For 7 years, Food Fest has been bringing comfort food together for a weekend of feasting and music. Celebrating informal food, the Fest presents local fare as well as dishes from as far away as Tennessee, Connecticut and Rochester, New York. Like at most fests, you can tell the favorites by the lines and Miss Linda the Yakamein Lady seemed to be the consistent favorite along with Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken from Memphis.
We started day 1 with dessert – the legendary Baked Alaska from Antoine’s, the oldest family-run restaurant in the U.S. We wandered the booths and looked over people’s shoulders, checking out their choices as they sampled some of the offerings. We started our savory treats with delicious Fried Green Tomato Chips with Remoulade ($5) from Chartres House and followed up with Galvez Restaurant‘s Shrimp, Chicken & Andouille Paella ($8) and Miss Linda’s Mac & Cheese with Crawfish and Shrimp ($5). We finished with a delicious, sweet, gooey Homemade Bread Pudding with Praline Sauce ($5) from Peck’s Seafood Restaurant and headed over to the stage to watch New Breed Brass Band close out the day.
New Breed includes members of Baby Boyz Brass Band and Trombone Shorty’s nephew and with their obvious discipline and talent, they seem firmly positioned as the next thing to happen in Brass Bands. In 2013, they competed with some of the best and most well-established bands in town and came in 2nd. But at Food Fest, when they played a local favorite and got to the part where we all yell, “Hey!” and throw our hands in the air… I could only turn and say, “Are we the only locals here?”
Then I noticed the crowd wasn’t nearly as deep as I thought it was – they had formed a giant semi-circle around the stage and were all watching, standing still, from a distance. Maybe you’re not from here and you’re reading this and thinking, “So?” But here, we press right up to the stage and dance ourselves sweaty. So I pushed through and was getting photos in the big-empty when a local jumped in and took advantage of the huge dance floor. Then a couple more joined in including Jennifer Jones, the perennial second line dancer. With the camera-phones on them, I couldn’t help thinking we might look strange to out-of-towners, but we never look bored.
A special bonus just for me was when New Breed covered Rick James’ Mary Jane. Just the day before, I’d been singing it in my car thinking, “Why don’t any brass bands ever cover this?” What a treat to have the new kids on the block be the ones to bring back this old school favorite.
Day 2 was just as beautiful and breezy as day 1. There was already a line for Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken when we got there early but we braved it and got a breast ($4 – legs and wings were half that). It was good but I’m still stuck on Willie Mae’s. Then it was back to Peck’s Seafood Restaurant for some Chicken & Sausage Jambalaya ($6). The weather had warmed a bit so we headed to Plum Street Snoballs (small $3, large $4) for a Nectar – my first snoball of the season.
The Pelicans are within reach of the Playoffs so we took a break from eating to watch the game and missed the beignet eating contest. With another win under the team’s belt, we headed back to the fest for Cafe Reconcile‘s tender and flavorful Roast Beef Debris Po-Boy ($7) and yummy Banana Foster Bread Pudding ($6). I almost made it to the popular The Fry Bar for their exotic Rosemary or Parmesan & Garlic or Thyme, Gouda & Garlic ($6) fries but the line was prohibitively long and I was still remembering those Fried Green Tomatoes from Chartres House. So we grabbed one of those and wandered back to the stage to watch Mia Borders close the festival.
Borders enjoys a following of devoted fans here so I wasn’t surprised to find them dancing in a thick crowd right in front of the stage. After all that eating, it’s not a bad idea to shake a little booty. As always, attending this fest meant missing others like Hogs for the Cause and the Tennessee Williams Fest so I guess it’ll be yet another year before I finally see the “Stella!!!” contest where people yell at a balcony. Only in NOLA.