been what I remembered. But even John's has had inconsistency depending on who mans the grill. John Bucci Jr. is still on the path to recovery. It's been a couple of months since we spoke, but he seems to be on the mend, and on track to take over the luncheonette again. I know he's cooked a few shifts but he's still not yet back full-time. Very few people I've met are as "on top" of the details of their business like John, so I'm not really all that concerned about a John's meltdown yet based on one Chowhound report.

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