Commander’s Palace

I’m doing some business with the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau and my contact, Carl, took me to lunch today at Commander’s Palace. We were seated upstairs overlooking the garden.

As plenty of other people have written and spoken, Commanders is an institution in the city. From being greeted by every single employee as you enter, to the coordinated placement of the food, to the food itself, it is quintessentially New Orleanian. It is also a food lovers paradise.

Before we even glanced at the menus (but after learning of the Friday Martini deal – twenty five cents!), they brought out an amuse bouche that was almost dessert with the sweet citrus flavor.

amuse bouche

I had the turtle soup as a starter and it had just the right touch of spice. For the main course, I went with the Shrimp and Grits.

shrimp and grits

The grits were creamy and silky smooth and the shrimp was seasoned to perfection.  The sauce was good enough that I was tempted to sop the remaining bit of bread in it to enjoy every last morsel.

Even though we were both full, we ended with dessert. The Bread Pudding Souffle was light and delicious but the Peach Shortcake was outstanding – fresh and sweet and a perfect ending to the meal.

dessert cp

As always, the service was excellent. Everyone who came to the table had a smile and the placement of food was impeccable and professional. Our glasses were refilled before they reached the halfway point.

All and all it was an amazing and enlightening meal.

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BBQ Pork Shoulder

I start with either a bone in, whole or half pork shoulder (also known as a Boston Butt). Remove it from the refrigerator in the morning so it can come to room temperature. The grilling process takes several hours, so I usually try to get it started at lunchtime, if I’m planning on serving it for dinner.

I use a Weber kettle grill and indirect heat for my barbequing, as I love what the smoke adds to the flavor. I put a layer of about twenty unlit briquettes along one side of the bottom grate. I then fill a chimney to light some briquettes. It usually takes about 30 minutes to get them ready and I use that time to soak a couple of hickory chips (not too small or they’ll burn) in water and cover the entire pork shoulder with a dry rub. My preference is Rustic Rub from Emeril Lagasse and I’ve posted the recipe below.

When the briquettes are all hot and ashy, I pour them over the crescent of briquettes. For ease of clean up later, I put down an aluminum pan for drips in the open side of the bottom grate and replace the top grate and lid. Now it is time to go and get the pork, not forgetting to clean and oil the now heated grill before putting the meat down over the drip pan. If there is a cap of fat, make sure it is on top, so as it heats and melts it will keep the meat from drying out.

It is important that the openings on the top grill grate are over the briquettes and the vent holes on the bottom and top of the grill are open all the way.

I walk away for thirty minutes. When I come back out, I rotate the meat a quarter turn and start another chimney of briquettes. When they are ready (about thirty minutes), I put down about five or so unlit briquettes and then cover with the lit ones. After another thirty minutes, I come back out to drop in a few more unlit briquettes and another hickory chip or two.

From this point on, I normally need to add a few more unlit briquettes every 30 minutes or so, just to keep the fire from getting too low. I also continue to rotate the meat so it gets beautiful on all sides. Typically, it takes about an hour per pound, so plan on starting early when you’ve got a big hunk of meat.

pork shoulder

The meat is done when the bone is loose enough to pull out. For the fussy folks, the internal temperature should be about 185 degrees. While the meat will be done and okay to eat at 160, it will be a little dry as all the collagen in this cut of meat doesn’t break down until around 175 degrees. It might seem counterintuitive but, if you want to be able to pull apart the meat, aim for 190 and there are some people who let it go over 200.

The meat should rest for thirty minutes once it has been taken off the heat. At that point, it can be cut into chunks or just pull it apart with a couple of forks or your bare hands.

pulled pork

I don’t sauce the meat – I let my guests add what they want. I do make coleslaw and baked beans for serving. My coleslaw recipe is super simple – shred half a head of cabbage and then add mayonnaise, yellow mustard, salt and pepper to taste. Make ahead so the flavors come together.

Baked Beans

1 large can pork and beans – go for original recipe
1/2 bell pepper, chopped
1/2 onion, chopped
1/4-1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup ketchup

Measurements for brown sugar and ketchup are guesstimates. Mix well and bake uncovered in a casserole dish for an hour or so at 350 degrees, until they have thickened.

baked beans

Rustic Rub:

8 tablespoons paprika
3 tablespoons cayenne
5 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
6 tablespoons garlic powder
3 tablespoons onion powder
6 tablespoons salt
2 1/2 tablespoons dried oregano
2 1/2 tablespoons dried thyme

Combine all ingredients and store in an airtight container. Yield: 2 1/4 cup

Naked Pizza

I got a door hanger the other day for Naked Pizza. That naked in the title doesn’t mean no sauce or toppings but that it is an all natural whole food. The crust is supposed to full of prebiotics and probiotics.

It sells the rest of the pizza as follows:

Better taste, better for you. Our tomato sauce is all-natural—nicely spiced and herbed, with no added sugar or citric acid. Our cheese is 100% natural. Our vegetables are all-natural, no additives. Our meats are pork, chicken and beef—free of growth hormones and antibiotics. Full of love.

It arrived to my door about 20 minutes after I placed the order and was piping hot. I ordered the cheesy breadsticks and they were just a bit too cheesy.

The pizza itself was well covered in the toppings. The pepperoni was delicious and mushrooms looked fresh. The sauce was not overly sweet with a strong tomato taste and a peppery finish. The crust was dense and a bit chewy.

While I’m not sure I’m sold on the need for all this health stuff in my pizza, it wasn’t a bad pie.

Vermilion House Bistro

I was in Lafayette today and was able to get together with a political crony, Amy Jones, again. On her suggestion we went to Vermilion House Bistro on Rue Vermilion.

We met at 12:45 for lunch and I was quite surprised to see that we were the only ones in the place. I was even more surprised after the meal – this place has awesome food!

We started with the Duck Croquettes – roasted duck and apples, battered and fried and served with a really tasty hot pepper fig jelly. While it did break into pieces, making it a little hard to eat, it was worth wresting with.

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For the main part of the meal, I was told it would change my life to get the Crab Grilled Cheese sandwich. Darn close – buttery and perfectly grilled bread – golden crown outside and soft inside. I have to say the creamy crab and melted mascarpone and monterey jack cheese made it sinfully delicious.

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Oh, and before you say anything about me having a salad, this is actually a picture of Amy’s plate, as mine came with white bean soup and the picture wasn’t as pretty and colorful as hers.

Service was very good. I arrived early to a friendly young woman who quickly brought me unsweetened ice tea and water and refilled them as fast I could drain them. She was knowledgeable about the menu and her suggestions were very helpful when we were deciding on what to eat.

I heartily recommend this place and will definitely head back during my next trip to Lafayette.